Western Europe Wiggle

August - October 2015
August - October 2015
  • Day82

    Whangaparaoa - Home Again!

    October 21, 2015 in New Zealand ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    It's good to be home! (photo from Orewa beach nearby)

    Seeing as many people have asked this, I think my favourite places/things were Norway (for the very modern yet green city of Oslo and the amazing scenery towards Bergen), Madrid (for the [I know it sounds bad to say this, but] suprisingly first-world city that I wasn't really expecting, with good/cheap food and drink and my favourite hostel of the trip), London (for the museums and history), Munich (felt like a city I could live in), and Rome (for the food and oodles of history). Also the Sagrada Familia wins best church hands down (although I wasn't really a fan of Barcelona).

    I think that wraps it up for this trip, bye!
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  • Day79

    Rome - Goodbye! (with a snag)

    October 18, 2015 in Italy ⋅ 🌧 17 °C

    I had a great holiday and got to see tons of places/things/cultures that I'd heard about. Cheers, Europe!
    Time to get back on a plane for a little 6 hr flight to Dubai, then the long 13.5 hrs to Melbourne and 3.5 hrs to Auckland (29 hours from departure to arrival).

    Unfortunately, as we were checking in, they told Gyurme he couldn't get on the plane because (as a New Zealand permanent resident, but an Indian citizen) he needs a visa just to transit through Australia. Wow, ok, couldn't someone have mentioned this earlier? The Australian embassy in Rome was already closed for the evening and you can't get the visa once you're already on the flight plan, so Gyurme had to (expensively) rebook his flight through Singapore instead. Luckily we were plenty early at the airport so had time to sort it all out. #2 is Gyurme looking rather defeated/displeased afterwards.Read more

  • Day79

    Rome - Baths of Diocletian

    October 18, 2015 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Having a few hours to spare on our last day, we decided to check out something we'd walked past many times but never investigated. Turns out it was the Baths of Diocletian, now part of the National Roman Museum. It was a bit pricey to get in because there was a modern art exhibition on there too (13€ for an 8-day pass to a bunch of museums we didn't have time to visit).

    Anyhow, these baths were the largest ever constructed by Roman emperors. It's a huge site for a single complex - larger in land area than St Peter's Basilica. A lot of the original structure has broken down, but what remains still give a sense of the grand scale of the place (#1,2,3) and its craftsmanship (#4 - Hercules vs Achelous). Part of the original frigidarium (cold bath room) has been turned into an entire church (#5).

    There were also a lot of assorted artefacts arranged around the area with little ceremony (#6). I guess when you dig up your 500th 2000 year old broken statue/sarcophagus it's not that special any more. I thought the museum itself was pretty average.
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  • Day78

    Rome - Food

    October 17, 2015 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    How have I been in Rome so long without a food post?! I think Rome had my favourite food choices of anywhere on this trip, especially when you consider price (Paris also had some great food but it was much more expensive). Most of these places were in the area around Piazza Navona, but you had to hunt for them (preferably online) to avoid the expensive tourist trap places.

    Here are some of my favourites/notables:
    Pizza at Baffetto (#1), was recommended by our walking tour guide. The place was packed, with a line to get in, and the pizza was excellent and reasonably priced.

    I averaged at least one gelato per day in Rome (so good, so cheap - usually 3.5€ for 3 scoops), and right beside Baffetto was the 2nd best gelato place I found, called Frigidarium. The best gelato had to be Giolitti, where the blueberry sorbet was just amazing (#2). And free whipped cream on top. Very Roman system: pay at one counter, order at another, no free seating inside or outside.
    I also tried a "cannoli siciliani" (#3) at Dagnino. It's a hard biscuity tube filled with chocolate chip ricotta. Although Dagnino apparently makes these well, I just thought they were weird (also, expensive).

    At a place called Il Fico I had an excellent lasagne (#4), which was much more about the pasta than the meat/cheese compared with other lasagne I've had. Also here I had an AMAZING parmigiana di melanzane (eggplant parmesan) that I ate too fast to take any photos - probably my favourite dish in Rome.

    Basically every pasta dish I had was very good, but these ones (#6) from Osteria Della Suburra, along with the huge antipasti dish (#5) was probably my favourite combination of price and taste (PS. I'm not that much of a glutton, that's Gyurme's food too!).
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  • Day78

    Rome - St Peter's Basilica Dome

    October 17, 2015 in Vatican City ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    After seeing the inside of the Basilica we went to go up the dome, only to find it had just closed (being Italy, there were no signs saying when it would close). Damn, we should have gone up first! However, we had an extra day with nothing planned so we came back the next day to walk up the 550 steps to the top.

    About halfway up you're standing on the roof of the main nave area so you get an up-close view of the church structure, and then go inside for a view down and around the inside of the dome (#2). Up close you can see all the "paintings" are actually mosaics made of thousands of tiny pieces of coloured glass. Many paintings here were copied using this technique and replaced, for longevity.

    Next the really neat part, walking up the dome itself, in passageways that are clearly forced to fit around the shape of the dome (#3,4).

    Finally you're standing in a caged-in area with spectacular 360 degree views of the city and the ant-people below. That viewing area is visible in #5, which might give a better sense of scale to the photo of the whole basilica from 2 posts ago.
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  • Day77

    Rome - St Peter's Basilica

    October 16, 2015 in Vatican City ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Breaking this up into a separate post because there was lots to see!
    After getting through the security check and the clothes-etiquette check (slightly worrying because I had shorts on, instead of pants as recommended) we made it in and decided to go inside the Basilica before climbing the dome.

    Again, wow, what a gigantic impressive building!
    Very pretty though not as ornate as some other churches I've been to - probably because detail would get lost in this huge expanse. Again it doesn't feel as vast and imposing as it really is - Rick Steves explains that many features inside help it feel a bit more intimate, like the statues further up columns actually being larger than the closer ones and the altar canopy (#4, with nice God-rays behind) filling some of the vertical space.

    Among the many amazing sculptures was Michelangelo's Pietà (#5), and one I took a really terrible photo of, that turned out to be the Tomb of Pope Alexander VII (http://www.wga.hu/art/b/bernini/gianlore/sculptur/1670/alex.jpg) - I love the way the stone looks so much like cloth.

    And I took a pretty sweet photo sphere that is now viewable only on my phone because Google removed the web viewer, grrr :{
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  • Day77

    Rome - St Peter's Square

    October 16, 2015 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    After the Sistine Chapel we walked around the corner (not taking the ~18€ tour that would've let us skip 10 mins walk and that someone was trying to sell on every street corner) to St Peter's Square. Wow, it's gigantic!
    Despite its size and the fact it wraps around you, the Basilica manages not to loom over you. Apparently the idea is that it's like comforting arms.
    The line to get in to the Basilica ran along half the circumference of the square (which is a circle btw) but "only" took about 30 mins to get in. During that time we listened to another Rick Steves guide pointing out the features of the square.
    Oh, and Vatican City hires Swiss guards and has them wear this traditional uniform (#5). Still looks quite good I think!
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  • Day77

    Rome - Vatican Museum / Sistine Chapel

    October 16, 2015 in Vatican City ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    The last big things to see in Rome were in Vatican City (with impressive walls, #1). First, we went to see the Vatican Museum (including the Sistine Chapel).

    The museum is half about the items on display, and half about the rooms themselves, with their beautifully painted ceilings and walls (#2,3) (by famous names like Raphael and Michaelangelo but not quite on the level of Versailles IMO).

    At some point, the crowd all begins moving in one direction, and you're trapped in a human mass conveying you along a winding route to the Sistine Chapel. I was a bit disappointed by this: I'm sure many people just want to see the Chapel and could take a more direct route, while those that actually want to stop and admire the rooms get pushed along (if you're afraid of crowds just don't bother).

    The Chapel itself was impressively painted, and made appreciable with Rick Steves again, pointing out and explaining the features. The quiet hum in the sardine-packed Chapel was frequently interrupted by a jarring man on a loudspeaker booming "SHHHHHHHHHH. SILENCIO. SILENCE. NO PHOTOS. NO VIDEOS". Kinda ironic.
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  • Day76

    Rome - Colliseum

    October 15, 2015 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Right next to the Roman Forum, and visible from all around. Such an impressive ruin, such a grand scale! Once again we used the Rick Steves audio guide to give us a bit of history: I didn't know that people got to go for free, it was a way of keeping the masses occupied so they didn't revolt. We went kinda late in the day and had online tickets, so there was basically no wait in line, yay!
    It was a bit unnerving seeing the guards with automatic rifles everywhere, though (#4).

    On our way back we saw the beautiful clean river Tiber (#5). I can now see how green alien crystals could infest the area without anyone noticing.
    Also came across a small road intersection with a fountain on each corner that was really nice (though impractical because there's no space to stand and look at the statues, #6).
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