European Adventures 2015

If you’ve been following along, you know I’m just back from my European Adventures – and I already put together my photos! I know, I know, a little crazy to jump on it that fast when I had over 2700 pictures, but I also knew I would forget what was what if I didn’t do it right away. (I already realized I didn’t note well enough which church was which of the smaller ones in Rome – ack!)

Nonetheless – here’s the summary of my trip, which I tried to do the initial draft on during the trip, including as many links as I could find to sites, places I stayed, and details that I don’t want to forget. This post will be my own resource for my next trip, too!

First…the video with the photos – I’m sorry for the length, but it’s so hard to pare down that many photos! I hope the music and change in pace helps to make it palatable; if you only want to see one section, you can click an annotation to fast forward from the beginning. Enjoy it below, or click HERE to watch in HD on YouTube!

Overall tips:

  • Call your bank/credit card company ahead of time. Get a “chipped” card if you can – they can take your US card, but the “chipped” scans differently than our cards. (I just had to physically sign each time, so it’s faster to use the special card). ALSO ask them if they have a banking relationship with banks in the country you’re going to – if so they may waive fees on currency.
  • Figure out what YOU want to get out of your trip. My purpose was art and inspiration; I wanted to see everything from my art history classes. I made the mistake of listening to a couple recommendations from folks for whom that was not their goal, and was sorry…I ended up at “ya gotta see this!” sites that were overrun with people taking selfies just to say they were there, and missed out on spending time where I really would have preferred to be. Noting that for myself for future trips! 🙂
  • Speaking of selfies. I want to start a BAN THE SELFIE STICK campaign! As I went through my photos, I was astounded at how many were ruined by selfie sticks – these horrible extended sticks that you put your phone into so you can get a wider selfie. While that might be helpful in taking selfies, people were going so crazy with them, they looked like pop-up glowing blue gophers. Incredibly distracting. I saw an awful lot of people standing in front of amazing paintings and sculptures, but their phone was facing toward them trying to find an attractive angle for their narcissistic snaps. And they missed out on what they had travelled to see! Sorry if this sounds harsh, but it ruined a lot of things for me – especially the Mona Lisa. The scene in front of that painting is sheer chaos and you can’t even see the painting because of all those sticks. Rant over…until I figure out how to start that campaign!

On to the European Adventures…city by city!

London2015

My first stop was 6 days in London spent with my two sisters – one of whom graduated with her PhD! This leg of the trip was more touristy and less artsy than the rest. I also spent a lot of time learning photography – my sister’s boyfriend also wanted to learn the manual settings on his camera (same model as mine) so we spent a day together just practicing. WELL worth the effort, since museums don’t allow flash – learning the manual mode meant I got great shots throughout my trip that would otherwise have been black images due to low lighting. YAY for learning!

  • Accomodations: Premier Inn, Wandsworth. Reasonable price, and it was near to my sister’s apartment. One bus ride from the train station (overground), so it was convenient. They do have a chain of locations there, and I’d say it’s worth consideration. They didn’t have an in-room phone or alarm clock, but neither of those was critical.
  • Attractions visited: Big Ben and Westminster Abbey (walked near these, didn’t go in), South Bank (shopping, market, Globe Theatre, other misc attractions with a view across to St Paul‘s), Trafalgar Square with the big blue chicken statueBritish Museum (where parts of Night at the Museum 3 was filmed), Buckingham Palace, aka Buck House (if you want to actually SEE the changing of the guard, check the times carefully, it’s only like every 48 hours; then stand on the side nearest the straight fence closest to B-Palace. You can’t see a thing from the circle I stood on except them parading in! My best pics were from chasing the parade over to the Guard House where they “ended” the changing. Then they all got on Greyhound Buses…no idea if they kept their hats on when on the bus!) Also saw The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theater, dinner in Chinatown, tea at Harrod’s (long story coming someday about my tea fails! ha!).
  • Food: I’m no foodie – but I did discover that in some parts of town it’s nearly impossible to find even a café. My fave meal was, I think, at the Clarence Pub near Trafalgar Square. Had a delicious Sunday Roast — some people seem to still call it tea, even when I had a beer with it, but whatever, right? They seem to call everything “tea” except for breakfast, which is just called breakfast. Tea can refer to the drink, but also to several different mealtimes – morning tea, afternoon tea, high tea, was, I thought, the pinky-out kind, but apparently it can also refer to a working man’s supper. Confusing!
  • Money: The UK uses pounds sterling, not Euros, I got a really good exchange rate at my bank in the US before I left. It felt like Monopoly money – lol – and took some getting used to that coins were inconsistent…ie you’d think maybe the smallest denominations would be worth least, but that wasn’t the case. I felt like a 5 year old counting out money to pay for things – so often opted to just pay with my card.
  • Wifi: For the trip, I signed up for an international plan through my carrier;  100mb of data for $25, then could get another 100mb for another $25. So I was managing my data by only turning data on when I was in dire need and couldn’t find a café to get free wifi. Bonus, I found one wifi phone booth – way cool! Keep an eye out, they’re like the red phone booths but are black. But most restaurants had free wifi, so if you stand near them you can sometimes get in without a password.
  • Getting around: Took trains, buses, and walked a ton. Get an Oyster Card that allows you to ride as much as you want during your stay – don’t forget to take the card back and get your 5pound deposit back! Watch out, some trains don’t run on certain days – I had to scramble when the train didn’t run on Sunday morning to get me to Westminster Abbey for church; I took a bus and totally missed the service, even though I got to shoot THIS bit of fun. Stand on the right on escalators so people can run past on the left. Seriously. Stay out of their way, they’ll run ya down! The Tube (subway) is chaos at rush hour and you can get crushed easily.
  • Culture: I found Londoners to be friendly – it’s nice to be in a country where I speak the language. Well except for the slang that threw me!

Edinburgh2015

Scotland! I captured a cold in London that started really setting in while I took the train to Scotland. Boo hiss, right? But fortunately I was visiting a friend, who kindly let my not-quite-up-to-speed body set our pace.

  • Accomodations: I was lucky enough to connect with my friend Debby and stayed with her – yay!
  • Attractions visited: I wasn’t up to massive walking around (it was cold outside) so the first day we did the hop-on hop-off bus tour of Edinburgh. (I left my baggage at the train station while we went out.) I’m not big on tours, but learned a bit about the city – it’s a real mix of ancient buildings next to modern ones, and they do a lovely job of making newer buildings fit with the look of the city. Quite lovely! Day two, I neeeeeded to see a castle, so we went to Stirling Castle — fabulous visit there, even if it was also a chilly day! Plenty of educational moments inside, as they have docents, displays, etc. We also stopped at Dunblane Cathedral (Debby lives in that town), and that was my first real “big” cathedral experience of the trip. She hadn’t ever been in to have a real look around, other than going to the Cathedral for events, so it was a treat for her as well.
  • Food: Each little café we went to was nice – though I might have been biased since I was cold and as long as I could warm up, I was thrilled with wherever we went! And thank you to Debby for not making me try haggis. LOL.
  • Money: The UK uses pounds sterling, not Euros.
  • Wifi: Same as England, seems to be wifi at cafés all over.
  • Getting around: Debby met me in Edinburgh, having taken the train from her house, so we walked – it’s a steep city in some places, but walkable.
  • Culture: not much experience with anyone outside of Debby and her family; it was a short visit but everyone we interacted with was very nice. And used “wee” quite a lot. I love a good Scottish accent!

Paris2015

 

  • Accomodations: A friend recommended the Hotel Relais-Bosquet and I can’t thank her enough! It wasn’t cheap but was located in a great, safe neighborhood near a lot of things. 10 minutes from the Eiffel Tower, 20 minutes walk from the Louvre, 30 from Notre Dame. Nice! Great bakeries and cafés throughout the neighborhood, too. Staff at the hotel was super nice, room was terrific. Follow them on Facebook to get a deal that includes breakfast too….it’s a nearly-American-style breakfast with eggs, pancakes, and lots of goodies.
  • Attractions visited: Day 1 was supposed to be dry, so I did the longer walking attractions that day — walked all along the Seine over to Notre Dame, where I was blessed to attend a mass in French, too! Woohoo. Please behave in Cathedrals anywhere you go; it amazed and saddened me that people had so little respect for those who were having a spiritual experience. Despite all the signs requesting silence, it was a bit of a drag to have all the selfies, shouting, giggles, etc going on all around. Next I went to Sainte Chapelle – incredible stained glass there as well! Even though I loved the glass work, I was disappointed it wasn’t a “working” church (they even call it a monument)…I much prefer seeing art and glass in churches that actually hold services. (Though Ste Chapelle also asked for silence, so they do know they were at least started as a house of God.) As I walked back toward my hotel I stopped in several churches/mini cathedrals along the way, and one really took my breath away – Ste Clotilde. Another working church, but the glass art was phenomenal, even better than the “big” cathedrals! Day 2: rain! Blech. Decided that was museum day, though hadn’t accounted for waiting in lines outside in the rain. I went to the Orsay first, since it closed at 5 that day (check carefully, each museum has one night with late hours)…I was actually really disappointed that I went there. The museum had some art I enjoyed, but I’m more interested in older works, and I knew those were across the street. Plus the Orsay does not allow ANY photography, flash or otherwise. So I bailed after a couple hours of giving it a try. By the time I got to the Louvre, the line was 3-1/2 hours long! So it was a long day in the rain. Fortunately I had an umbrella and lots of tissues and cough drops with me. And had dressed well – I was smart and had brought long undies! Once entering the Louvre, though, those hours waiting were so worthwhile! I got to meet all the old masters face to face….I’ll talk more about those experiences in upcoming posts as I process all I learned. I painted for a few hours at the end of my visit, over in the sculpture area – several groups of artists were there, one was a class that invited me to join them. The other was a random collection of artists, a few of whom were American painters; I introduced them to the wonders of the Koi watercolor set I was using, and they were heading to Amazon when they got home! One of the oil painters was amazed at the simple water brush – he had only brought paper and pencil to sketch since he didn’t know he could paint without a container of water! We all had a good laugh when I leaned my sketchbook against a wall and photographed my moment: my art displayed in the Louvre. LOL!
  • Food: I was so busy running from one attraction to the other that I did very little for meals! ack. Quick panini sandwiches or a bowl of soup were about as much as I did. I was grateful for the hotel breakfast as that was my one sit-down meal each day.
  • Money: France uses Euros. You might want to carry a few small coins in your pocket (ones you’d be willing to part with if pickpockets hit you up)…there are many homeless all across the city. Many. And also many scammers; they make it seem as though they just want a signature on a petition, but each wants a Euro….I made sure to have NOTHING in any of my pockets ever, so I turned them inside out to show them I had nothing. Another lady “picked up” a gold ring and gave it to me, saying she had just found it; as I walked away lookign at it in my hand, puzzled as to why she gave it to me “for luck,” she came back to ask me for a Euro – and when I wouldn’t give her one she grabbed the ring back. So yes, scammers are all over, and I was clearly a “mark.” After those two, I gave the stinkeye to anyone who looked like they wanted something! ha. (I had one of those moneybelts but actually never used it; I put 20 Euros in the very bottom of my backpack, so they’d have to reallllly be creative to steal that from me! The backpack was securely over both arms at all times, since I was told never to hold it over one shoulder, lest someone run by and rip it out of my possession.)
  • Wifi: Easy to find at cafés but many had password requirements. But after this much travel, I started finding some companies that hosted wifi in various places, so once I opened accounts at them, access became easier.
  • Getting around: I did all my Paris commuting on foot. The train was close to my hotel, but I really wanted to “feel” Paris…and with such short walks to places, I just hoofed it. Got lots of great pics along the way. Probably might have fit in more attractions if I had taken public transport, but I just felt like seeing as much from the ground as I could.
  • Culture: I didn’t find what I had been warned about – that the French didn’t like Americans. I was mostly non-existent, I think, as one person, and for so short a visit. It was amusing that a lot of Americans stopped me to ask for directions in their halting French, and were a mix of happy that I spoke English, but sad that I didn’t know where we were either. LOL.

Rome2015

I was so glad that I chose to end my European Adventures in Rome…by far my favorite city of the trip! Not only was the food amazing – even just at the airport or a pizza stand – but the people couldn’t be nicer, and walking the streets of Rome is just the most romantic thing. People say Paris is the city of love, and I saw a lot of couples there – but in Paris they looked like honeymooners. Full relationships. In Rome? I saw TWO proposals, lots of men carrying bouquets of roses and bottles of wine, and lots of ooshy gooshy wooing everywhere. THAT is the city of love!

  • Accomodations: I found Al Colonnato di San Pietro on Trip Advisor, and though I started out nervous due to the inexpensive cost, I was DELIGHTED. Wow. First, Rosa, who runs it, met me at the taxi on the street. We looked out over the city (St Peter’s was RIGHT there!) and she pointed out where all the main attractions were, where bus stops were, trains, etc. She told me where to get tickets at which tobacco shop, and which restaurant around the corner had the best food. Each morning we talked through what I wanted to see and she gave me maps with routes marked out. I asked her where the Caravaggios were, and she put x’s on each church I needed to visit! She knows her stuff! Staying at this bed and breakfast was like a b&b that comes with a tour guide. Rosa even walked me to the bus and talked to the driver for me one day – she was amazing! The gal who works for her, Maldi, is a lovely Filipino lady who I got along with famously too…she helped with translations, as well as making the most delicious breakfast! Nom nom!
  • Attractions visited: Day one, right after arriving – Caravaggio touring! I discovered that churches close during lunch hour, which is actually a couple hours…so as I found each x on the map closed, I walked all the way to Piazza del Popolo first. I had lunch, and by then the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo was open. Inside is the Cerasi Chapel, with not one but THREE Caravaggios! The Crucifixion of St Peter was the first of his paintings I laid eyes on, and I can tell you, I cried. Absolutely amazing. Photos don’t do his work justice – and I also didn’t have a real sense of scale until this trip. I spent a good half an hour at each painting of his that I came across, just drooling. Other places to find him: San Luigi dei Francesi, a French cathedral, has three paintings; St Agostino has one; the Vatican Museum has one in the Pinacoteca; the Borghese has a whole Caravaggio room! Day 2 had originally been planned for the Vatican and St Peters, but the lines were long VERY early in the day on Sunday (last Sunday of each month is free, so it was packed). So I juggled things around and headed to the Borghese that day. I couldn’t get in til 5 (they only let you in for 2 hours — get tickets the day before unless you want to wait around like I did!)….so I walked around Borghese Park and painted all day! It’s gorgeous and has plenty to see. And I was tired, so sitting and painting did my feet good. The final day was a whirlwind: Vatican Museum in the early morning (includes the Sistine Chapel where pics are not allowed – I had taken a couple before I realized that, oops!), Colosseum in the early afternoon, then back to the Basilica di St Pietro in the late afternoon once the line died down. Part of me wished I had done that earlier, as the dome closed before I got to it – but with over 500 stairs, I think that might have killed me anyway! 🙂
  • Food: Delicious and pretty affordable everywhere! Me oh my. A slice of pizza even takes on a whole new level of yum. I didn’t do a lot of big meals here either, due to the crazy schedule, but the last night I treated myself to a big dinner at La Vittoria around the corner of my hotel and it was perfection!
  • Money: Italy uses Euros. Get the Roma Pass – it’s a 3 day pass that gets you into 2 museums (not Vatican) free, and onto public transit as much as you want. Then discounts on other attractions too. Carry lots of one-Euro coins in your pocket for turning on the lights in chapels across Rome – that’s how they pay for upkeep, by charging to turn lights on to paintings you want to see. Well worth a Euro!
  • Wifi: Had no trouble finding it in Rome. yeah!
  • Getting around: On foot worked here for all but my last day. St Peters was only a 5 minute walk, then to get to the area of town with the churches I visited it was about 20 minutes along the sweetest cobblestone streets. Atmosphere! They do have a nice small bus and train system, just don’t ask any bus drivers for directions, the ones I ran into were pretty helpless in anything involving English.

LONDON2015-02-15 12.01.51

So…that’s the summary of my European Adventures! If you end up taking a trip, I hope I’ve shared at least a little helpful info for you!

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