Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Ok, ok... So I probably can't take all of the credit....fine, probably any of the credit. :-) However, my sister Sally and a couple of her friends began planning a trip to Italy some time around when Jenni and I were there, so....

Some of you know her, and I thought I would be nice and share their blog with you!



BTW, we were in Florida last Friday when the hurricane went by, and the waves were huge! (Considering it was the Gulf anyway...:-) where huge is like 7-8 feet.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

We're Home!!!

Here you’ll find little travel tips and funny things about our trip (make sure you at least scroll to the bottom):


“Mind the Gap!!!” –you will hear this a million times! Some of you know why…the rest of you? You’ll have to find out! ;-)

Because of all the tourists, they have “Look Left” and “Look Right” painted at every pedestrian crossing; why? Because, according to the British, they “drive on the correct side of the road”!

You cannot drink beer on the subway! (Not that there was any danger of us doing that anyway! ;-) Apparently you could before June 1st, and they had a big party on May 31st all over London. Glad we weren’t there, as it apparently got out of hand! (We saw it on the news while in Paris.)

IT RAINS!!! But, don’t worry if you don’t pack an umbrella (or bring a little one as we did), they sell them for fairly reasonable prices all over—we bought a big one for five pounds. Carry it with you every day, because as sure as you don’t it will rain!

On the same note about the weather, it may be hot one day and chilly the next…so bring a light jacket and carry it with you no matter what. Trust me, I’m hot natured and I was wearing a long sleeve shirt with a jacket and still a bit chilly.

Don’t get soaked by a passing motorist (as I did); remember they drive on the “correct” side of the road…I forgot. Nice…

Go to the British Museum. Even if you aren’t a big history buff, they have so much from so many places; it is worth it!

The Tower of London was probably our favorite thing we did in London; a lot of info tons to see!

Fish n’ chips…if you like Captain D’s or Long John Silver’s, dig in; if not, don’t bother as it taste exactly the same…everywhere you get it.

Get an Oyster card for the Underground! It will automatically make sure that you spend the least amount; i.e. if you travel several times per day, then it will cap out at what a daily pass would have cost you. Very convenient! (It also helps because they have a bunch of different zones and if you buy a ticket it might only be valid for 1 or 2 of them; and the fine is like 20 pounds!)

The Eurostar train to Paris…comfortable way to travel but nothing special; the security checks are not as bad and you keep your luggage with you at all times.

Speaking of security, if you want to be funny (and keep all the security people laughing with—or at you, not sure) make your passport photo a memorable one like mine…. ;-)
It was hilarious to hear the French border control guy say, “Hmm…maybe James Bond?...” and enjoy a laugh that stretched across borders and language barriers.


In Paris, go to Tour Eiffel (as the French call it) in the afternoon/evening, as the sunset from the top is amazing; and watching the tower sparkle from below is awe inspiring as well!

Expect to get frustrated in Paris by day 2 or 3; especially if you don’t speak French.

Most people are nice and polite; but they aren’t Burger King and even McDonald’s will not let you “Have it your way.” Which means, take your food as it is on the menu (most places) or don’t take it at all; that being said they aren’t rude about it; they just let you know if you ask.

Paris was the most expensive city by far. If the EUR/USD exchange rate had been better then maybe London would have been; but London was surprisingly not that expensive. (In Paris, a bottle of water might cost you 4 euros; the same one in London would be maybe 2 pounds.)

The Metro is very convenient in Paris! Lots of stops, and lots of lines, and you buy one ticket for anywhere in the city. That being said, you will probably end up using it a lot more than you planned, so a travel pass might be worth it—even if you aren’t staying a whole week. We ended up coming out a little worse by not buying the pass, and we were only there for 4-5 days.

If you do not plan it accordingly—and therefore skip by a lot of stuff—the Louvre will take you an entire day to see. We saw the 8-10 items we wanted to, and walked through some of the galleries; which took us nearly 5 hours. They know this at the Louvre, as your ticket is good for several days.

The pastries are great in France! However, the bread is not… Think hard, cold, teeth-breaking…
If you go near the Moulin Rouge, go during the day! I am a bit nervous about what that area would be like at night, as the whole street is lined with adult shops; and there were some interesting characters out during the middle of the day when we went!

Make sure you go to Montmarte and the Latin Quarter, as you will find souvenirs for half the price of other places; and Montmarte has a great view of the city!

Do not make Notre Dame your last stop of the day if you plan on climbing to the top (as we did). You will regret it when you pass step number 250 on your way to number 422. ;-) But the views were awesome!

Make sure you check out the funny crosswalk signs! The “stop” one looks really impatient, and the “go” one looks like he’s in a big hurry!

Just like in London, in Paris carry your umbrella with you! The day you don’t, it will rain! ;-)

The train to de Gaulle airport is slow! If you are on the south side of Paris, plan on 1 ½ hours apparently, not 45 minutes (which is what they told us at our hotel).

When you miss your flight, and you try 3-4 different options that don’t work, don’t freak out like I did! ;-) Something will work out eventually! You might even end up on an old train! (That was so old that probably even the GI’s who rode it during WWII thought it was old!)


Venice is tiny and the streets are too; so forget the map! Just follow the signs!

Staying off of the island was actually nice, as you didn’t have to drag your luggage around looking for your tiny hotel—like we saw people doing!

The pigeons will not hurt you, so just be calm! They will land anywhere they can though, so watch out!

Venice is much cheaper than Paris was! Except when it comes to a Gondola ride! Expect to pay!

The bidet has hot or cold water…. ;-)

Driving in Italy was pretty easy over all; but driving in a city in Italy is not! Also, when you park at a garage, you leave your keys—which unnerved me, and basically negated the reason I got a rental car for the trip from Venice through Florence to Rome.

So, taking the above into account; don’t drive unless you have to! (1/2 tank in my little car cost 60 euros!)

This is where we lost our umbrella; we left it on the train!


Parking in Rome is crazy! They basically cram as many cars as they can along the street, 2-3 deep, and hope that traffic can get around them!

The Metro in Rome is small, only two lines currently (they are working on a third); and a bunch of buses. The buses are confusing, but the trains are easy.

Your ticket is 1 Euro, and it is good for 75 minutes from the time you validate it; however you can’t get off and on the Metro during that time—only on once.

There are tons of ruins in Rome; everywhere you look! The main ones (i.e. Colloseum, Forum, Palatine Hill, etc) are all within ½ mile of each other.

Visit the catacombs; they will touch you.

Rome is covered by tourists in June! We got on one bus that was full of Americans!

That also means that a lot of the sites have plaques in Italian and English; very nice for those of us who do not speak Italian.

The food might be good here; but it can also be bad. It’s like playing Russian roulette.

Ok, final thoughts…

Driving in the UK is not that bad!

Turbo diesels are fun to drive!

You know you’re in Atlanta when you here the customs agent say “Welcome home ya’ll.” ;-)

They don’t have Mt. Dew in Europe! (It’s apparently illegal in the UK…)

You can get Dr. Pepper some places, but not everywhere.

A Coke with a cigarette butt in it tastes nasty, so look in your drink before you take a big gulp!

They don’t believe in ice in Europe either…or keeping things cold in the UK. (For the most part anyway; if they give you ice it will be like 3-4 small cubes.)

One last thing, as far as most of you knew Jenni and I were traveling alone; however, that wasn’t exactly the case…

…there were three of us! ;-)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

London, Day 16

All right, Day 16!!! Has it really been that many days? On one hand it seems like we’ve been gone forever, but on the other it seems like we just left!

This morning we started out in Rome, and rather than worry about another fiasco like Paris (hehe…) we decided to get a taxi to the airport; a bit pricey at €50 but a lot better than having to buy new plane tickets if our train took 2-3 times longer than it was supposed to. So, we arranged a taxi to pick us up and take us to the airport at 8am.

The taxi arrived at 7:30, and promptly began calling our room; of course we weren’t completely ready, but he waited…thankfully. So, our taxi turned out to be more of a private car; you know like the four door Mercedes’/BMW’s that drive people around? And our driver was smartly dressed in a very nice suit. Forty-five minutes later we were at the airport. (We flew out of Ciampano in Rome, which is not the biggest airport—Fiumicini.) Anyway, our flight to Luton (north-side of London) was event free, and we picked up our rental car without a hitch.

Now comes the fun part…driving on the wrong side of the car; on the wrong side of the road. :-D Actually not that bad after the first few minutes, as the truly hard part was shifting my little Audi A3 with my left hand instead of my right. Of course, we stayed on the main roads for the most part, with only about ½ mile on a narrow two lane road which seemed like it would be a harrowing experience!

We made it to Stonehenge, which is about 1-1 ½ hours outside of London, easily enough; and set out to explore the mysteries of it all. Stonehenge really is a big pile of rocks, in the middle of no where; there’s nothing but farmhouses and fields as far as you can see. This truly does add to the mystery, as the somewhat rolling landscape is a stark contrast to these towering rocks sticking up out of the ground. (Travel note here, enjoy the ride out and back; as the actual park is no more than the stones—i.e. not much to see; maybe 30-45 minutes on site. They do include an audio guide with your ticket which is very interesting.)

After Stonehenge, we hopped back in our Audi and headed towards Gatwick (south-side of London) for our return flight to Atlanta. At our hotel, we ate in the bar—as the restaurant had a long wait—and got to watch a futbol game with the constituents! (Along with enjoying some fish ‘n chips one last time!)

Tomorrow it’s off to the airport, and our 9 ½ hr flight back to Atlanta! (Yay!) ;-)

Check back tomorrow, as I’m going to try to write down some of the little humorous things that happened along the way!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Rome, Day 15

Today, since it was a Sunday we decided to sleep in a bit before heading out to our brunch reservation at the restaurant Imago inside the Hotel Hassler at the top of the Spanish Steps.

So, we got dressed up to go to our fancy brunch; and wow was it fancy (and excellent)! Their brunch is done it the form of a buffet, but not a buffet like you would see at a normal restaurant; this buffet was so elaborate and beautiful that it was almost a shame to eat it! But it definitely was worth eating! ;-)

We then headed back to our hotel to change (so we could head out walking). We rode the Metro back to the Circus Maximus, and then walked to the Baths of Caracalla. These baths are the best preserved baths in Rome, and one look at the ruins will show you just how impressive they once were (and huge!). They were for anyone to use, rich and poor; but were only in use for about 200 years—when the barbarians cut the aqueduct that fed them during the siege of Rome in the 4th and 5th centuries.

After the baths we headed past the Circus Maximus again to the area known as Trastevere; which is a haven for expats (US, British, etc.) and has some very nice shopping areas—souvenirs and regular. After walking through part of Trastevere, we crossed back over the Tiber and headed for Campo de Fiori. Campo de Fiori is a square which has mostly locals in it, but some tourists as well; and is surrounded by restaurants.

Here’s where our worst food experience of the trip occurred….by far. This may gross you out, as it grosses me out just thinking about it again.

So, we decided to eat at this little place on the square, right? We both ordered lasagna and cokes; and the waitress brought us our cokes after a few minutes. We take our drinks, and both take a drink…but something isn’t right. To start with, they have lemons in them; no big deal. But, there’s something else…some weird taste…something that we cannot put our fingers on. So we look a closer look in our cups and find….cigarette butts. That’s right, cigarette butts. Right there I almost lost it; I almost got up and walked away from the place. But, I decided to just tell the waitress and see what she said. Well, she was even more surprised than us; and apparently scared of us because the owner brought us our new drinks.

We decided to stay, and eat our food. However I simply couldn’t get that taste out of my mouth nor my mind; so I didn’t eat much, but grabbed a loaf of warm bread and some water on the way back to the hotel (trying to beat the thunderstorm which was brewing above our heads).

So, tomorrow we head to the airport and back to London for a quick visit to Stonehenge before heading home! Pray that we are safe, and that this experience is better than the Paris to Venice one!!! ;-)

Rome, Day 14

We headed for the old section of town on the Metro first thing this morning; which is surprisingly small once you get there. The Colosseum, Palatine Hill, The Forum, Capitaline Hill, and Circus Maximus are all within a ½ mile or so of each other.

First was the Colosseum, which is in either surprisingly good shape, or extremely poor shape—depending on how you look at it. Considering that it has not been used for over 1500 years, I suppose it is in good shape. Amazingly, the shows were free, and seated about 65,000 people; who could be seated quickly because of the 80 entrances/exits which were numbered around the Colosseum. Just a glimpse of it, will help you realize just how marvelous it was when first completed. (As a side note, the financing to build the Colosseum came from the gold which was plundered from Jerusalem by Titus in A.D. 70.)

We walked down the Imperial Fora as well, a street built by Mussolini during WWII leading from the Colosseum to his palace; trying to make the Italian people compare his empire to the Roman Empire. It even has plaques on the wall showing the progression of the Roman Empire.

We headed next for the Palatine Hill, where lots emperors built their palaces to overlook the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Now it is mostly ruins, with a few parts of buildings left. Incidentally we went on a Saturday, and as we were walking to the Palatine we came across a plethora of brides/grooms having their pictures taken; what an incredible place to have wedding pictures taken! (Had to put that in for the ladies…knew they would care.) ;-)

After the Palatine, we walked down to the Roman Forum. Among the notable sites, is the Arch of Titus; built to glorify the sack of Jerusalem. The huge Basilica of Maxentius (of which only 1/3 remains to be seen), the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, the Temple of Vesta (which housed the eternal flame of Rome), and the Temple of Castor and Pollux were also there. All that remains of the Temple of Julius Caesar is a small mound, where Caesar’s remains were buried. The other notable sites are the Arch of Septimus Severus, the Curia Julia (where the Senate met), and the Rostra—where Mark Antony’s famous “…friends, Romans, countrymen…” speech was given.

Then we headed to the great views from the terraces of the Vittoriano, a national museum; and the Capitoline Hill which is the most sacred hill in Rome. After that we went down to the Piazza Bocca d Verita; and the “Mouth of Truth” (from Roman Holiday). Finally we walked over to the Circus Maximus—which is now no more than a park with a dirt track—but once was a magnificent track where chariots were raced. (Think Ben-Hur)

After a quick Metro ride back to our hotel, and a bit of a break, we headed back out for some dinner; some fine Italian dining right beside the Tiber River!


Rome, Day 13

Today we started out riding the Metro (which is very small in Rome, only two main lines currently), then hopping a bus to the Appia Antica. This road is about 1 ½ miles south of Rome, and is where most of the catacombs are located; along with a park which houses an original section of a Roman road. We were dropped off at the catacombs of San Sebastiano. There is a very interesting story behind this particular set of catacombs.

Sebastiano was appointed the head of the Praetorian (Caesar’s) Guard during the persecution of Christians, yet he was a Christian himself (in secret). Because of this, he helped many Christians escape death, and converted many—including quite a few soldiers. When the emperor found out that he was a Christian, he had him sentenced to death; and Sebastian was shot with arrows and stabbed, then left for dead. However, a widow went to collect his body and found him alive; so she nursed him back to health. Of course, after he was well he went back to see the emperor who this time had him killed in the courtyard of his palace. He was buried in these catacombs, and years later Constantine had a church built on top of where his body lay. As well, there is evidence to suggest that St Peter and St Paul were buried here for a years, until Constantine moved them to their current resting places (St Peter at St Peter’s Cathedral, and St Paul at St Paul’s Without the Walls—which lies some distance outside the city).

Visiting these catacombs is a very sobering event, as at one point I had to simply sit down because of the emotions which were raging within me. To think that so many Christians were murdered and buried here because of their faith makes you truly appreciate just how blessed we are.

After the catacombs we walked down the Appian Way past ruins all the way to the Roman road. (One important thing to note, you cannot buy a bus ticket on this road and you cannot get on the bus without a ticket…nice. So, if you don’t have a ticket you have to walk back to the nearest place to buy a ticket….not cool.) However, if you make this walk you get to see the very well persevered old walls of the city of Rome; and walk past the Baths of Caracalla. Once we reached the Metro, we headed back to visit the Vatican City.

The Vatican is divided into several important sections: The Vatican Museums, which house the Sistine Chapel (€8 per person); St Peter’s (free); and the Vatican Gardens (must be booked in advance, and I think are €20 per person). We visited the Vatican Museums first, since it closes earliest. Some areas of the museum allow you to take pictures, and others do not (specifically the Sistine Chapel, no pics). Lots to see, but the Sistine Chapel is no doubt the most important. The double-helix spiral staircase which is the exit from the museums is amazing in itself! We then went over to St Peter’s, which houses among other things the grave of St Peter—very beautiful.

After a short rest, we headed out to eat at the Hard Rock Café! Nothing special, but good food and a definite American atmosphere. One thing we didn’t realize is that the Metro closed at 9pm because they were apparently working on it while we were there; so we had to figure out what bus to take to get back to our hotel…fun!

Rome, Day 12

All right! So we finally made it to Roma!!! To start with we had to find our B&B…wow! Driving in Rome isn’t bad, but parking…oh the parking! Basically, you look for a spot two or three cars deep where you can stop and not be in the flow of traffic (which incidentally means a two-lane one way street, will accommodate cars 4-5 wide). After finding the Vatican Holiday (our B&B near the Vatican), we checked in quickly (since we were double parked) and I headed off to find the rental place to turn in our little car. Actually not too bad, only a mile or so away (walking directly); but with all of the one way streets and flying scooters the drive over took a bit of time.

So, on the way back I picked up some flowers for my lovely wife; and she put them in a lovely vase…see the pics. ;-)

Then we headed down the street, past St. Peter’s Square, and the Castel St Angelo to the Piazza Novona. This is one of the most famous squares in Rome, and houses several fountains as well as the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone. The church is very misleading, as the façade makes it seem very large, but once inside you realize it is actually quite small.

We headed down the winding streets to the Pantheon, which is the best preserved building from Roman times in the city (built most likely between A.D 118-125). It also has a unique feature, a hole in the center of the ceiling which allows light into the large dome—supposedly very cool when it is raining! It also holds the grave of Raphael, among others.

We then left the Pantheon, and started walking towards the Trevi Fountain; which simply appears in front of you as you pop out into the small square in which it is located. The Trevi is very beautiful, and very touristy! For good luck, I flipped a coin over my shoulder into the fountain—and for my effort got hit in the head by someone else’s coin!!! ;-). Trevi is also a great place to find a café near and people watch. If you are there once the stores start closing, you will begin to see the swarms of peddlers selling knock off designer purses; we actually sat outside within earshot of the haggling and therefore found out how low they would go! ;-)

After dinner, which consisted of spaghetti, roast chicken, and potatoes; we headed towards the Piazza Spagna. The Spanish Steps are like many other sites in Rome, sometimes you will simply stumble upon them; even when you are looking for them!
Again, the Spanish Steps (in the Piazza Spagna) are very crowded and touristy, but worth a quick stop just to snap a few pictures!

Once we were through taking our pictures, it was off to the Piazza del Popolo. This is one of the largest squares in Rome, and traffic free (cars are routed around the outside of the square); so you can walk out in the middle and bask in the beauty of it (without worrying about getting run over by a scooter!). On the east side of the square are the Pinchio Gardens, which provide a great view of St Peter’s as well as the rest of Rome. These gardens have definitely seen better days (quite a bit of graffiti), but are still very nice nonetheless. The gardens hold many treasures, including a ton of sculptures—some of which had their noses covered by some environmental group.

We then strolled back to our hotel, to get some rest; and get ready for tomorrow!