Saturday, July 23, 2011

r i c h m o n d p a r k

Well... it is about 12:30am and I am still up so I figure I would start writing another post. The past few weeks, I have pretty well stayed in town. The deadline that I had at work was exceedingly tight. We basically had to work on 20+ legal entities in a span of only a week. Needless to say, we worked about 15 hour days every day for a span of about 2 and a half weeks to try and get this done (you know how projects just drag on). Anyway, I am hoping this hellish job is out of the way now.

We did have a weekend where we decided to walk in Richmond Park in London however. I've never really been to a park in London where I felt like I was outside of the city but this may have been a bit of a first. The cool thing about this park was more so the fact that you could see deer! They literally came right up to us and ate off my hands haha. It was a very cool experience - especially when one of my favorite movies when I was a kid was Bambi :D

After walking about, we settled at a pub at the end of the park before heading home. It was a nice day out! But this made me yearn to see Central Park in New York again. Very few parks in the world compare to that - the feeling of being in another place entirely but still being amidst the big city. It makes me think I want to take another trip there but this time during winter!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

r o m e p t II

On the second day in Rome, we tried to wake up early... but our bodies wouldn't let us. Funny story that happened that night but I won't share that on the blog lol. Anyway, not my proudest moment, let's just leave it at that.

We had ticket reservations for the Colosseum at 9:30am so we headed out to Rome Termini and grabbed some espresso and pain au chocolat on the way out. The Colosseum is huge and so iconic. Seeing it with my own eyes really made me think of the movie Gladiator - easily one of my favorite all time movies. The chants of Maximus, Maximus, Maximus rung through my mind at that instant lol. I'm a geek I know.

You could see the cells hidden underneath the Colosseum floor.. you could imagine that this was where the gladiators or prisoners were kept. It was really neat to see. After this, we continued to walk the rest of the city and saw the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain (we had to take the tourist photo of us tossing the coin into the fountain), and the Pantheon. So much history to this place... The good thing was that you could just walk around and see it all by foot.

Oh and before I get to the pictures, you really have to try the gelato at Il Gelato San Crispino. They have a good selection and the flavors I chose were delicious :D Pistachio and stracciatella... mm...

Overall this was a great weekend getaway. 2 Days in Rome isn't enough unless you're ok with just seeing the surface of the city. But if you are a museum buff and want to appreciate the Vatican Museum for instance.. you could easily use 4 days. A word of caution though... I'll say this honestly: Beware of the pick pockets in Rome. They are abundant so keep an eye on everything you have on you (ie. nothing in your back pockets and make sure your bag is where you can see it. Secondly, people here were rude and on many occasions made tourists like myself look at them in awe as they scuffed at people for asking simple questions. Not everyone is like this by any means but you should just be aware.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

r o m e p t I

Living in London has its benefits. Being able to travel to Rome for just the weekend is one of them. Not often do we North American’s get the opportunity to travel to Rome let alone just pack up one backpack and head on over to Italy for a few days. But since a friend from back home in Vancouver was doing her eurotrip, I thought I would join her for a couple of days as we trotted around one of Europe’s most historical cities.

Rome was the place that I went to during the weekend of July 2-3rd, 2011. It is a hot time of year to go but it wasn’t unbearable by any means. It was between 28-30 degrees Celsius during the day but with humidity, it feels like 34-35 degrees or so. Luckily for us, there was a bit of a nice breeze too so it didn’t feel too hot but don’t get me wrong, it was still sticky and steaming with the other tourists around us.
With only two days there is a lot of walking to be done so I’ll just get right down to some of the places that I went and saw:
Day 1 Itinerary – The Vatican City
I flew from London Stansted at 6am and arrived around 9:45am at Ciampino Airport in Rome. From there, it is an easy €4 bus ride straight into Rome Termini station (Terravision). I highly recommend anyone flying into this airport via a budget airline like Ryanair take this route. If you wanted to train, you would have had to take a bus to Ciampino train station before connecting on a train to Termini. Don’t even think about a taxi as this would cost you more than €40 one way.
By the time I met up with my friend it was 11am (fairly good time). From the Termini station, we then took the metro towards the Vatican City. It was interesting to see but this was actually a city that is enclosed by high walls to the west of Rome (still within the city). The entirety of the Vatican is classified as a World Unesco Heritage site so much of the structures and layouts are preserved. The first thing you will see is the piazza which sits in front of Saint Paul’s Basilica. It is enormous and you really do feel small in the midst of it. Seeing the Basilica in front of you is another site that will leave your jaw dropping... but just hold your excitement until you are actually inside.  To get inside the Basilica, you will have to go through the queues for security and then go through a clothing check. Guys and girls alike, you need to have your shoulders covered and your legs covered up to your knees. So it doesn’t matter how hot it is, you will need to bring a thin cardigan or something similar before you can go in.

The Basilica is enormous... the level of detail and the colors within this church is incredible. The ceilings are so, so high and it really makes you marvel at how the people in those days were able to not only build such a grand structure but to also put in the level of detail that you see all over. The paintings and the details on the walls and ceilings just leave you breathless. The interior is the largest that I have ever seen inside a church and it is in fact the largest Christian church in the world. As a photographer that already sounds like an incredible sight to see but in reality, there is something that will catch your eye even more so. The Dome which sits in the middle of the basilica is enormous and so high up. The natural light it lets in is stunning and I guarantee that you will just stand there and stare at the rays of light as it flows into the church.

Panoramic View of Vatican City – From the Basilica, you can actually go up to the Basilica’s cupella either by walking up the 500 stairs or by taking a lift. It is not free to go up to the top of the dome but it is worthwhile. I needed the exercise even though it was already steaming hot outside so we walked it and it only took about 15 minutes to get up. From there the view is iconic and seen through so many tourist photos – still, it is something else to see it through your own eyes.

That afternoon we also went to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. There can be huge line-ups to buy tickets so I highly suggest that you either purchase tickets online or sign up for a tour. This way you can skip the line-up and basically just head in. The Museum itself is gigantic, you can really lose yourself in there. Too bad I didn’t have more time otherwise I would have definitely spent much more time here. Still, it was cool to see the art work and detailed, historical architecture all over the ceilings and what not. Don’t forget to take a look at the iconic winding staircase!

The Sistine Chapel is connected to the museum and is a natural place to progress to as you walk on through the museum. The Chapel does not allow you to take any pictures but I saw multiple people do it anyway. The guards will likely shout at you but that will be all. Lol. There is a montage of paintings on the ceiling (scenes from the Book of Genesis) that tell the story of the creation of man (Adam), all painted by Michelangelo.  Of the paintings on the ceiling includes the famous scene of god’s finger touching Adam’s finger, giving him life. The sanctuary wall is the scene of the Last Judgement. It was incredible to see that in person and to just see how incredibly large a canvas that was used by Michelangelo, it is really one of those things you just have to say, “What? How in the world can someone paint such a iconic scene on a canvas this large and still keep the original perspective and vision in mind?”

By the time we walked around the Vatican, it was 6pm (and this was with us breezing through the sites). So it was time for our first meal of the day (we had gelato for lunch :D). Since we had 3G on my vodaphone, I googled a recent blog that told us to go to this place called Glass. Obviously being in Italy, this place was Italian and we were told that the gnocchi was some of the city’s best. With that in mind, we walked down the river and passed by the Castel Sant’ Angelo. It is essentially a fortress that was built way back in the olden days. Apparently, it was used for Popes that needed protection when they feared for their safety. The walkway leading up to this fortress was littered with newly weds who were there for their wedding photos, pretty epic location if you ask me :)

To work up an appetite, we kept walking south along the river until we reached a district with lots of little bars and restaurants (one of the best aspects of Europe). When we found the restaurant, Glass, we were surprised to see that it was quite fancy - especially for Rome standards. Very nice decor and presentation, we hoped that the food would also compare to its outward appearance. And you know what? We have some great dishes - easily the best meal I had in Rome while I was there. We started off with the beef tartare and some risotto with mantis shrimp. I've always had a thing for risotto but not many places cook it that well - this was good though. Following the appetizers, my friend ordered a fried soft shell crab dish which came with chorizo powder and I ordered the lamb (perfectly cooked I might add!). Overall, it was a great meal and with great company. What more could I ask for? 

So that does it for day 1... by the time we got back to the hotel it was almost midnight and we were just knackered... and we still hadn't even taken a shower yet! I almost collapsed in there lol.