Spending Two Days in Rome: Day 2

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Peaceful vibes at the Colosseum

Peaceful vibes at the Colosseum

Second Day in Rome: Time to get up early and photograph the Colosseum! After being a bit turned off by the high amount of tourists swarming the streets the day before, I decided that I wanted to see the magnificent building in a different light. I therefore got up as early as 6am and walked 20 minutes up the hill. Rome was great so early in the day – almost no one was on the streets except for a few people going to work and of course the bakers, which were open already. And literally no single tourist or selfie-stick -vendor was standing in front of the Colosseum, so that was a nice surprise.

The huge line leading to St. Peter's Dome

The huge line leading to St. Peter’s Dome

A floating street artist

A floating street artist

After grabbing breakfast at a spot right down the street, it was time to see Vatican City for the very first time. The A-subway-line goes there quite easily, you would simply get off at the Ottaviano stop. After being chased by ticket vendors (who always have the best price!) and ambitious street sellers who wanted you to buy a “skip-the-line”-ticket, I stood in front of the impressive St. Peter’s Cathedral. A line was reaching in a circle form from one end to another. One guy estimated it was 2 hours long. Supposedly it is 3-4 hours long in the summer. I guess now I know why skip the line might be worth it…

I decided that there were other beautiful thing to see other than the Dome, so I made my way along Via Alberico and ended up in front of one of the most interesting sights that day: The Castel di Sant’Angelo! Built in 139 AD, it was originally meant as a Mausoleum for the Roman Emperor Hadrian. It has since then been converted to a military fortress, residence, prison and now museum.

Towards Isola Tibernia

Towards Isola Tibernia

From here, I wandered along the river and got some proper Roman ice cream. I also discovered the island in the middle of the river called Isola Tibernia. It was nice to walk through it but I didn’t explore many of the buildings. It seemed more like a tourist trap than anything.

Trastevere

Trastevere

I had lunch in quaint Trastevere, which is still on the West side of the Tiber. It is known for its many smaller restaurants, coffee shops and bars (and as I was also able to discover other oddities). The older buildings are lined by cobble-stoned streets and make out a great flair, secluded from the busy streets of the rest of Roma. I ordered a huge pizza for 7 Euro and still couldn’t believe how cheap pasta and pizza are in this country.

On my way to the Orto Botanico, I ran up a pretty steep hill and saw an array of older churches and cathedrals. I didn’t even know half of the time where exactly I was but I can tell you that trying to get off that hill was one of the most difficult tasks in Rome. There just never seemed to be a path leading straight down, just further up.

Looking down

Looking down

The inside of an old church

The inside of an old church

I managed to somehow make my back to the other side of the Tiber River and ended up at Circo Massimo, which is now a park-like area where you can lie in the grass or just walk through it. All of these Latin terms reminded me of my 9 years of Latin I had taken throughout the school years and I was super excited to see what the areas where all about.

Castel di Sant'Angelo

Castel di Sant’Angelo

Me in front of the tourists

Me in front of the tourists

In the evening I decided to take some night pictures of the Castel Sant’Angelo. Of course a ton of Asian tourists where bouncing in front of the camera. Supposedly it’s now hip to jump high in the air as a group, but since not every single one of those 10 people could look good all at the same time, it had to be repeated at least ten times. Needless to say that they were always bouncing up and down in front of my viewfinder so I started to become annoyed to say the least.

I then strolled the streets surrounding the area and got dinner at a Mexican Food style branch close-by (Tex Mex does not taste super-fantastic on that side of the pond) and ended my last night in Rome.

Mediocre Tex Mex in Bella Italia

Mediocre Tex Mex in Bella Italia

The very next morning I got up super early again to hop on a bus towards the Ciampino Airport. I managed to get a ticket with Terravision for 4 Euro only, so I can highly recommend them. You just have to make sure to book in advance to secure your seat to the airport and their customer service is not the best, either, but you get what you pay for. I also had one of the most delicious breakfast pastries around the corner from my hostel and was happy to say good-bye to Roma in such a way! Even though most Italians don’t seem to speak English or a lot of English, they still made the best effort to communicate with me.

Spending Two Days in Rome: Day 1

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Colosseum early mornings

Colosseum early mornings

Spending 48 hours in Roma, I was hard-pressed to find some interesting things to do and not waste my time on things I was not so keen on doing. From people declaring me outright crazy to the hostel owner who tried to give me a good overview of my “way too short” stay – I am forever thankful for all the input I received. And at the end of my time, 2 days in Rome turned out to be quite fabulous!

I also found various guides, which helped me a lot in getting my days sorted out. Find more information on How to Spend Two Perfect Days in Rome (Forbes), Rome in Two Days (Tutorisma) and 48 Hours in Rome (GoItaly.com). These even included lunch options, which was great, although I barely took advantage of them. I did however appreciate the evening dinner suggestions. I also found that I had a lot of time to explore other things, because the pace I was going at was a bit faster than suggested.

Pantheon during the day

Pantheon during the day

Where I stayed: Neki Hostel

Searching for a hostel in Rome turned out to be an almost nightmare. Not only did I deal with tons of inflated prices but I also had a hard time finding something in a decent area, from which I could venture out into the city. Neki Hostel was amazing, once I found it! Most advice I’ve gotten was to stay away from Termini Station and I have to say that is some good advice. It turns into a seedy pot at night.

The general idea behind Neki Hostel: It is a residential apartment converted into hostel rooms. Great idea for future business owners, I’d say. Not sure what the laws in Italy permit but if you’re able to pull it off, go for it. In addition to its great flair and amazing owner it was also in a great location: Perhaps a 20 minute walk from one of the oldest establishments – the Colosseum!

Best Thing to Get: the Roma Pass! It cost me 28 Euro, included a 2-day-subway ride ticket, entrance to a few major museums and sights, and reduced entrance to other museums and sights. Overall, not a bad deal, since a 2-day-subway-card already costs 14 Euros.

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Sightseeing:

The Colosseum! After dropping my stuff off at the Hostel, I went ahead and walked up the road to one of the most impressive man-built installations. Hard to believe that this building is more than 2000 years old. Not to mention the surrounding fundaments around it. Lots of selfie-stick sellers and other vendors. I even got hit in the head by a Roman solider impersonator, who thought it would be funny to bounce his plastic sword off my head.

To get inside only took 10 minutes, really not bad at all considering the line looked way worse. I was able to take advantage of the Roma Pass here so entrance was free for me (otherwise it would have been 14 Euros). I strolled around the first deck and tried having a picture taken of me without anyone else’s head in between. A task that proved really hard, since you are literally cooped in with all the tourists. I’ve never seen as many tourists anywhere, not even in Times Square, and became annoyed quickly. I guess I am just not a person who loves the masses. I then went ahead to the second deck and took in the great view.

First Deck view

First Deck view

Second deck view

Second deck view

Impersonation of a Roman Soldier

Impersonation of a Roman Soldier

Off I went to the Foro Romano. I decided against standing in line and strolled past it (which gives you a great clue of what it looks, like, too) when walking over to the Piazza Venezia. It is here where you will find a great monument, white steps, and amazingly elaborate statues. Beware of sitting on the white steps, as a guard will drag you off almost immediately.

Foro Romano

Foro Romano

Piazza Venizia - blindingly white

Piazza Venizia – blindingly white

The next task was to find more sights in the inner city, so on my way to the Pantheon I strolled through small streets and of course managed to get lost once again. Somehow I made it to the Trevi Fountain (which was under construction) and also some national parliament building called the Quirinale Palace. It is supposedly equivalent to the White House, as the current Italian president resides in it. It took a few steep hills and bends around curvy corners to make it there, so I have no clue how I ended up here. At last, I got to take the subway to the Piazza di Spagna, the Spanish Place with the Spanish Fountain. It is here where you will have glorious views of the city and where you can walk up and even sit on steep steps to take in a great sunset. That’s exactly what I did.

Quirinale

Quirinale

Spanish Place

Spanish Place

Sunset views

Sunset views

I then continued on doing some night photography close to the Pantheon until I finally settled for dinner at a restaurant around it. Here again, buying an entire carafe of vino was almost cheaper than bothering with a simple glass of red. I didn’t quite finish the wine but gave it to two German tourists sitting right next to me, who were pretty thankful.

Vino and pasta - the good life.

Vino and pasta – the good life.

I then strolled past the now dark streets and cherished the moments when tourists seemed to be getting ready for bed or weren’t out on the streets anymore. This was actually the only time of day I felt I was starting to appreciate Rome. I guess standing next to selfie-stick families or teenagers kinda did it to me. I also did not appreciate vendors constantly chasing the tourists so that they could get rid of their cheap stuff. But night-time changes almost everything and I had a pretty good time when I was out by myself and enjoying the peace. The small streets look pretty solemn in the shine of lanterns and lights.

Pantheon at Night

Pantheon at Night

How to Get Around:
I found walking quite easy but only if you have the right shoes. After the first day of walking around in ballet flats, I dealt with a pretty painful foot situation. If anything, subway rides are quite feasible, especially if you have to go larger distances, such as moving across the river to the Vatican. I did not have the opportunity of trying out the bus system but it seems like they run quite late. Subways run almost always, 2-10 minutes apart, depending on the time of day. Even late at night, the wait was never longer than 7 minutes. I am not sure if it shuts off at one point. Staying in an easily accessible area in Roma certainly helped when planning a route for all the sights.

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Fleet Week 2015: It’s Coming, It’s Coming!

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Fleet Week NYC

Fleet Week NYC

One of my most favorite summer activities is starting on Tuesday: Fleet Week in New York! As in the previous years, thousands of sailors, marines and whatnots are going to flock out to the Big Apple and bring some patriotic vibes to the city. Fleetweek is always a lot of fun, as activities evolve all around spending time with family and friends and doing some exciting things you wouldn’t necessarily get to do on a normal weekday here in Manhattan. Find a full list of the entire program here. If you’re a vet, you get to skip a lot of lines, so that’s a perk.

See my post on 2011 and how I watched concerts in Times Square here. The ex-roomie, my friend and I actually checked out Ruby’s Bar quite a bit during that time. Other than strolling around on one of the hottest Maydays in history, I also snapped this great picture of a few mates holding up a tourist.

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See my post on 2012 and how I got to visit the USS Wasp here. I checked out the boat close to the Intrepid on actual Memorial Day and was in and out of Hell’s Kitchen during that entire week.

FW- ich mit flaggen

Unfortunately Bloomberg stopped Fleet Week in 2013, so no exciting post here. However, in 2014 I got to check out the USS Wasp once again. Last year the common theme was taking a selfie with a solider, so I made sure to get lots of pictures relating to that. I actually still follow a few of the sailors on Instagram and Twitter and their updates have been pretty solid since I last saw then.

Selfie with a Sailor

Selfie with a Sailor

This year I will try to make it out to Times Square and perhaps the boat once again. We will see as time permits! Even though Fleet Week is throughout the five boroughs and parts of NJ, most of the action takes place in Manhattan and around Hell’s Kitchen.

FW - three marines towards boat

Spending the Night in Florence: Dome, Golden Hour and Other Stories

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Flowers in Florence

Flowers in Florence

From the wonderful town of Pisa, I took the train to Florence. After one short hour I arrived at the main train station and lugged my bags to the hostel I was staying in. Luckily it was not overly far away, so after 15 minutes I was all set and ready to explore the city. Florence is not the largest city in Italy, but I got lost a few times when navigating the streets with my free Ulmon app, which I had downloaded onto my iPhone. This also happened in Rome, so I am not sure I would recommend this app but its perks are that it’s free, you don’t need Wifi to access it and most of the main attractions, hotels, and restaurants are listed.

Amazing street vibes and light

Amazing street vibes and light

After crossing paths with the main train station again, I found myself almost in a completely different world: Quaint little streets, small churches, ice cream shops, only a handful of tourists here and there… The area close to the Duomo is amazingly clustered with tourists but one second you can find yourself in the turmoil of the mass and another you can walk down a deserted street and wonder how the light manages to shine so magnificently. Overall, there are plenty of tourists in Italy but Florence was not as bad as I had expected. Had I known better, I probably wouldn’t even have dealt with the madness of Rome but simply stayed here for a little while longer. Even though there were a fair amount of people on the streets, I felt I could deal with the fairly well (just the opposite of Rome indeed). It also helped that the sun was setting at this time, dipping the town into a beautiful golden light and illuminating the bricks in amazing colors.

Duomo

Duomo

I passed some not overly obnoxious restaurant servers who were trying to lure me into their spot (think Little Italy in New York but on a broader scale and in a much more charming manner). Then I was standing in front of the magnificent Duomo de Santa Maria del Fiore – one of the main attractions in town. From there I had planned on seeing the canals and rivers but somehow (thanks to the app and/or my poor sense of orientation), I got lost once again and was somewhere very different. The Place of Architects was partly under construction but other than that it was great to stroll around and take in less traffic, less people, and simply be. It was here where I decided to do a majority of my night photography and it proved to be a great spot!

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After moving along and back to the Dome, I decided it was time to grab a bite to eat. I found a cute restaurant in a side street. Here I discovered that buying a glass of wine is almost the same price or only slighter cheaper than buying an entire bottle or carafe in this country. I was tempted to empty a bottle but since I still had to find my way back I decided against it. I was dining solo and perhaps you don’t see this too often, since it’s a pretty family- or couple-oriented town. The waiter was all over me and even invited me to a tada bottle of wine once his shift was over. I declined, even though I was tempted to just have a great night out. But I still had to get up early the next day and make my ways out to Roma so I didn’t feel like being hungover.
I tried their signature Toscana soup, which is tomato and bread-based, and it was delish. A bit thick, which I didn’t expect, but very tasty. I then went on to seafood pasta, since pasta is all I had wanted since entering Italy.

Toscana soup

Toscana soup

Seafood Pasta

Seafood Pasta

On my way back to the Guido Monaco, I ran across some late night strollers and still a few shops which were open at this late time of day. At 11pm it seems that you can still get your ice cream fix on and try other goodies.

In the morning I had the chance to grab brunch at a local bakery, where I once again noticed how little English people speak in Italy (or perhaps they were not in the mood for it). Nonetheless, communication was possible and so I got my coffee and scrambled eggs. Then it was off to Roma where a completely different vibe was awaiting me.

Selfie when night photographing

Selfie when night photographing

Spending a Day in Pisa: The Leaning Tower and More

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First stop in Italy: The amazingly small town of Pisa. When taking advantage of Ryanair flights, I saw that getting in and out of Pisa seemed like a pretty uncomplicated procedure. I was planning on spending some time there and then taking the train to Florence, Seeing that both were only one hour apart made things pretty easy.

Getting from the airport into Pisa was feasible by means of bus. Don’t take advantage of the 5 Euro bus ticket everyone wants to sell you once you get off the plane. Instead, simply walk to the info desk and purchase a ticket for 1, 20 Euro, that serves the same purpose and costs 5 times less.

I knew I wanted to check out the main attraction, which was the Leaning Tower. A bus went directly past the train station, over a few bridges and to the attraction. It took less than half an hour altogether, which was great considering that I only had a few hours of time. I was let off right outside and wasn’t sure if I was at the right spot at first. But then I saw hordes of tourists trekking towards the gate so I figured I’d just follow them.

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Unlike my imagination, the tower was not standing by itself in the middle of nowhere. It was rather surrounded by other churches and a cloister and thus was a part of some complicated variety of other faiths.

I got to snap my Leaning Tower picture, sunbathed in the grass in front of it but then eventually went on to see other parts of the city. It takes around 20 minutes from there to the train station, which was where I was hoping to catch the train to Florence. People were out and about, eating ice cream and doing some solid window shopping. The bridges were gorgeous, and overall the city is worth a daytrip because of all the quaint little streets and other historic parts.

Leaning Tower

Leaning Tower

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Sometimes the vendors were a bit reserved, but once I got to ask them for directions and show my genuine interest in the city they became friendlier and pointed me in the right direction. It must be odd to be part of such an overly touristy city when you are just trying to have your own business. But as I got to know Italia better, I saw that many towns thrive on tourists only, especially in the oncoming season.

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Downtown Pisa is bike-friendly!

Downtown Pisa is bike-friendly!

I waited about an hour at the train station, because I had missed my first train. The ticket to Florence was around 10 bucks, so really not too bad, at all.

Piece of advice: Watch your bags while on the bus and train. The bus driver couldn’t believe how careless I was when entering the bus and warned me multiple times to always be wary and keep an eye on things. That was pretty nice of him to do but luckily nothing major happened.

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