Must do Tours of Rome

I can see why people say that Rome is their favourite city in Europe. It’s full of incredible ruins, food and drink. You can’t turn down a street without find one of these things. We there for two and a half days and it was amazing. I will write about different parts of our Rome trip later on, but this is just about the two tours we did. I feel like these need to be given the recognition they deserve!
So my first bit of advice is to book your tours before you go! Or if you are super keen book your time around the tours you want to do. We used a company call “Dark Rome” to book ours, though when we got there it was under City Wonders. Having just looked at both their prices they appear to be the same which is good having just been and paid for the ones on Dark Rome! Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t cheap but they are 100% worth it! Plus occasionally they have deals on. We got our Vatican City Tour with about 15% off.

Colosseum
This is probably one of the most amazing buildings you will see. And probably one of the busiest. This was pretty hard for us, we’ve been to several “tourist” sites but nothing prepared for these. There were just so many people queuing to get in and so many people just trying to sell you crap. Really does take away from the beauty of the ruins but one of those things I guess.

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We ended up doing the Express Colosseum Tour with Gladiator’s Entrance & Arena Floor, the main reason we picked this was because the one we really wanted to do was sold out!! However, this was still fantastic. The tour guide was amazing, knew so much about the history of the building – what it had been used for, what had happened to it etc. It’s also really good as they give you head sets, so as long as you keep up with your group you can hear everything they have to say without worrying that you are stood too far away.
We also entered though the Gladiators entrance, which I have to say, was incredible. You get a real sense of what they went though, and you can just imagine the crowds and noise you would get from 50,000 spectators. In doing a tour as well, you miss the crowds and the queuing which means more time spent doing the things you love. When we were on the arena floor there was probably 2 or 3 other groups which meant there was a lot of space for everyone and you really got to take it all in. The only small criticism I can come up with about this part is you don’t get as much time I was would have liked. But that really is just my view because I’m one of those crazy people that could have stood there for about half an hour looking at it all.

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You get to walk around a lot of the ruins, though there were still a lot of areas you can’t get to unless you are on another tour. It’s amazing how much of the buildings features are still there. One of the reasons so much was lost is because the Popes of the time stripped the building of the metals that was holding it together! There was then an earthquake where half of the Colosseum fell down. But despite this, you can still see some marble seats, full pillars and the basement where the gladiators were held before the flights. Another reason I would suggest you get a tour is because they don’t really have too many signs around so you wouldn’t learn as much about the history of the building. We wouldn’t have had a clue what 90% of the stuff was, or how old it really was, or how it ended up in the state it is now.
A small side note, and not related to the tour, but make sure you walk past the Colosseum at different times, in the evening it’s obviously still a little busy but nothing compared to the daytime. We spent about 20 minutes or so one evening post dinner just relaxing out side it! It was pretty special, and no people selling us stuff!!

Vatican City
We were up early, super early, 5.30am to be exact. We arrived at the Vatican at 6.15am, with our booking not opening until 6.30am we had a wonder around the walls, which is where we came up to the front of the St Peter’s Basilica. AND IT WAS EMPTY! It was just incredible to see it like this. I’ve only ever really seen images of it packed. This made it feel magical. So get up early and go down, even if you don’t have an early tour, it’s worth it.

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Our tour was breakfast in the Pinecone Courtyard, followed by a guided tour of the Museum, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica. The breakfast was good, but nothing really to write home about, there were pancakes, food breakie, pasties etc, the things you would expect at a hotel breakfast. The view and setting is really what made it.

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Same as before with the Colosseum we were given headsets which was perfect. The amount our guide knew was amazing. They also had a flip book to show you some of the paintings original sketches so you could compare the original idea to the final master piece. One of these being Raphael adding Michelangelo into his fresco in the Papal apartments, The School of Athens; something you would miss without a tour guide! I loved every minute. I could have stayed looking at all these paintings all day, but the Sistine Chapel was calling. When we got there, it was busy but to crammed together. We could still find space to move around and not bump into people. It was about 10am when we got in, so the museum had been open for only an hour by this point. I have to say the number of people rushing past as to get to the Sistine Chapel was sad. It’s hard to understand why people would just walk past so many just as fascinating paintings to see one –especially when you have paid for it all!! But each to their own.

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The Sistine Chapel was breath taking. I did get emotional which I was surprised by. I have been dreaming of seeing these paintings for as long as I can remember. It honestly took my breath away. I know other people say it’s not worth it, but it so is. Get in early, book a tour and take it all in!! the craftsmanship of the men that painted them. The stories behind each fresco. Pure genius. We had 20 minutes in here, which to me was a good amount of time. Don’t get me wrong I could have probably spent a good few hours just in that room looking at each master piece but let’s be honest your neck would start to hurt after a while. Oh and BTW Michelangelo didn’t do his paintings on his back, he created his own contraption to be able to do it standing up apparently.
From here, it was onto St Peter’s Basilica. It was beautiful. It’s the largest Catholic church in the world, and no other is allowed to be bigger. The dome is actually directly above where St Peter is apparently buried. The art work, which is all made out of mosaics are amazing. The smallest details are so impressive. And many look as if they are paintings until you get up close to them. If someone hadn’t pointed this out I don’t think I would have noticed.
Again, like the Colosseum, once we were in and the tour was over we were left there to enjoy ourselves. We climbed to the top of the Basilica, and it is well worth the 500 ish steps. It was an additional €8 each, or for an extra €2 you can miss the first 200 steps by getting the lift. I can tell you now it’s not worth the €2. Those first lot of steps are by fair the easiest you could do. If you suffer from claustrophobia, this is probably not for you, as you can imagine the walls curve in. Take your time and enjoy yourself once you are to the top. The view is incredible. Thankfully on the way back down you go a different way so you don’t have to squeeze past people. You come out on the roof where there is a small café and toilets. Grab yourself a coffee and put your feet up for a bit. It’s really just an amazing place to relax for half an hour!

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I couldn’t recommend these guys enough! Everything about them was so well organised.

Have you been to Rome? Did you do a tour at all while you were there? What did you think?

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My European Bucket List

It’s good to have travel goals, right?! I love to plan, and read about all those places to go and its hard to pick a top list but this is it… today, it might change next week…

Lake Bled, Slovenia

I actually heard about this place from a girl I work with who loves Eastern Europe. And the second she showed me pictures I knew I wanted to go. I mean just look at it, it’s stunning. A medieval castle in the middle of a lake, surrounded by mountains. There is also so much to do around here, cannoning, hiking and swimming to name a few.

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Lake Bled

Berlin, Germany

I love history, so naturally I have a draw to Berlin. I want to see Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall and the Reichstag. On top of all of this, I have Germany heritage. I don’t know much about it, which is terrible and as I write this, it’s gone onto the list of things I need to change. I know Germany isn’t that far away, and considering everywhere else I’ve been it is bad I have yet to go.

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Reichstag

Prague, Czech Republic

Charles Bridge and the Old Square look gorgeous. The Bridge was built in 1357, think how much it has seen! You can take boat trips along the Vltava River and view the city from a different perspective (one of the things I loved doing in Amsterdam)! There is also a beer festival in May!

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Charles Bridge

Budapest, Hungary*

To start, Thermal Springs! Who doesn’t want to hang out in hot springs for a few hours surrounded by amazing architecture? Gothic, Turkish, Roman and Renaissance plus everything in between, so much to fall in love with.

*Just booked flights for March. I can’t wait!!

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 Parliament of Budapest

 

 

Rome, Italy

Food, the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel. Just listing those things has made me look up flights for April! It’s all very cliché, and I don’t care. I want to see all those things. I know it’s not Rome, but I also would love to go to the Vatican City. It would be rude to go all the way over and not really!

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Collosseum

Copenhagen, Denmark

Though being in two minds about going to Denmark at all I do still have a draw to Copenhagen. Perfect place for city break. Obviously I would have to see the Little Mermaid but I want to have wonder up and down Nyhavn! See where Hans lived and wrote (somewhat odd) fairy tales. And the Christmas market looks incredible.

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Nyhavn

Where are the places in Europe that you want to go?! Or where else would you recommend?

Travel – is it ticking boxes or experiencing cultures? Asking and attempting to answer the question

This is a hard one to write. Are we travelling to tick boxes, to say we’ve been somewhere, to get that perfect Instagram picture or to learn about other cultures, to admire the natural world, to explore the untouched? Just because our experiences are different does it mean that theirs was wrong, or even ours was wrong?

I went off for 6 months with The Boy and went to South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand. The stick I got for picking those locations was ridiculous, upsetting and judging!

“Why do you want to go there? It’s so touristy? Everyone does that?”

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Yes I knew people that had been, in fact my stepbrother had done it years before me and the stories he came back with made me want to go. I wanted to see a different culture, eat different foods and see a new world, something I had never seen before. Yes, I did touristy things, but are things touristy just because a lot of people do them? Would you say Angkor Wat is touristy? No. So why is going to S.E.A classed as a touristy thing to do? Once you start digging (or lightly scrapping the surface) you can see why – drunk westerners in Bangkok, the Full Moon Parties and the Island Hoping. This isn’t the South East Asia I saw, this was “Lads on Tour”, “I want to lay on a beach”, “I need a tan to show I’ve been away”. Why have these people travelled so far to do something they could do in the South of France for a fraction of the cost? Have they come just to say they have been, and got that perfect Instagram picture?

“If it’s not on Social Media did it really happen?”

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Is this what we’ve become? Or are they trying something that doesn’t interest me? Am I wrong for judging people’s travels or holidays because I think they could have just done that at home, because it doesn’t seem “cultural” enough? I think that if you go somewhere, you respect their culture, just like I feel when people come to the UK. Respect is key. So as long as they are respectful why does it bother me that they are just partying and drinking? In my view we should want to travel to explore what makes our planet so beautiful, so diverse, and so original. I personally don’t think you get that at the bottom of a bottle. Some cultures have a lot of drinking in them, look at Ireland, and imagine visiting and not having a pint of Guinness. But Ireland isn’t just about the black stuff, it’s about its history, Vikings, scenery, religion and so so so much more. A beach is just a beach unless you explore the area around it. A city just a city if you don’t go into the buildings. A country is just another ticked box if you don’t find out what that country is about. In my view, don’t go to a country just to do what you would do at home…

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I also know some people pick their location based on the land mass they can scratch off on their map. When I first heard this is how they were picking their next trip it was hard not to laugh. It sounded so ridiculous to spend all that money to go somewhere just because it’s a big land mass to show off on your map. Why not read about different places and pick from that? But then I started to thinking about it more. If you know you want to see the world and you can’t decide where to start why not start by picking large countries? Then do your research on that country? Can you really go wrong, you’re still going to see the culture of somewhere new? I suddenly felt bad about the fact I had been that judgy person. If you want to see the world does it matter how you choose your location? I mean, I made a promise to myself that I would visit one new country every year but why a new one, why not go back to something I loved? Because I want to experience somewhere new, or because I want to have another country ticked off. And if I am honest, it’s both. When I’m old and grey I want to look back at all the places I’ve been to, to have got as close to seeing all 196 countries (and yes I’m including Taiwan as its own country) as I possibly could. But not just to say I have been there, to have seen as many cultures as I can, to try new things, to eat and learn to cook new foods.

Yes travel, pick your location however you want, but don’t go somewhere because you feel you have to, go because YOU want to. Explore what that country has to offer, do those touristy things, and learn something new.