Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Girona, Catalonia, Spain

Every two years or so, my organization holds a World Staff Conference (WSC), bringing together staff from all of our 15 offices that are located around the world. Our most recent WSC was this year in late August in Barcelona, Spain! For this trip, I also brought along my mom for a vacation after the conference was done and my friend Jodi, who was also attending the conference as a consultant, also joined us for a few extra days. As usual with my travel journals I have split up my blog posts in a way that made most sense to this particular trip. Enjoy! 

Catch up on my other posts about this trip here:
Intro – Barcelona, Spain
Pals and Calella de Palafrugell, Catalonia, Spain
Palau de la Musica and the Arc de Triomf
Basilica de la Sagrada Familia
Montjuic and the Olympic Park
Gothic Quarter and the Mercat de la Boqueria
Doors of Spain
Park Güell
Montserrat

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Since we decided that we were flying in and out of Barcelona and had plenty on our to-do list there, we decided to not travel elsewhere in Spain or Europe overnight. But I knew I wanted to get out of the city at least once and booking this day trip allowed us to do that! I have used Viator for booking tours/excursions in three countries now and highly recommend utilizing it when trip planning! This full-day trip included being picked up and dropped off right at the front door of our VRBO, transportation in a passenger van, a personal tour guide for our small group (the three of us plus five other people) and a meal at a restaurant where reservations were made for us in advance. Going this route allowed us to pack a lot more in to a single day and not deal with the stress of figuring out all of the logistics, meaning we probably did things that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. Plus our tour guide was very knowledgeable and you could tell that he genuinely enjoyed his job. I unfortunately had a head cold forming on this day, so I thought our tour guide was a little annoying and over the top, but Jodi and Mom thought that he was great.

Our first stop for the day was in Girona, which was a little over an hour drive from Barcelona in the Catalonia region. Personally, I was really invested in getting to Girona on our trip because several scenes throughout Game of Thrones Season 6 were filmed here, including the exteriors of the Sept of Baelor, and parts of Kings Landing, Old Town and Bravos. When I was looking up tour options, there were several that focused exclusively on Game of Thrones, but since Mom and Jodi hadn’t watched it and I wanted more than just that, this was a great option for us.

It was a beautiful morning there for us and relatively pretty quiet and not crowded.

The River Onyar

Right as you cross the river and into the historic part of the city, there is this pillar with a lioness at the top (if you ask me it looks like a sloth). The legend is that if you visit Girona, you have to kiss the bottom if you what to visit again. No one who knows me should be surprised that I was not a fan of playing along, but Mom took one for the team.

The Girona Cathedral was used for the closeup exteriors for the Sept of Baelor in Season 6. So think about when Margery is about to do her walk of atonement and Jamie rides his horse up the stairs. I’ve always been super interested in behind the scenes stuff from television and movies that I watch so this was pretty cool.

This is the view looking the other direction from the steps. In Game of Thrones it is not a a small enclosed court yard but instead opens up to space for a large crowd and a view of the sea. Technology is pretty cool.

Girona Cathedral facade

Side entrance of the Girona Cathedral.

Backside of the Girona Cathedral.

The Passeig de la Muralla is a medieval wall with walkways along the eastern border of the city that also has amazing views. We didn’t walk along the walk but we did pop up on top one of the towers to catch the view.

The Girona Cathedral was the only specific set from Game of Thrones that the tour guide pointed out and spent time talking about. Before the tour I looked up what some of the other specific locations were and I am pretty sure that this staircase above is from the opening scene in Season 6 where Arya is blind and begging. Other than that I don’t think we walked by any others that were distinct enough to spot without the dressings of a set.

Its Jewish Quarter, is known as one of the best preserved in the world. The area, “El Call,” is a maze of several narrow, cobblestone walkways and staircases.

Neoclassical building facade in the Placa de la Independencia, a 19th century square in the Mercadal district.

OK, that’s a wrap for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with Part Two of this fun day trip.

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And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Italy -Six Day Self-Guided Hike, Rome, Venice, Florence and More
Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala

Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Barcelona, Spain

Oh hey there blog, my old friend. It’s been a while. I’ve been focused on other things in 2019, but after an amazing trip to Spain for both work and vacation, I decided it was time to dust things off and share. Never mind that its three months after the trip took place… hey, its been a full season for me!

Every two years or so, my organization holds a World Staff Conference (WSC), bringing together staff from all of our 15 offices that are located around the world. Our most recent WSC was this year in late August in Barcelona, Spain! For this trip, I also brought along my mom for a vacation after the conference was done. As usual with my travel journals I have split up my blog posts in a way that made most sense to this particular trip. Enjoy! 

Catch up on my other posts about this trip here:
Girona, Catalonia, Spain
Pals and Calella de Palafrugell, Catalonia, Spain
Palau de la Musica and the Arc de Triomf
Basilica de la Sagrada Familia
Montjuic and the Olympic Park
Gothic Quarter and the Mercat de la Boqueria
Doors of Spain
Park Güell
Montserrat

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For my first post, I just want to share a little about the trip overall and my work conference, which also gives me the opportunity to share some of my “random” photos, meaning those that don’t really fall into their own specific post 🙂

Overall, we loved Barcelona! It was a great location for a conference, which went really well. With so many colleagues around the world that I connect with frequently over email, I always love reconnecting with everyone all together in-person. The opportunity to regroup and refocus is extremely important for us, as is just getting to know each other better and enjoy each other’s company. In the Communications Department we are working on a really fun campaign for our 40th anniversary in 2020, so we also brought along some friends from our creative agency so they could meet more of our staff and get a closer look at what USW is all about. This included my friend Jodi, who is a consultant for the agency. I first met Jodi when I worked for Kansas Pork right out of college and am so happy that we have been able to reconnect recently. Jodi also joined my Mom and I for a few days of vacation.

A few thoughts and memories about our overall experience…

  • Leading up to the trip, I don’t think anyone I spoke to had anything bad to say about their own experiences in Barcelona. From things we read online there was some concern about pick-pocketing, theft, etc. We witnessed the aftermath of someone realizing they had been pick-pocketed once and there was one time that we felt a little uneasy while we were sitting for a long time waiting for an outdoor show, but overall we followed all of the standard safety tips and tricks, and felt really safe.
  • Neither my Mom or I speak Spanish, just a few common phrases here and there, but we did not have any trouble overall with the language barrier.
  • For the conference we were obviously at a hotel, but for the vacation part of the trip we booked rental through VRBO, and other than an early morning that involved me yelling at the washer and dryer that we couldn’t figure out… we were so happy with our choice! I did a lot of research on location and rental options and chose an adorable little studio apartment that was very central to a lot of what we wanted to visit, including the La Sagrada Familia, which was just two blocks away. In my opinion, VRBO and AirBnb is the way to go, at least in Europe. It was very affordable for what we got and just gave us the space to spread out and relax a bit more than a standard hotel allows.
  • Barcelona was very walk-able (granted we really like to walk) and really easy to navigate. At first I used a paper map of the city that I snagged from my conference hotel and then just used Google Maps on my phone once I go the general idea of the city’s layout. Before leaving I had done my research on using the city’s Metro but we never ended up feeling like we needed it. There are also taxis on virtually EVERY corner, so whenever we were in a time crunch or tired of walking we hopped in one for pretty cheap.
  • This might be an unpopular opinion, or maybe I just didn’t go to the right places (I promise we mostly ate at non-tourist trap places), but I was a little underwhelmed by the food, especially how excited I was for all the tapas. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still probably give it a B+ overall, but I felt like our choices quickly became repetitive and I only had 3 or 4 meals that I was still thinking about well after the fact.
  • I think we were there at a good time of year. The weather was great and we felt like the crowds weren’t too bad most of the time.
  • I had read quite a bit about the fact that before the Summer Olympics came to Barcelona in 1992, the city wasn’t a huge tourist destination. But then afterward it became one of the top European destinations and there has been influxes of anti-tourism movements over the years. Obviously I can’t speak to a local’s perspective of the impact of tourism but I thought Barcelona was a very clean and friendly city that is very proud of its history and culture. I loved learning that because of Barcelona’s unique location, the area’s specific micro-culture, including religion, food, architecture and more, is the result of a variety of influences from other parts Western Europe and North Africa.
  • This last comment will be very specific to my mom and I, but last year around this same time we were on a family vacation to Italy where we were hopping from city to city every 1 to 3 days. For OBVIOUS reasons, staying in one city for 11 days creates a much different experience because we had more time to relax and really get to know Barcelona. I don’t know that either of us would say that we prefer one experience over the other, because they were both amazing trips and different in other ways besides timing. For me, I think it just made me appreciate both experiences a bit more… and definitely makes me want to go back to Italy and take more time on some of my favorite parts of that trip.
Pro tip: Surround yourself with people in your work life that also make stellar friends.

This was our best meal! Ciudad Condal came highly recommended by many so we decided to let the waiter to bring out what he thought was best for the group. I definitely tried some strange things that I wasn’t a fan of but this was such a fun evening together.

Las Ramblas is Barcelona’s main strip through the city. A lot of my research told me to just avoid it since it is tourist central, but we actually really enjoyed it.

So many of the streets in Barcelona are split down the middle with a center island, which definitely helps with foot traffic congestion. Most of the restaurants on those type of streets actually have the majority of their seating out on these islands which I really enjoyed because it made people watching super easy.


Since the conference had people coming in from all parts of the world, some of us arrived a day or so earlier than others. For those early arrivals, we had the opportunity to take a half-day trip out of the city to the Jean Leon Winery where we learned about its history, experienced Spanish wine country and of course did a tasting!

At the main building they had a small plot that featured a different type of grape in each row and we were allowed to go through and pick and eat them. As a wine lover and an ag kid, it was fun to compare each one with what I know the final product to taste like and apply some of what I learned in a class in college about viticulture.

This indoor, food court of sorts, El Nacional, was just two blocks from where we stayed for the conference. We went here with a large group for lunch one day, but thought it was so pretty that we returned later for a snack and more time to just walk around.


“Pan con tomate” is frequently served with meals here or included as an appetizer on the menu, which I was a big fan of. However, this was the one and only time that it was served to us not prepped and ready to eat. So of course I was THAT TOURIST that did it wrong… I started slicing up one of the tomatoes (with a butter knife haha) so I could eat pieces of it with the bread, but the waiter quickly came over and kind of scolded me before he explained that you cut the tomato in half and then squeeze and scrape the tomato across the bread, and finish with drizzling oil and salt over the top. Lesson learned, be better than me friends 🙂

I try to visit local markets in every country I travel to, and after visiting an amazing flower market in Thailand, I’ve tried to visit markets with flowers if I can find one. (Note: in case you are new or somehow don’t know this about me — my family has owned a flower shop for 30+ years.) So for this trip I did some research and really thought I found one with flowers, but instead it was just a really large flower shop that was a block away from the actual market. Regardless, my mom loved it, and it was both fun and slightly embarrassing to watch her observe the differences to floral arrangements in the United States and then proceed to take pictures of everything when we really probably weren’t supposed to.

 

I didn’t include any of the photos because they all were pretty dark, but my mom and I also spent a few hours at the Aquarium Barcelona. It was on our last afternoon and we were pretty tired and decided that a visit there would be a bit more relaxed than some of our other options. It might seem like a super typical tourist thing to do or more for families with small children, but we really enjoyed it. It has the only Oceanarium and the largest collection Mediterranean sea life in Europe. It also randomly has a penguin exhibit which I made my Mom sit and watch with me for way longer than a 28 year old should probably want to 🙂

Ok, that’s it for my random intro post, though I am sure as I work my way through the rest of my planned post I am going to think of other notes to add to this post about our overall trip. I’ll be back tomorrow with Part One of a fun day trip we took out of the city and up the Costa Brava.

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And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Italy -Six Day Self-Guided Hike, Rome, Venice, Florence and More
Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala

Photography, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Italy – Florence

In September, I traveled to Italy for two weeks with some of my family, which included an 85-mile, 6 day self-guided walking tour through the Italian countryside. We also spent time in Rome, Venice, Florence, Pompeii and Naples. 

Catch up on my other posts about this trip here:

Walking Rieti to Rome – Summary
Doors of Italy
Exploring Rieti
Self-Guided Walk Day 1
Self-Guided Walk Day 2
Self-Guided Walk Day 3
Castello Orsini Hotel
Self-Guided Walk Days 4 and 5
Self-Guided Walk Day 6
The Colosseum and Exploring Rome
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum
Pompeii and Naples
Venice
Florence

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Well friends, this is it! My last post from this amazing trip! It took a little longer to share everything than I wanted it to, but regardless, I am so happy that I’ve created this platform that continues to serve as my own creative outlet and a way to stay connected with my family and friends. Thank you for tuning in!

The last stop on our trip was Florence, which we got to on a quick train ride to Venice. I will say that our train experience was pretty good. They are comfy enough (more than a plane in my opinion) and each time we needed to buy tickets we were able to find someone to help us make sure we were getting the right ones.

Now when people ask me how I enjoyed Florence, the first thing I tell them is that Florence didn’t get a fair chance to impress us. As the last stop on our 15 day trip, we were all just a little worn out, probably a little tired of each other and I was definitely so ready to be done walking around on a sprained ankle. But other than our own circumstances, Florence was beautiful and I want chance to visit it with fresh eyes again someday.

We covered a lot of the country and it was so interesting to see what made each city and region unique. Florence is home to some of the world’s most recognizable Renaissance art and architecture, and moves at a different pace than Rome or even Venice. I probably enjoyed the architecture most here and all of the warm Tuscan colors.

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as the Duomo.

The first day we arrived in the late morning and after making a beeline for some food, we spent the rest of the day mostly just wandering around the city. My two cousins were taking off the next morning a day earlier than the rest of us so we wanted to make sure that they got a quick taste of the city. I mentioned way back in one of my first posts that we ate gelato every day and I think we all agreed that the best gelato we found was in Florence.

On our one full day, after my cousins left, we decided to listen to our feet and got tickets for the Hop Off/Hop On bus. I’m so glad we did this. There was two different loops around the city that you could choose from, or even jump back and forth from at the few places where they intersected. If you chose to hop off, another bus would come about every 30 minutes. While you were on the bus there were headphones and a recorded tour guide to tune in to. I thought this service was a great option for us and other than one time when we got cut in line and then kicked off the bus because it was full, it was a positive experience.

One leg of the bus ride took us out of Florence and to a small hillside town Fiesole, where we decided to hop off and explore for a while and grab lunch.

This bridge is named the Ponte Vecchio. Until 1218, it was the only bridge in Florence that crossed the Arno River. It is known for having shops built along it, which traditionally was much more common than it is now. Originally this shops were occupied by butchers, but now it houses mostly jewelry and art.

One last piece of Italian pizza!

The Piazzale Michelangelo, is a 19th-century piazza with a bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David and a beautiful panoramic views over the city. We considered going into the museum that houses the real statue of David but decided that we were done with lines so we thought the replica with a view of the city was a good alternative.

After Florence, we headed back to Rome where I hopped on a flight back to the United States. The remaining members of my family actually had one more day in Rome where they took a tour of the Catacombs!

Well that’s it friends! This was such an amazing trip and one that I’ll always be so thankful that I got to share with my family. I have loved sharing it here with you on my blog, so thanks to everyone who stopped by! If you are planning a trip to Italy or even just considering one I would be happy to answer any questions and share more recommendations.

Until next time, arrivederci!

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And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala

Photography, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Italy – Venice

In September, I traveled to Italy for two weeks with some of my family, which included an 85-mile, 6 day self-guided walking tour through the Italian countryside. We also spent time in Rome, Venice, Florence, Pompeii and Naples. 

Catch up on my other posts about this trip here:

Walking Rieti to Rome – Summary
Doors of Italy
Exploring Rieti
Self-Guided Walk Day 1
Self-Guided Walk Day 2
Self-Guided Walk Day 3
Castello Orsini Hotel
Self-Guided Walk Days 4 and 5
Self-Guided Walk Day 6
The Colosseum and Exploring Rome
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum
Pompeii and Naples
Venice
Florence

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After our stay in Rome, our next stop was Venice!

Our original plan was to take the train but that kind of all changed on the fly. Since there was 7 of us, we were having trouble arranging transportation to from where we were staying to the train station. We still had the business card from the car service that had taken us from the airport to Rieti when we first arrived, so we finally called them up to take us the train station and along the way, jokingly said it would be nice if they could just drive us the whole way. Well apparently the joke was on us, but the driver responded quickly that another man could actually do that and after quick deliberation we were on our way via car!

Overall Venice was my favorite city! I knew within a few short hours that it was definitely a place that I want to visit again and take more time to just relax and explore there. It’s old, romantic, earthy and in a strange way, kind of homey and familiar. I felt like I was walking through a book — a story that was just so fascinating to me.

Once again, we used VRBO to book a small apartment to stay in, which we had to go on quite the excursion to find, including a map, picture ques and trying to navigate the water taxi routes in the dark. Thanks to the young Italian women Sabrina for taking pity on us and helping out!

Our time here was pretty laid back. We explored, did a little bit of shopping (hello gorgeous leather purse!) continued to eat amazing food and eventually became master’s of the water taxi, including one long ride along most of the main route.

Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square)

The one thing from my Pinterest research for this trip that I was determined to do was visit the Libreria Acqua Alta.

This self-proclaimed “most beautiful bookstore in the world” routinely floods, so most of its contents are in bathtubs, waterproof bins and even a gondola that can float when necessary. I have a deep love for bookstores and libraries, especially ones that are a bit quirky, so the more research I did on it, the more I knew we had to go. My Grammy and I are one in the same, and luckily the rest of my family obliged.

After a few mistakes and studying the maps, I figured that navigating the water taxi system is very similar to the DC Metro or New York Subway.

Venice, you are magical, and I will definitely be back someday. Thanks for having us!

Thanks for stopping by again! I’ll be back in the next day or two with my last travel post for this trip!

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And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala

Photography, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Italy – Pompeii and Naples

In September, I traveled to Italy for two weeks with some of my family, which included an 85-mile, 6 day self-guided walking tour through the Italian countryside. We also spent time in Rome, Venice, Florence, Pompeii and Naples. 

Catch up on my other posts about this trip here:

Walking Rieti to Rome – Summary
Doors of Italy
Exploring Rieti
Self-Guided Walk Day 1
Self-Guided Walk Day 2
Self-Guided Walk Day 3
Castello Orsini Hotel
Self-Guided Walk Days 4 and 5
Self-Guided Walk Day 6
The Colosseum and Exploring Rome
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum
Pompeii and Naples
Venice
Florence

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My portion of the trip was fifteen days and I’ve been asked quite a few times whether that was a good length or not. There is always more that you could fit in with more days, but at the pace we were going, 15 days was good. I’m not sure I would have wanted a longer trip unless we scattered a few lazy days in the schedule. When we were planning the trip and my Grammy suggested we plan this day excursion, our thought was, “we’ll enjoy an easier day of riding in the car after so many days of walking all day long.” And yes, it was a bit of a shorter day distance wise but I’d still say that we were pretty exhausted by the end of it!

On this day we used a service named Viator to book a day excursion. (We used this same service for our island hopping day in Thailand!) We were picked up in our own private passenger van at the front door of where we were staying and they drove us to each of our destinations where our tours and meals were already booked and paid for. We had a driver and an English speaking tour guide that stayed with us throughout the day and we also made pit stops in the morning and again in the afternoon before they dropped us back off at our front door. The tour guide, Anna, was around my age, fun and very good at her job. The price was fair considering what was all included, we always felt safe and overall I couldn’t recommend this service enough! They operate around the world, including in the United States, so I might have to look into what they offer next time I’m visiting a new city.

Pompeii

Our first stop was to Pompeii, which was around a 2 hour trip south of Rome. I was so excited for this tour, but honestly, it was even better than I had anticipated! Once we arrived we were joined by another group of 4 that were doing the same day excursion. Together we had our own tour guide, an older, quirky man, for a 3 hour tour of the site, and though it rained on us a little bit and the uneven footing was not the relief I was hoping for for my ankle, it was such a great experience.

The history of Pompeii is something I remember pretty well from when we studied it in school growing up. Pompeii was an ancient Roman city that was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE. It was covered so quickly in ash (19 to 23 feet!) that it was preserved for centuries before it was discovered in the 16th century, marking the start of modern archaeology and becoming an unique source of history about that time. Here’s a link for more history.

The city was quickly covered in an estimated 19 to 23 feet of ash and debris. Kind of crazy to think about!

Pompeii was home to an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 people. The unique, but saddest part of the eruption was how quickly it took those lives, either from falling debris or asphyxiation, and preserved the bodies.

Doesn’t look much different from today’s wood burning stone ovens!

Ancient stone mills.

A few times the tour guide had pictures was what they think different areas around the city might have looked like back in that time.

Public bath house.

I think the most amazing thing to me was how the art was preserved.

The site is still an ongoing archaeological site. These people were literally piecing the floors back together! I hate puzzles so this is crazy to me!

I would highly recommend making this tour part of any travel plans to Italy, especially for families! I know I first learned about Pompeii in elementary school and how cool would it be to visit at that age!

Bosco de’ Medici Winery

After Pompeii, we met back up with our driver and guide for lunch. Now all my Grammy had told me was that our lunch was included for the day, but she didn’t tell that it was going to be at a winery!!

I obviously love wine, but back in college I took a wine tasting class as an elective and ever since I’ve also been really interested in wine culture, food pairing and production. Going to a winery was the one main things that I thought was missing from our travel plans so this was a pleasant surprise.

Everything about our visit was wonderful. The winery, Bosco de’ Medici, also included a nearby resort, but our location was small and quaint. Our tour guide told us that the high level of ash in the soil created very unique flavors in the food and wine produced in the area, and I’d agree that everything we tried was wonderful. I chose my favorite wine from the tasting and bought a bottle to bring home with me and save for a special occasion.

Naples

Our last stop of the day was a quick visit to Naples along the Almafi Coast.

The company that we used for our walking tour also had a route along the coastline that we almost chose to do instead. My grandparents have had this area on their bucket list for a while and I’m sure that they will try to make it back for a longer visit.

Mt. Vesuvius

Coffee break.

Castle Nuovo.

Piazza del Plebiscito.

We had so much fun on this day trip!

Thanks for stopping by! I’ll be back soon again with my LAST TWO posts!

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And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala

Photography, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Italy – St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum

In September, I traveled to Italy for two weeks with some of my family, which included an 85-mile, 6 day self-guided walking tour through the Italian countryside. We also spent time in Rome, Venice, Florence, Pompeii and Naples. 

Catch up on my other posts about this trip here:

Walking Rieti to Rome – Summary
Doors of Italy
Exploring Rieti
Self-Guided Walk Day 1
Self-Guided Walk Day 2
Self-Guided Walk Day 3
Castello Orsini Hotel
Self-Guided Walk Days 4 and 5
Self-Guided Walk Day 6
The Colosseum and Exploring Rome
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum
Pompeii and Naples
Venice
Florence

**********

Hey friends, I’ve been busy with a few back-to-back work trips and then the holiday, so I had to take a break from sharing my trip to Italy. But I am back and ready to go with my last couple of posts!

I left off sharing part one of our time in Rome. Other than the afternoon we arrived, we had one full-day in Rome for exploring and an additional morning.

My favorite part of our time in Rome was the Basilica. I am not Catholic, but I love the history, architecture and art! This was probably my hardest group of pictures from the whole trip to sort through because I took SO MANY.

We knew we wanted to go and have enough time to enjoy it so we got there right as it was opening and virtually did not have to wait in line at all! We were so glad that we did because by the time we left about 2 hours later, the line wrapped around the entire square. It is free to go in but there was a small fee if you wanted to take the elevator to the base of the dome instead of the stairs, and with a bum ankle after a days of walking I took that option without a second thought.

The Basilica’s history is a bit complicated so instead of trying to summarize it, I’m just going to include a great link here 🙂

As we were walking up to the entrance I turned to my cousin and asked if he recognized what music was playing over the loud speakers… it was the theme song from the Rocky movies, who of course is also known as the Italian Stallion. We thought that was pretty funny.

The first part of the trek up via elevator or stairs takes you to the base of the dome so you can see the dome’s artwork up close and also see down. I’ve always loved history and have a strong appreciation for art so this is the kind of tourist stuff that I love. It all was absolutely beautiful.

The next part of the trek up takes you to the top of the dome and that part was not easy! First, you wind up around the dome so as you get higher you are at a slant, and then the final part is a very tight, winding stair case. Plus there is no ventilation or moving air, so if you are claustrophobic or have asthma, it might not be for you. It made me a little nauseous.

But the views were SO WORTH IT. The top takes you outside and gives you a 360 view of the Vatican City and Rome.

For reference, in this picture above, the highest point you can go to is right below where the columns are near the top!

Once you visit the top, it brings you down to roof before you go the rest of the way down to walk through the inside. These are the back of the statues that you can see in my first couple of pictures from the ground.

Let me just say that the few pictures of the inside here to not do it justice for how vast and beautiful it is. Again, I am not Catholic, but I was in awe of the Basilica and how almost peaceful it was inside, despite the large crowd.

I highly recommend making this a part of your itinerary on a trip to Rome.

Vatican Museum

The Vatican Museum is a separate experience from visiting the Basilica and one that does have a cost. I can’t remember what we paid, but this was another case where we decided to pay a little more to “skip the line,” mostly because that was the only way we were going to get in. We didn’t know that on Sundays, which was our main full day for exploring Rome, the museum is only open on the last Sunday of the month. We already had other set plans for Monday, so before leaving Rome on Tuesday, we made a quick stop there in the morning.

This was because the Vatican Museum is home to the Sistine Chapel – most famous for its ceiling, painted by Michelangelo – and was near the top of my bucket list to see. I just couldn’t bear being so close and not making it happen. Thankfully my family agreed and we made it work. We did have a little time to enjoy a few other exhibits, but I didn’t take that many pictures because either the lighting wasn’t great or it was too crowded.

There isn’t any photography allowed in the Sistine Chapel and I actually appreciate that. Mostly of course because it forces people to actually just take it all in, and also because photography flashes and the wrong kind of light can actually affect the paint.

The Sistine Chapel was absolutely incredible, and even more amazing to think that Michelangelo didn’t even consider painting to be his top trade. It was super crowded but I tried to work through it as slowly as I could and just enjoy it. It was interesting to see what parts of the bible I could identify easily. I enjoyed it so much that I ended up buying a history book on it for my coffee table!

Alright, I’ll be back soon with my posts on the others cities we visited. For those who have been following along with each post, thanks for your patience!

Thanks for stopping by!

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And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala

Family, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Italy – The Colosseum and Exploring Rome

In September, I traveled to Italy for two weeks with some of my family, which included an 85-mile, 6 day self-guided walking tour through the Italian countryside. We also spent time in Rome, Venice, Florence, Pompeii and Naples. 

Catch up on my other posts about this trip here:

Walking Rieti to Rome – Summary
Doors of Italy
Exploring Rieti
Self-Guided Walk Day 1
Self-Guided Walk Day 2
Self-Guided Walk Day 3
Castello Orsini Hotel
Self-Guided Walk Days 4 and 5
Self-Guided Walk Day 6
The Colosseum and Exploring Rome
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum
Pompeii and Naples
Venice
Florence

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After our self-guided walking tour ended, we still had about a week left in Italy. Our first night was in accommodations that were still a part of the tour, which was a nice hotel on Borgo Pio. This was a fun street very close to the Vatican with lots of restaurants that had tables set out in the street which was mostly closed off from cars. On our first night my Mom and I took some time to just walk round. For the two other nights we were in Rome we used VRBO to find a small apartment that could comfortably fit our group of seven. I’ve only used AirBnB in the past, but I thought we had a great experience with VRBO in Rome and in the two following cities we visited.

Other than the afternoon we arrived, we had one full day in Rome for exploring and an additional morning. I’m going to split up my pictures from Rome into two posts.

Along Borgo Pio.

I’ve always said that I could eat these kind of plates every day and not get tired of it, and after this trip that is definitely true!

The rooms in our hotel were all so different, but my grandparents had the best one. This is just a small glimpse, but essentially the whole room was painted like this! It was so pretty. And for my Grammy, who is an artist herself, this was a fun stay.

Grammy and Mom. Can you tell they are related?

We didn’t know what this was when we came up on it, but after some help from trusty Google, I think it is home to the Museo Centrale del Risorgimento (a research institute) and the Sacrario delle bandiere (an army museum). Regardless it was beautiful!

My Mom and Grampy decided to tackle these insane stairs while the rest of us went around another way. We thought we’d connect with them sooner, but it actually took them on a little detour through the Basilica Dell’ Ara Coeli.

Meanwhile, we hung out for a bit on the Campidoglio, a square designed by Michelangelo and lined with museums and a statue of Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor from the 2nd century.

This area is called the “Roman Forum” (forum meaning plaza or square) and holds the ruins of several ancient government buildings, including a prison and a basilica. This was a hub for religious and public life in ancient Rome. We didn’t have the time to explore this area and learn more about it, so it is definitely on my list if I ever go back to Rome. But it was still beautiful to walk by.

We didn’t do much planning ahead and arrived at the Colosseum in the early afternoon when there was already long lines, so we opted to pay a little more to “jump the line” with a small tour group. I know generally when traveling, people say to avoid things like this because that’s where you end up spending more money than you might have originally planned. We didn’t super plan out the second half of our trip after the walk because we just didn’t know what we would feel like doing and decided to take our second half of the trip day by day. So honestly, this option was the best for us. We decided we wanted to do a tour and paying to jump the line meant that we could do more later in the day. But I would say, if you were planning a trip just to Rome, or at least had multiple days there, buying your ticket online and/or going at a less busy time would be the better option.

Anyway, I thought the Colosseum was incredible and am really happy we did the tour. I felt like I remembered enough Roman history from school to apply it to what I was seeing and it just amazes me to see something built that long ago to be standing today and full of so many stories.

The Colosseum was commissioned around AD 70-72 by Emperor Vespasian as a gift to the Roman people and opened in AD 80 with 100 days of games, including gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights. After four centuries of active use, the arena fell into neglect, and up until the 18th century it was used as a source of building materials. Though two-thirds of the original Colosseum has been destroyed over time. It measured some 620 by 513 feet, had seating for more than 50,000 spectators and three stories of arched entrances supported by semi-circular columns.  (Source: www.history.com)

The “floor” of the area would have been level with where you see tourists on the opposite end of the photo. The tunnels and structures in the middle are where the slaves and animals were kept underneath the main level.

After the Colosseum, we walked over to the Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) which was beautiful! It is the largest Baroque (a highly ornate and extravagant style of architecture from the 17th to mid 18th century) fountain in Rome. The legend is that if visitors throw a coin into the fountain, they are ensured a return to Rome. I think I had read that before our trip, but to be honest, by the time we made it here we were pretty worn out for the day and the crowd was pretty heavy, so we didn’t stay long. So hopefully I still make it back someday 🙂

I’ve read since then that the coins are collected each day and given to charity. I don’t know if that’s true, but that is pretty cool if it is.

Rome is such a beautiful city and we didn’t even scratch the surface of all the things there is to see and do.

I’ll be back soon with another post on Rome and our visit to St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum.

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And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala

Family, Travel Journal

Travel Journal: Italy – Self-Guided Walk Day 6

In September, I traveled to Italy for two weeks with some of my family, which included an 85-mile, 6 day self-guided walking tour through the Italian countryside. We also spent time in Rome, Venice, Florence, Pompeii and Naples. 

Catch up on my other posts about this trip here:

Walking Rieti to Rome – Summary
Doors of Italy
Exploring Rieti
Self-Guided Walk Day 1
Self-Guided Walk Day 2
Self-Guided Walk Day 3
Castello Orsini Hotel
Self-Guided Walk Days 4 and 5
Self-Guided Walk Day 6
The Colosseum and Exploring Rome
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum
Pompeii and Naples
Venice
Florence

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The sixth and final day of our self-guided walk started in the Monte Sacro district in Rome and took us to the Vatican. It covered about 10 miles and even though we were walking through the city, our path still took us on the scenic route, along a bike path, around the second largest park in Rome and down along the river.

I realized pretty quickly that it was a good thing I had taken the day before off, because after the first 2 miles or so I was back to hobbling along. But there was so much to see on this day and it was interesting to see the city transition from just pretty normal, modern city surroundings, to the more historical “old” (and touristy) parts.

This is the Mosque of Rome, and is the largest mosque outside the Islamic world, Russia and India, making it the Western world’s biggest mosque. After some opposition, Pope John Paul II gave his blessing to the building project. It’s minaret approximately 1 meter shorter than the dome of St. Peter’s.

Just about the time that we all admitted that we needed a longer break we found this weekend market where we tried some fun, different drinks and enjoyed looking around. There were also some meat and fish stands.

This is the Milvian Bridge (Ponte Milvio), which has quite a bit of historical significance, including the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in AD 312 led by Constantine. That victory led Constantine to total control over Rome and the Western Roman Empire, and the issuing of the Edict of Milan, which officially recognized Christianity in the Roman Empire.

In 2000, the bridge began attracting couples who were inspired by Federico Moccia’s book and movie “I Want You,” and attached padlocks to the lamp posts of the bridge as a token of their love and threw the key behind them into the Tiber River. In 2007, one of the lamp posts collapsed under the weight of the the padlocks, so in 2012 they were all removed and the practice was banned. But it had already spread as a common ritual elsewhere in the world and we still saw a few padlocks here and there.

After the Milvian Bridge, we turned and walked down along the river for the remainder of the way. The guidebook told us that we would pass under six bridges and the seventh bridge would be the Ponte Sant’Angelo with five arches each topped with a statue of an angel. I was so excited to finally see this bridge!

We walked up the stairs onto the bridge and quickly saw our end mark, St. Peter’s Basilica just down the street to the left.

This was our “finish line” photo! It was quite the adventure walking some 85 miles through the Italian countryside and truly a one-of-a-kind experience (even without the sprained ankle). If you are interested in really seeing a country at its heart, aside from the tourist attractions, I highly recommend considering doing a guided walk of some sort. It was beautiful and humbling in so many ways and I am so thankful that I got to share this experience with my dear family. Though I don’t know who else really would have put up with my crankiness 🙂

This was the end of our walk, but we still had another week of our vacation in which we explored more of Rome and visited Pompeii, Naples, Venice and Florence. So I still have a couple more blog posts coming at you soon!

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And just for fun here are some of my other past Travel Journal posts:

Nashville, Tennessee – Girls Weekend
London, England
Estes Park, Colorado
Thailand and the Philippines
Tumon Bay, Guam
New York City – Girls Weekend
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Antigua, Guatemala