The List: Favorite Trips Of All Time.

This post is dedicated to all the travelers out there.  We often get inquiries about our favorite places that we have visited outside of the US.  Before we forget, we wanted to leave detailed notes on our top picks in rank order.    Instead of putting it as a post and making it impossibly long to scroll through, we have created a new page on the site here.   You can find it in the future on the top menu of the blog. We pledge to continually update it through our travels!

Postcards from Rome

When in Rome, we saw many beautiful places.   Here are a few snapshots from our lens:

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The Square opposite Capitol Hill that was designed by Michelangelo

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Victor Emmanuel Monument

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Lunch just outside The Pantheon

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Inside of The Pantheon

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Trevi Fountain

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The Spanish Steps

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Natural Christmas tree in one of Rome’s squares

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Beautiful street scene

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Taking in the cool architecture

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Blue skies

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Grand squares

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Neat fountains

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The island in the middle of the Tyber

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Street music

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Ruins were intertwined with modern buildings everywhere!

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This city park was a park of ruins

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Castel St Angelo

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St. Peter’s in the distance over The Tyber

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Castel St Angelo

Vatican City & St. Peter’s Cathedral

We visited Vatican City our third day in Rome.  Vatican City is a sovereign city-state within the city of Rome, taking up only 110 acres.  It is home to 800 people, all affiliated with the church and museum.

We were lucky to have Claudia again as our guide, to see the highlights.  With limited time in Rome, and also limited time to plan and research the trip, booking a guided tour was helpful to make sure we got the most out of it.

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View from The Vatican Museum of St. Peter’s in the distance

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The light was just beautiful in Vatican City. The buildings seen here are the galleries leading to the Sistine Chapel.

We started our tour in the Vatican Museum, holding many treasures that they have accumulated from history. The statues were impressive but I much preferred the remarkable ceilings.

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These corridors lead to the Sistine Chapel.  Many people told me they were brought to tears upon seeing Michelangelo’s greatest work.  I read the fictional novel The Agony & The Ecstasy, about Michelangelo’s life many years ago, which detailed that he was not enthused about this assignment – he hated fresco painting and preferred sculpture.  The Pope had required him to live in Rome and complete the works on St. Peter’s.  Not sure if it was that information or the hoards of people shoving us, but I thought it was just okay.  Really cool to see but I did not need any tissues.   Sorry – no photos allowed.

A guard came up to us and told Claudia that they were shutting St. Peter’s in 10 minutes due to New Years’ Eve.   He told her to hurry or we’d miss it.  Whispering a “grazie mille”, we quickly descended into the remarkable church.

If you aren’t familiar with St. Peter’s, it is a church dedicated to St. Peter, built above his grave site.   There was an original church on the same spot, but during Julius II’s reign, he wanted to make it more glorious due to it’s significant dedication and symbolism.   St. Peter was one of Jesus’s disciples, and a very important and influential one.  After Jesus’s death & resurrection, he became the natural leader and made great strides in proclaiming the message of Christianity.  He was persecuted for his teachings under Emperor Nero and when he was given death by crucifixion he requested only to be crucified upside down as he didn’t feel he deserved to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus.

One of the first things we saw within the church was Michelangelo’s pieta, a sculpture of Mother Mary holding the adult crucified Jesus on her lap.  Michelangelo sculpted this emotional masterpiece at 24 years of age.  Can you imagine?  This work of art brought me more emotion than the Sistine Chapel, it was his passion, the sculpture.

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We continued to walk around the basilica.  Notice the light coming in at every vantage point.   Full credit to the hubby for capturing this beautiful essence of the visit with our camera.

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The domes and ceiling were really impressive.  Mid-way through, Gabe said that it was the most impressive religious structured he’d ever seen.  Although I was impressed by others (see list at end of this post) , I’d have to agree.

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Upon leaving, we saw the famous Swiss guard on duty!  The volunteers come from the four Catholic cantons of Switzerland and their mission is to protect the Pope.

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After grabbing lunch, we returned back to the square for experiencing this special place once more.

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About ten minutes after we returned, the guards came, ushering every single person out of St. Peter’s Square for what we think were New Year’s Eve preparations.  So, we can officially say we were kicked out of Vatican City!!

Nonetheless, we we grateful for the visit.  What a remarkable place.

The Coliseum & Roman Forum

On our trip to Rome, visiting The Coliseum was a must.  We booked a three hour tour with Claudia to explore the Coliseum, Palantine Hill, and The Roman Forum.  All of these sites are very close together.

The metro stop Coliseo literally drops you off at this vantage point!  I loved the Christmas tree out front.

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Claudia led us efficiently through, explaining that the Coliseum is in ruins for many reasons.   When the gladiator games stopped due to rulers objecting to their bloody nature, the Coliseum wasn’t as needed so was left deserted.   Earthquakes came in 847 and 1231 which caused significant structural damage.  Finally, when St. Peter’s Basilica was being re-built by Julius II, they used all the marble from the Coliseum to build the church.

The entire thing used to be covered in white marble.   You can see below the places where the marble was attached, leaving holes once it was taken.

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She taught us about the levels of seating.  Even back then, people received a “ticket” with their section and row.  Important people such as Senators and the Imperial Family were on the bottom tier, with protective walls. Then, the upper class in the 2nd tier, the lower class in the 3rd tier, and at the top: the women.  She explained it was common for women to be impressed with the gladiators.  Thus, they were kept at the top, at quite a length.

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The lower class tier. You’ll see people cooking in the stands because these were all day events.

 

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Some of the remaining marble Senatorial seats

If you aren’t familiar with Gladiatorial Games, it is when men fight to the death to entertain the crowd.  The Gladiators are actually slaves / criminals forced to fight.  You might remember from the movie The Gladiator that Maximus was actually a Roman general who became a slave due to the vengeful rule of the Emperor.

The gladiators are unfairly weighted against soldiers with chariots and better weapons.  To keep an element of surprise, wild animals were also released during the fights.  You can see a cross section of the lower part under the main floor, which contained staging areas.

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Cross section demonstrating the area under the floor

They have built a modern floor in the Coliseum today so that you can imagine it as it were, with the underlying area revealing in the ruin of the Coliseum.

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The Coliseum was quite advanced in design.  They had sails that could protect the spectators from the harsh sunlight.

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After being impressed by the Coliseum, we continued to Palantine Hill, the seat of many ancient Roman palaces and onto the Forum.

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The arch of Constantine, in sight of The Coliseum

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A look back at the Coliseum. The Arch of Constantine is the structure in the right hand side.

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The entry arch to The Forum

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A view towards Capitol Hill

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A view of the ruins of The Roman Forum

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The mound where Julius Caesar’s body was burned/cremated

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Everywhere you looked, there was something magnificent

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You know the saying, “All Roads Lead to Rome”? This is mile marker zero in Rome.

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The arch where you exit The Forum

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Leaving The Forum

Just outside The Forum was the jail.  This is the place that Jesus’s disciples, Peter and Paul, where kept before they died.

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If you took Mr. Ward’s Latin class like me in high school, we learned a lot about Romulus & Remus, the twins who were raised by the she-wolf.  A statue stands outside Capitol Hill demonstrating this legend.

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We were really in awe of this area.   Outside of Athens & Greece, no place that we have seen compares to the vast and significant history here in Rome.

Gratitude Friday: UNESCO World Heritage List

This Gratitude Friday goes out to UNESCO.   I actually had no clue what UNESCO was before we moved to Geneva.  However, because of the sheer volume of places in Europe, it became something of note during our travels.  UNESCO helps identify and protect the places in the world that are most important to humans, both culturally and naturally.  There are currently 962 places in the world on the list.  Roughly 80% are cultural while 20% are natural.

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How wonderful that there is an organization which makes it their mission to preserve and recognize these sites?   While sites like the Notre Dame in Paris might not have trouble gaining support, think about those in underdeveloped countries like Angkor Wat in Cambodia that can now have the financial and administrative resources to preserve and protect these special sites for the world to appreciate?

And also, I wanted to express our thankfulness for being able to visit over 30 new UNESCO sites during our time as ex-pats.   This is something that neither one of us thought we would do in a 1.5 year span.   While our travels will be slowing down with our move back to the US, I wanted to find a way to archive the sites that we had been to, both before this experience, and then after.

So, I have created a page in the main menu of the blog listing Our UNESCO Tracker.  I’ll keep this up in the future as well.

Bon weekend, everyone!

 

Happily Waltzing Around Vienna

Vienna is among the most beautiful cities I’ve seen. The Habsburgs, valuing the finer things in life, really created a magnificent environment in their capital.

I arrived earlier than Gabe in the weekend and did a self guided city walk.  Perhaps it should’ve been called a waltz because I was floating around with glee. Seeing the panorama of baroque architecture and elegant gardens near Volksgarten nearly brought me to tears.   Sure it might be accentuated by nostalgic feelings during our remaining last weeks in Europe, but truly, it was just that pretty.  No wonder the entire city is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Here are a few of the amazing places in Vienna we saw:

Habsburg Palace

Habsburg Palace

Lawn around Habsburg Palace with so many other elegant buildings surrounding

Lawn around Habsburg Palace with so many other elegant buildings surrounding

Lovely architecture

Lovely architecture in the Museum area

Museum area

Burgtheater

The Parliament

The Parliament

Trying to stay warm at Schloss Belvedere

Trying to stay warm at Schloss Belvedere

Stephensdom

Stephensdom

Schloss Schönbrunn

Schloss Schönbrunn

Grounds of Schloss Schönbrunn

Grounds of Schloss Schönbrunn

Lovely sculptured fountain

Lovely sculptured fountain

Manicured gardens

Manicured gardens

Panorama near Schloss Schönbrunn

Panorama near Schloss Schönbrunn

Icy pond and gorgeous skies

Icy pond and gorgeous skies

Viennese Café Culture & other Austrian Culinary Delights

The Viennese are very caffeinated due to the proliferation of fantastic cafés in their city. Inviting, dark, and sometimes smoky, they keep you wondering the history that’s taken place within their walls.
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Ambience at Café Braunerhof

We had the benefit of relaxing at Café Braunerhof while a violinist & pianist played classical music for a den full of Viennese patrons.  Decorated with rich fabrics, antique mirrors and dark woods, these cafés feel like you are sitting in your grandmas living room.  Buy a cup of coffee and you are welcome to make yourself at home. Racks of the day’s newspapers are yours to enjoy.

Most of these cafés serve delishous desserts and pastries.  We grabbed a few at Café sacher, trying the famous sachertorte and an apfelstudel.

The sachertorte was invented in Vienna

The sachertorte was invented in Vienna

Apfelstrudel is another Viennese delicacy

Apfelstrudel is another Viennese delicacy

In addition to the cafés, pastries dominated the hotel breakfast buffet with overflowing baskets providing endless possibilities of sugar intake. And at the Christmas markets, the confections were also plentiful and tantalized the crowds.
Lovely stand at the Rathaus market

Lovely stand at the Rathaus market

Lovely pastries

Lovely pastries

Waffle drenched in raspberries & vanilla sauce.

Waffle drenched in raspberries & vanilla sauce. Yes that is a trash can.  It was crowded and I had no place to stand!

And don't forget the pretzels!

And don’t forget the pretzels!

Mmmmm

Mmmmm

Beyond the sweets, breads, and java, Vienna still has much more to contribute in the culinary scene. We loved the soups….broths coming stuffed with goodies….crepe soup, pancake soup, and a beef noodle veggie soup were among those we tried.
Pancake or crepe soup

Pancake or crepe soup

And of course, we had to have wiener schnitzel, a popular Austrian dish of pounded & breaded veal or pork which is then deep fried.   We had veal and pork, both fried. We also tried a pan sauteed version with a sauce and rice. Our favorites were the veal options found at Fromme Helene, but we also liked the pork schnitzel at Café Rathaus.
Wienerschnitzel

Wiener schnitzel

Sauteed schnitzel

Sauteed veal schnitzel

The Austrian fair food kept us full and warm as well.  Over the course of the weekend, we had rosti (a potato dish), bratwurst & mustard, goulash, and two types of nockerl (like little gnocchi).
Holy nockerl, this stuff was good.

Holy nockerl, this stuff was good.

Goulash in a bread bowl

Goulash in a bread bowl

Austria is also know for its white wine.   In the local dialect, the word for Vienna is Wien and Wine is Wein.  We had fun at this place having lots of Wiener Wein.

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We also partook in the festival hot wine….

Gabe is a fan of the hot wine

Gabe is a fan of the hot wine. He was also excited to keep the boot mug….you pay a 2 euro or 2.50 euro deposit on your first drink for the cup.  We didn’t return ours.

 

Vienna is a city of the finer things: classical music, balls, culture, and the arts. But it is also a very satisfying food town as well. Perhaps it’s best enjoyed in the winter when it has a fantastic warming effect and the extra pounds dont show as clearly!!