Hangin’ Out with our Mate Dave – Florence – Day 36

We packed lots of sights into our 1 full day in Florence! We both really loved the feel (vibe?) of Florence and would have happily stayed a bit longer and maybe popped over to Pisa to check out that tower but we saw all our top sights for Florence in 1 day (thanks to Caitlin’s planning and Sam’s navigating) so we’re pretty happy. First we redid the sights from yesterday with a bit more knowledge then headed down the popular shopping street Via dei Calzaiuoli (they had a Disney store so we’ve now seen one in nearly every country we visited) to Piazza del Duomo.

Unfortunately a lot of the sites were covered in scaffolding etc for repairs but the first site to catch our eyes was the magnificent cathedral. The coloured marble makes it really stand out compared to all the brilliant buildings we’ve seen in our travels. After a hassle with a nasty tour guide trying to convince us to join the wrong line so she could take her tour group through first when the cathedral opened we got our audio guides and got a peek inside. Most of the inside (including most of the sights on the audio guide, so I wouldn’t recommend getting it if you’re ever here) are sectioned off for prayer only so we couldn’t see a lot but enjoyed what we could see. We opted to skip climbing the tower and headed on to our next site.

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We stopped for lunch at the a nice restaurant on the Piazza della Repubblica before heading on to see the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. We decided not to go inside this time and head on to our next stop to visit THE David.

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There are 2 top galleries/museums in Florence and we chose to visit Galleri Dell’Accedemia (the Gallery of the Academy) over the more popular Uffizi so we could see David. I am so happy with that choice! Unfortunately there’s no photography inside the gallery so I can’t show you, but a picture can’t really do it justice. I went back to David about 5 times in between the rest of the gallery (and was upset when I realised we’d accidentally exited without one last look). The other highlights include some other Michelangelo sculptures that were never finished and a music themed section hidden away with some very old instruments and musically themed paintings.

Our last stop was at the Basilica of Santa Croce to visit Michelangelo’s tomb (not far from where he was born). It was a beautiful basilica.

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Michelangelo’s tomb

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Ponte Vecchio, Piazza Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria – Rome/Florence – Day 35

We caught the high speed train from Rome to Florence. It was so quick and less stressful than flying (you could probably arrive at the station 5 min before your train and still make it). I loved watching the countryside go by, lots of beautiful sights. I wish I could take proper photos from the train!

We arrived in Florence and were shown into our apartment with no problems. Our building is pretty old (like basically every building in Italy) and has a tiny elevator which requires you to manually open and close 2 sets of doors, has a 3 person maximum and makes a terrifying sound every time it ‘locks’ and leaves or arrives at a floor. An experiment proves that if you open the inside set of doors while in motion it stops between floors and waits for you to stop being silly.

We love this apartment! The location is perfect. We decided to go for a wander after we got settled and discovered the famous Ponte Vecchio (a very old bridge that has goldsmiths along it now) is basically at the end of our street. We followed the street along and saw lots of shops and stalls around. I want to photograph nearly every street we see in Florence, they are all so beautiful and interesting. My 50mm lens finally got a chance to see some light on this trip (and reminded me why it’s my favourite – it’s just not suited to shooting big tourist sights in close spaces so it hasn’t made the cut most days)! We stumbled on Palazzo Vecchio (“town hall” of Florence, ‘Old Palace’) and Piazza della Signoria and checked out some famous sculptures including the replica of David, Medici lions and  The Rape of the Sabine Women. We also got some delicious gelati (I got ‘cream’ flavour which was great and tasted a bit like custard) and had dinner at a cute restaurant right next to our apartment building.

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Ponte Vecchio

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Palazzo Vecchio

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Replica of David where the original once stood

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A Medici Lion

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The Rape of the Sabine Women

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Our street

Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and the Colosseum – Rome – Day 32

Today we explored some ancient Roman ruins. They were truly breathtaking (and I can’t believe how much there was to see!). We started with the Roman Forum then followed it back through Palatine Hill and on to the Colosseum (all included in the one ticket and definitely worth the time to see at least a bit of each area).

I found a useful app with free audio guides (they have lots for other places in Europe too!) but we were a bit worried about my phone’s terrible battery life (as it has the maps back to our apartment) so we ended up relying on the info signs scattered around. I was able to read some interesting things through the app though and we might listen to the rest later. The history of these areas is certainly interesting but I think the sights are amazing enough without too much background. What do you think?

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Rule #375 of the trip: If a cat is seen a photo must be taken.

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Colosseum Cat!

We passed lots of beautiful buildings and streets on our walk to and from the sights today. We also popped into ‘Despar’ to grab breakfast and some snacks/drinks/tomorrow’s breakfast. For dinner we enjoyed take away pasta and pizza with our Italian beer and bubbles.

We miss you Paris! – Paris/Rome – Day 31

What a wonderful start to the day! Our flight wasn’t till later so we slept in before packing up and heading off to the airport. Due to a current issue with pollution all our public transportation was free! We said farewell to our beloved Metro and RER and had quick flight to Rome.

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That’s when our luck ran out. We haven’t set our phones up for roaming but our ‘host’ (the person holding the keys we needed to get into our apartment here) said we needed to call him from the airport. Sam got some change so we could use the payphones. I called the number we’d been given twice and each time got an error message (with the machine taking a euro each time even though the message said it was a free message!). That’s when I discovered he must have given us the number with the area code included… We also check our paperwork to find it had a different number to the one we’d been given directly by the host. After getting some more change I tried again minus the first 2 numbers and got through! Unfortunately it didn’t like my 2 euro coin so it then cut us off before we’d had a chance to resolve anything. Our host had had time to dis our bus idea in favour of the expensive but much faster option of a taxi. He also asked us to call him when we got to the apartment (um… how?). I dialled back to discover that while I could hear him, he couldn’t hear me. At this point I passed the role of responsibility onto Sam. He tried calling and found the same problem. I waited with the suitcase while Sam hunted down a different set of payphones and eventually got through and organised for our host to wait for us while we took a taxi to the apartment.

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We made it! The street is so narrow cars can’t drive down it and the area was really beautiful at night. Our host was lovely and the apartment is teeny tiny but kind of awesome. Sam ventured out and got us some yummy take away carbonara pasta. Despite all the hassle the taxi trip gave us a chance to see some beautiful sites already, including the Colosseum.

I miss Paris and its wonderful public transport, familiar grocery stores and Disneyland! Looking forward to discovering Rome over the next few days.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Love Locks and Versailles – Paris – Day 25

Today we finally saw Notre Dame Cathedral from the inside. So beautiful. It was a bit odd being inside a cathedral (while a service/mass was happening!) with such a big touristy crowd, but still a very special experience. We walked to the top of the towers which gave a wonderful view of the city, and a close up view of the gargoyles. The bells even rang while we were up there but I couldn’t see Quasimodo.

Sam requested that I use this photo for the Notre Dame post...

Sam requested that I use this photo for the Notre Dame post…

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There have been so many stairs on this holiday but we haven’t fallen down any since the first day =P

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Then we locked our love to a bridge and threw away the key! The process goes: (1) lock padlock anywhere you can find space on one of the love lock bridges (our lock was a lovely engagement present with the date we got engaged engraved on it) (2) kiss! (3) throw the keys into the Seine. Pretty sweet <3

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Can you spot it?

Next we took the train out to Versailles to visit the chateau. Their interior decorators really took over-the-top to the next level. Shiny!

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Musee D’Orsay and Musee Rodin – Paris – Day 24

D’Orsay Museum! One of the things I was really looking forward to seeing while in Paris is this Degas statue of a young ballerina (and a number of his paintings and sculptures of dancers that are also at D’Orsay). It did not disappoint, although the pesky museum staff preventing my from getting a photo with it did. Instead I posed out the front, let’s pretend it looks even a little bit like the statue ok?

I just need to work on my turn out! =P

I just need to work on my turn out! =P

We saw lots of gorgeous paintings and amazing sculptures, D’Orsay is definitely worth a visit. We may have spent more in the gift shop than I think we have at all the other museum gift shops combined (and we’ve been to quite a few on this trip) but we have some beautiful prints to decorate wherever we end up living this year (among other things).

For a couple of extra euros when purchasing our D’Orsay tickets we also got tickets to the Rodin Museum and popped in to visit The Kiss and The Thinker (among many other sculptures and paintings we weren’t familiar with since they aren’t quite as famous). Along with the display inside we could roam the gardens full of sculptures which was really lovely.

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After this we still had a bit of time left in our day. We had a look at Napoleon’s tomb but weren’t quite enthusiastic enough to pay to go inside so we walked over to the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately the lines were too ridiculous to contemplate so we walked home instead (after having a delicious crepe). We will be back at some point (we think)!

Île de la Cité and Île Saint Louis – Paris – Day 23

We got off to a late start this morning (after almost a month travelling it’s nice to have a bit a ‘free’ time in Paris to take things slowly, sleep in just once and have some time to relax reading/listening/watching something). When we arrived at our planned destination Notre Dame the lines for visiting the towers were incredibly long. Since we had seen how short they could be (when meeting our walking tour here on the first day) we decided to check in later and ended up putting Notre Dame off for another day, visiting other attractions on Ile de la Cite today instead.

We wandered over to Saint Chapelle, an incredibly beautiful chapel famous for it’s stained glass windows. I took at least a hundred photos inside but I’ll just share a few. Unfortunately for us quite a large section of the windows was blocked off while they repaired/conserved it. We got the audio tour here but I found it was a little hard to follow and we had trouble locating the sections of the glass it was referring to as some was blocked off completely and others were so high up it was difficult to make out the details. Take away = stunning visual, no commentary needed.

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2014-03-07 11.56.46We walked past the Palais de Justice (forgot to mentioning seeing it in the walking tour post!) on to the Conciergerie which was mildly interesting (got a joint ticket with Saint Chapelle so thought we’d give it a go). Lots of sad stories about the poor conditions and treatment prisoners received there.

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Palais de Justice

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Conciergerie

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A reproduction of Marie Antoinette's cell when she was kept here before being exectued.

A reproduction of Marie Antoinette’s cell when she was kept here before being exectued.

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Next we checked out the other island in the Seine, Ile Saint Louis. We had lunch then a yummy Berthillon ice-cream. After that we walked along Rue du Commerce, a special shopping street that also leads us right back to our apartment (via Monoprix for more groceries).

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What A Beautiful City – Paris – Day 22

What a day! We did a fantastic walking tour of Paris. Our tour guide Paul was lovely and made everyone feel welcome. He referred to the group as a family the whole day and there were 2 fellow Brisbanites on the tour with us. It was an excellent introduction to Paris and covered so many amazing sights (we saw lots more than I manage to cover in this blog!). It really helped us feel comfortable in the city and so excited for everything we’ll be seeing close up/from the inside in the coming week (I don’t think I’ll go into much detail on the actual sights today as we’ll be visiting again and learning a lot more soon). It was also free but everyone tipped Paul at the end as he’d definitely earned it with the wonderful tour he gave.

The introduction to the tour included 2 warnings. Warning Number 1: Watch out for poo! As it turned out we didn’t see any at all but apparently it can be quite an issue with most dog owners in Paris ignoring their civic responsibility to pick up their dog’s poop. Warning Number 2: Watch out for scammers! Sam and I laughed at this as we’d just had our own experience while waiting to meet the tour group. Girls will walk up and ask if you speak English, if you say yes they will try to get you to sign something that seems to be a petition for some cause or another, but if you do sign they will then ask for money. Another scam which he pointed out while we were further into our day was the ‘gold ring’ scam where the person will say that you dropped this ‘gold’ ring, and insist you keep it despite your protests that its not yours, then ‘notice’ they are broke and ask for some money in exchange for the ring they just gave you. The take away message here is don’t sign any bits of paper or accept anything offered to you.

Our meeting point was on Ile de la Cité and (‘the Island of the City’ in the river Seine, the centre of Paris) right next to Notre Dame Cathedral. The cathedral is breathtakingly beautiful and we’ll definitely be back for a proper visit. Fun fact: the darker colour of the spire is due to dirt/grime. When the whole cathedral was cleaned to produce the colours we see today they ran out of time to finish the spire. I can just imagine the intimidating effect the cathedral might have had when it was all dark.

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Also on Ile de la Cité was the ‘point zero’ for France which is used to measure how far anything if from France (despite the centre of Paris being nowhere near the centre of France).

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On the next stretch Paul pointed out La ConciergerieLa Sainte ChapellePont NeufPlace Dauphine, bohemian second hand book sellers (The Bookinistes) and the fire fighters of the Seine who happened to be playing volley ball IN the Seine when we passed.

Tour guide game: what does this sign mean?

Tour guide game: what does this sign mean?

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From Pont de Arts looking back at Pont Neuf and Ile de la Cité.

We stopped at Pont des Arts, one of the Lovelock bridges (we’ll be heading to one ourselves to lock on a lovely engagement gift at some point). I had no idea there was more than one (Pont des Arts, Pont de l’Archeveche and Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor)! Also, it’s technically illegal!

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We saw Musée du Louvre and Musée de Orsay (cannot wait to visit some of Degas’ ballet sculptures and paintings here). Paul gave us some tips on planning our trips to these giant museums.

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Musée Louvre

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Musée de Orsay

We walked through Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden), Place de la Concorde and onto Champs Elysées where we could see Arc de Triomphe in the distance (we saw Arc de Triomphe Carousel earlier which is confusing).

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Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden)

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Arc de Triomphe Carousel

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Paul described this as one of the ‘sexy Napoleons’, as opposed to a realistic ones which were much shorter and stouter.

Toward the end of our tour we saw Academie Française (the place where ‘the immortals’ protect the French language from corruption and foreign slang), Grand Palais and Petit Palais (the big and small palaces), Michel Alexander III bridge, Napoleon’s Tomb,  Les Invalides (former hotel turned museum) and École Militaire (the military school, see picture for bullet holes that prove it’s legit). That’s not even close to the order we saw it all in but my brain has muddled it around too much to care at this point. Lots of cool things! Beautiful buildings! Yay Paris!

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Grand Palais

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outside Petit Palais

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Les Invalides

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Les Invalides

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Napoleon’s Tomb

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Bullet holes in École Militaire.

Bonus fun. A photo of some fun street art. Below that is the ‘goat moat’ surrounding Les Invalides. Our tour guide Paul told us the story of how he had been doing a segway tour when someone dropped their helmet into the moat. He jumped in to get it and was surrounded by attack goats (kept there to trim the grass, and intruders) who chased him all over the moat while a police man yelled and whistled at him. He eventually made it out and was promptly tackled by the police man and would have been arrested if not for the large group of clueless foreigners he had waiting for the rest of the tour on their segways. Sadly the goats have now been replaced by a lawn mower… but apparently have be moved over to Tuileries Garden.

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We finished up our tour looking over Champ de Mars to Tour Eiffel. 

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Then we walked the very short distance back to our apartment and had a much needed restful evening. I intended to catch up on blogging Scotland and Ireland but instead I only got this one day done… while watching The Hunchback of Notre Dame (the music gives me goosebumps every time, gorgeous) and the Aristocats (’cause everybody wants to be a cat).

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Slán go fóill Éire, Bonjour France – Dublin/Paris – Day 21

That’s Gaelic for ‘See you later Ireland’ and French for ‘Hello France’! (Make sure you’re reading that last bit with a French accent since it’s France in French or English. On that note, every time I write Paris you should read it as ‘paree’ to keep things interesting).

After another early start we made it to Paris in record speed (a bit over an hour from Dublin to Paris). We arrived to a toasty 10 degrees (C) and managed to catch the RER B then the Metro to make it to our apartment near the Eiffel Tower (it’s just off Rue du Commerce Milly!).

Pretty much every time we interacted with anyone today I started off great with “Bonjour” but had no clue what to follow that up with… Luckily everyone essential spoke English. I usually then thanked them in English, forgetting to use my other French phrase ‘Merci’ (Ok, I might have a few others up my sleeve but they seem to leave my brain whenever I encounter an actual French person). A lovely lady held the door open for us as we came up the stairs from the metro with our suitcases, and since Sam decided to carry both his and mine she commented (very quickly) in French. My miming of ‘muscles’ (have you seen me show off the all-but-invisible definition in my bicep? exactly like that!) got a laugh and friendly smile :)

After an intense struggle with the wifi (we won… eventually…) we ventured out for sustenance. We found a great shop nearby called Monoprix and headed straight to the top floor to get some groceries. I’m looking forward to checking out the rest of the store some time. This was the most fun I’ve ever had while grocery shopping. I still haven’t quite got over the fact that you can buy alcohol while buying your groceries. Fun fact, you need to take your veggies to be weighed at a counter inside the store and get a sticker (like when you order at the deli in Aus). I definitely did not discover that at the check-out >_>

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I even found Speculoos (called Biscoff in America) which is basically cookie butter (I’ve wanted to try this spread for ages, but not enough to order it in, so this was exciting). It tastes exactly like the biscuits [Annie] (when eaten straight from the jar on a spoon, not sure about when it’s actually spread on bread).

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To top off this exciting adventure of an afternoon we stopped at Micky D’s for a Royale with Cheese (they use the metric system here).

royal cheese

Aaand after a nice bath I started trying to catch up on this whole blog thing while Sam eventually fell asleep on the couch. We miss you all lots and lots. Love and light!

St Paul’s Cathedral and the Museum of London – London – Day 9

Today we climbed a zillion steps to the top of St Paul’s Cathedral! The cathedral itself was stunning and the view from the upper galleries was amazing. First up was the Whispering Gallery. It was a bit too crowded to tell if it really carried our whispers to the other side of the cathedral but it was wonderful to get a closer look at the gorgeous roof (unfortunately no photography inside the cathedral). The next was the Stone Gallery with some lovely views of the city then even further up to the Golden Gallery. It was so windy up the top I thought my glasses might blow off =P

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We also popped into the Museum of London which was very kid friendly but not particularly engaging for us. There was definitely some interesting displays though.

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On our way home we grabbed a couple things at Primark and tried English McDonalds for dinner (surprisingly similar to Australian Maccas =P)

BONUS: Someone lost a tooth at breakfast!

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