August - October 2015
  • Day76

    Rome - Roman Forum

    October 15, 2015 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    On the way there, we got to see the Altar from last night in the daylight with another column, Trajan's Column (#5), near excavations of Trajan's Forum (#6). Seems like anywhere they dig in this city they run into 1000+ year old ruins.

    This was the centre of Roman civilisation from around 2500 years ago. It's actually quite well preserved considering (maybe because) it was covered in sediment/debris after the Roman Empire fell ~1500 years ago.

    Entirely by accident, we entered by a side entrance (near Trajan's Forum), skipping the huge line at the entrance. We followed another Rick Steves guide to give some context to the ruins, but basically lots of temples and Caesars' houses and a few government buildings.
    I was most impressed by the Basilica of Maxentius, so huge to have been built in ~300AD, especially when you consider the remaining part is only one side and is missing the taller nave section (in the left background of #2, oh btw that's just the Coliseum further away on the right).
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  • Day75

    Rome - Walking Tour

    October 14, 2015 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    The walking tour took us to some of the interesting-but-not-superstar level sights in the city (which is a good thing because we were going to see the big things anyway).

    We saw the Column of Marcus Aurelius (#1), with its very detailed spiralling relief story, the remaining side of the Temple of Hadrian (#2), pockmarked by the removal of valuable brass (used by Romans to strengthen stone structures, apparently unnecessary). We also saw the Pantheon, but being almost hemispherical inside, it was difficult to photograph (if you're interested: http://www.monolithic.org/domes-more/the-pantheon-rome-126-ad/photos ).

    I particularly liked the Sant'Ignazio Church because it had painted ceilings to make it look like it had high arches and a dome (#3,4), when in fact it has flat ceilings (look closely at the photos!), all done by a priest who painted as a hobby.

    After the tour we wandered across Piazza Navona, with its Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers, #5), and later Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland, the largest monument in Rome, #6), both lit up very nicely at night.
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  • Day75

    Rome - Exploring

    October 14, 2015 in Italy ⋅ 🌧 21 °C

    We'd booked a walking tour starting later in the day (yes, you have to book and print out your tickets for a free walking tour - Italy in general seems oddly bureaucratic while simultaneously lax about rule-following), so we had the morning to wander.

    There was a great view (#1) from the Trinità dei Monti, just at the top of the Spanish Steps (#2) (empty because they're closed for renovation). On the way we also saw orange trees at the roadside (#3), walked through the Villa Borghese Gardens (a smallish park we realised is bigger than Vatican City, #4), and via the Piazza del Popolo with its twin churches (#5).
    Stopped for lunch at a traditional Italian place and had my fist taste of really good Italian food (#6). Pasta always seems to be in small portions here (5 ravioli for 8€ ouch) and you order primo/secondo plates in addition.
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  • Day74

    Venice - Walking Tour

    October 13, 2015 in Italy ⋅ 🌧 13 °C

    Squeezing in a bit more to our short stay in Venice, we went on a walking tour today before we left. Unfortunately it was raining pretty heavily, but with the high tide (more on that later) it kinda felt like the city was being drowned.

    There was interesting history on the tour, but what I kept noticing was the water level. It's just insane how close this place is to being underwater. You can see it clearly in the last 3 photos - the water's about 5cm below the street/plaza level. At one point our group was standing on a "sidewalk" like (#6) while a boat went past and the wake wave continued onto the stone to soak the shoes of about half the group.
    We learned that in very high tides (acqua alta) they place mini-tables on the streets to walk above the water. A flood covers 15% of Venice about 4 times per year!

    It was also interesting to see how boats are used exactly like cars here, to the point of little traffic jams and minor altercations about people's driving abilities.
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  • Day73

    Venice - St Mark's Square

    October 12, 2015 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Seeing as we had only one night in Venice and the next day's walking tour wouldn't cover the highly touristy places, we used another Rick Steves audio guide to show us around. It was actually pretty empty - pro tip for avoiding the crowds: go when it's cold and dark! :P
    There were still the small bands playing at the restaurants (#1) and we saw just the outside of St Mark's Basilica (#2) and the nearby Doge's palace (#3) and over-hyped bridge of sighs (#4).
    On the way back to our hostel we stopped at a traditional Venetian restaurant for a sampling of cicheti (Venetian tapas, at Venetian prices, ouch!). Also there were lots of shops selling masks (to do with the historical Venetian Carnival) - I thought #6 was particularly creepy at night.
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  • Day73

    Venice - Boat Tour

    October 12, 2015 in Italy ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Given that gondola rides in Venice are about 80€ for a 40 minute ride, we went for the cheap version: the number 2 (non-express) ferry down the Grand Canal (7€), with Rick Steves' excellent audio guide. It was getting dark when we left, which actually made for some very pretty lighting on the buildings and reflecting off the water.
    We saw the Rialto Bridge (#1), a bunch of merchants' palaces (#2, #3), and the large basilica of La Salute (#4).
    It was interesting to learn that Venice was very multicultural/open, with influences from different cultures/religions (as long as you can trade!), so you get palaces with multiple different styles like (#2).
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  • Day73

    Munich/Verona/Venice - Brenner Pass

    October 12, 2015 in Austria ⋅ ☀️ 9 °C

    Another very scenic train ride that was recommended online (seat61.com), going from Munich to Venice via Verona and the Brenner Pass. This one passed through valleys between mountains, and eventually started passing very typical-Italian looking places (to my eye at least): vineyards and little villages.
    Also, technically I've been in Austria now :)
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  • Day72

    Munich - Dinner

    October 11, 2015 in Germany ⋅ 🌙 6 °C

    For our last dinner we headed to another beer hall (Augustiner Bräustuben), as recommended by our hostel. This one was super packed and almost every table was reserved. The waiter at the door was unhelpful-verging-on-rude as we tried to figure out if we could fit in or reserve for later. In the end he told us to see for ourselves that it was full. As we were wandering around a much nicer waiter noticed us looking lost and immediately seated us at a shared table (he got a tip!).

    The food and atmosphere were excellent, even better than the Hofbräuhaus I think. I got a sampler dish of roasted pork saddle, swabian ravioli, a grilled meat ball, and pretzel dumplings in a mushroom gravy. Mmmmm. Gyurme had schnitzel and fries, and I had a delicious apple strudel for dessert.

    We also happened to be sitting right next to the band :)
    Band playing: https://goo.gl/photos/mL2jev2UQpPwhSMu8
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  • Day72

    Munich - Science Museum

    October 11, 2015 in Germany ⋅ ☁️ 9 °C

    Gyurme went to Dachau but I decided I didn't really want to see another concentration camp, so I went to the science museum instead. It wasn't as interactive and child-oriented as science museums often are (aww, those things are fun! Maybe it was in the kids-only area downstairs) but it had heaps of neat stuff nonetheless.

    I particularly liked the cut open German submarine (the first type of U-boat, U-1, actually the only one ever made), and the scanning electron microscope demonstration (spoken in German, but I could at least look at the images, eg. #2 of a ~1cm scorpion, and zoomed in on the serrated inner edge of its claw).

    There were also multiple jet engines (#3) a ~9 storey high Focault pendulum (#4), one of the planes that featured in The Wind Rises (#5), and an electricity/lightning demonstration that I mostly missed (#6). Spent a good 4 hours here but could have stayed longer. Most descriptions were in German and English but unfortunately the demonstrations (of which there were many) were all in German.
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  • Day71

    Munich - Walking Tour

    October 10, 2015 in Germany ⋅ 🌫 10 °C

    I felt like the walking tour in Munich was a bit lacking in terms of important history (Hitler rose to power here but they actively avoid turning Nazi stuff into shrines in Germany, so there maybe wasn't much to see).
    We did see the "famous" Rathaus-Glockenspiel (which the tour guide was openly dismissive about, #1) and heard some interesting stories (factual accuracy disputed) about the church with no visible windows (#2), and the use of walking sticks to guide pee into the sewage-channels in the floor of the beerhall. We also saw the square where people (including Hitler) would make speeches (Odeonsplatz, #3) and the nearby corner where passers-by were forced to Nazi-salute, suddenly boosting the popularity of an alleyway that let people avoid the corner.

    We finished the day with a traditional meal in the Hofbräuhaus, one of the oldest beer halls in Munich. It was warm, busy, packed, and loud, with an oom-pah-pah band providing music and a jovial atmosphere: it was fun!
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