Illegal pictures in the Cistine Chapel

illegal pictures in the Cistine Chapel

Illegal pictures in the Cistine Chapel

“No pictures, no cameras.” The guards shouted and threatened but everyone ignored them as we all crowded into the Vatican’s Cistine Chapel to see Adam and God making a pinky kiss with their fingers. Michelangelo’s masterpiece…how could we not take pictures? I took a few, but I was more interested in the anarchy of the photo taking…what horribly unruly creatures God hath created…

Doing Rome on the Cheap and on the Fly

Doing Rome on the Cheap and on the Fly

Rome on the CheapAfter visiting Paris in 2 days, Amsterdam in 1 day, Washington DC in a weekend, I’ve now seen Rome in 3 days. And I’ve learned some new lessons about traveling. You can do Rome on the cheap. First, when you take a quick 3-day vacation to see a city, you should have three goals.

1. See as much as you can.

2. Don’t break the bank. Nothing replenishes your stress faster than being broke.

3. Don’t get exhausted. Remember, this is a vacation. You don’t want to be so tired you need to go on another siesta when you get back to work.

Also, you need to have enough money to get home from the airport when you return. Here are some tips to help you enjoy experiencing Rome, Italy no matter how small your wallet or how tight your time frame.

Forego Hostels in Rome:For lodging, you want cleanliness and security so you don’t have to carry and worry about your valuables all throughout the day. You get more than that from La Casa per Ferie Preziossisimo Sangue. Each room (Single, double, triple or quadruple) has its own bathroom, and the card key locks are the electronic sort. The place is run with the attention to detail of a hotel, complete with bed turndown, housekeeping, little shampoos, towels, soap and climate control in each room. There is a continental breakfast in the morning. The nuns are friendly and genuinely interested in why different travelers sojourn to Rome. Their religious spirituality appears to fuel their passion to provide a place of true respite each person’s journey. I have to say, this is one of the nicest hotel experiences I have ever had. The shower (Complete with hot water and great water pressure) was better than mine at home. There is Wifi and a television as well. There is a curfew of 12am, but after walking around Rome all day, you’ll be more than glad to retire here! Prices range from 35 Euros to 52 Euros per night, depending on the “High” or “Low” tourist season.

Food: When it comes to food and drink in Rome, resist the urge to hunt down the “Best (Insert food item here)”. Instead, make Borgo Pio, a side street close to the Vatican Museum, the main stop in your dining experience. Yes, the restaurants are for tourists, but they’re for Italian tourists and a quality 10 Euro authentic Italian meal is easily available until 11pm. The warm air, the Italian cappuccino, the quintessential romantic Italian waiter, yes it’s all worth it!

Transportation: For city-wide travel, don’t waste time learning a new Subway system. Instead, pay E17 for a 2-day See Rome bus tour. The bus runs a circuit around 9 tourist destinations in Rome every 20 minutes, so you don’t have to tire yourself out by walking in the heat. Spend as much time as you want at each general locale with no annoying tour guide to drag you everywhere. Stops include the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, the Coliseum and Rome Termini train station. If you do want a little more information about the places you see, the bus offers headphones and a tour recording in a number of languages. Take pictures from the open-air rooftop seats and enjoy the breeze as you watch pedestrians swelter!

For snacks in the heat, never pay over 2 Euros for gelato, or over 1 Euro for bottled water. Walk 2 blocks from any tourist attraction and the price of both immediately goes down. Or go native, and fill your water bottle up at the freshwater fountains.

Sightseeing for Free: If you don’t want to pay the entry fee, instead of seeing the Coliseum from the inside (a time-consuming 2 hour hike through old ruins to the site), behold its majesty on the outside. You can still touch it, snap pictures of it and walk around the entire edifice. However, you can do it in 45 minutes, and the bus drops you off at the immediate location. No long treks, and plenty of time to enjoy a drink.

Instead of paying to see the Sistine Chapel (Which has pretty much lost its “Sacred” appeal thanks to the throngs of tourists), try St. Peter’s Square at night. The soft glow of lights from the Vatican create a beautiful picture, and in the center of Rome it is safe to let the atmosphere enchant you during an evening walk.

You can’t take pictures in the Sistine Chapel, but you can take photographs in St. Peter’s Basilica. The church in St. Peter’s Square is filled with breathtaking paintings to rival even – yes, the Sistine Chapel. It is free to enter, and you have to be respectful of the religious setting, but if you arrive at 9am, you miss the crushing crowds.

Rome doesn’t need to break your bank or your back. It will definitely break your heart to leave.

The Vatican Museums – Three Paintings Out of Hundreds Not to Miss

Hand of GodThe three pictures in this post are some of my favorites though I took  hundreds. These pictures from top to bottom are more interesting though – read on to find out why.

When you are in Rome, whether it’s for a day or a week, one thing you have to do is visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. If the ticket price of 15 Euros sounds a little high, let me assure you, it’s not. What you will see inside is worth every penny and more.

I’d like to introduce you to some of the wonders that I came across as I wandered through this incredible collection of the world’s most wonderful art.

As in much classical art, there was an abundance of angry dudes and sexy nudes – and there was a bunch of art too.

 

1) Despite the angry security guards saying ‘No Picture, No Video’, nearly everyone was taking photos in the Sistine Chapel. That included me. When I showed this picture to my wife she was disgusted “Aggghhh, how obscene to think you could depict God in a painting. You can be sure that painter is in hell.” Not exactly what I was thinking as I looked at one of Michelangelo’s masterpieces.

Coming in, you find a staircase and as you wind your way up it, you will notice that there are more than a few canoes and canoe paddles from the many places that Catholic missionaries have landed, converted, and conquered. For some reason these struck me in a bad way…although it was a magnificent collection of canoes. Moving on…

 

2) Vatican paintingsWhen I first saw these saints painted in the niches, I thought they were real people. A photo can’t capture just how three-dimensional some off these paintings are…astounding.

If you are only going to visit one museum in Rome, certainly it should be the Vatican Museum. Add in a trip to the Colosseum, and a stop in Vatican City and you’ve followed the Vagobond itinerary to see Rome in a day. It wasn’t built in a day, but I feel like these three stops and the transport between them give you a good chance to get a feel for the what was once the capital of the Roman Empire and is still a masterpiece of a city.

The price of the Vatican museums might seem kind of steep at 15 Euros but when you consider that it includes some of the most famous art the world has ever produced and the celebrated Cistine Chapel, suddenly it starts to seem more reasonable. Museo Vaticani is a must see.

 

 

3) I’m not a religious man and I’m nowhere near Catholic, but this painting spoke to my soul. Note the hanging bodies, the monk, pleading and the people in the background seemingly just having a chat…this was real life. It lives on.

Powerful and amazing.

Vatican paintings

Top Three European Christmas Destinations

Christmas in Europe is delightful, no matter where you go. The marriage of old world charm with unique traditions makes for a lovely holiday. Here are my picks for the Top Three European Christmas Destinations of 2019.

1.Copenhagen, Denmark – Tivoli Gardens

Christmas in DenmarkChristmas in Copenhagen is nothing short of enchanting, especially in Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli Gardens is the second oldest amusement park in the world, originally opening on the 15th of August in 1843. It is a popular attraction throughout the year, drawing well over four million visitors annually. But you haven’t experienced Tivoli until you have visited for Christmas.

A complete and total fairy tale, every holiday season the park and gardens are transformed into a winter wonderland unlike any other. There are over four miles of decorative lights, in addition to almost two-thousand fairy lights used to illuminate over four hundred trees. The glittering weeping willows and the giant Christmas tree are a spectacle to behold.

If you are traveling with children, they will be delighted by the forty-five meter toboggan run, the chance to sit with Santa in his sleigh, and by Pixie Ville. Pixie Ville is home to Tivoli’s mechanical pixies and elves, and you can watch them frolicking in the snow, ice skating, and settling down in their igloos. You can catch a further glimpse at the pixies preparing their celebrations when you chug by them on the Christmas Express. Keep an eye out for Santa and Mrs. Claus!

Even if you’re vacationing without wee ones, Tivoli is still worth the visit. The Christmas market is made up of over seventy decorated stalls that line the garden walkway. Here you can purchase a wide variety of handmade Scandinavian gifts and delectable treats, like iced donuts, caramel apples, and warm, mulled wine. Enjoy your treats as you tour the impressive ice sculptures, and then work off the calories by dancing the evening away to some live holiday music.

If you plan on making the trek to Copenhagen this year, you can expect to see the usual Danish décor replaced with a Russian theme. This includes a brightly colored reproduction of the famous and beautiful St. Basil’s Cathedral. Visit Tivoli between December 26th and 30th, and end the evening with an impressive fireworks display.

2.Rome, Italy – The Vatican

Christmas VaticanThis is not a trip I would recommend for families traveling with small children. The late hours and long masses are sure to make them sleepy and restless. However, for those wishing to celebrate Christmas in a deeply religious fashion, midnight mass at the Vatican will provide a moving experience.

You will need a ticket to attend this mass, as it draws quite the crowd. Tickets are free, but it is best to request them in advance to avoid rushing around, or worse, not being able to get in. Even the lines to present your confirmation and pick up your tickets can be extremely long, so dress accordingly. December in Rome can be rather chilly, another reason you may want to avoid bringing wee ones to this event.

The Pope will preside over two Christmas masses. The first will take place at midnight on Christmas Eve, December 24th. The second will take place on Christmas day, December 25th, at noon.

 

 

 

3.Nuremberg, Germany – Christkindlesmarkt

Nuremberg Germany ChristmasCan you think of anything more charming than a Bavarian Christmas? Maybe it is just because I grew up with rum balls and nutcrackers, but I find Christmas in this part of Europe absolutely magical. Germany is famous for its Christmas markets, and you won’t find another market like the one in Nuremberg.

Every holiday season, on the eve of advent, the market is officially opened following a prologue from the Christmas Angel. Dressed in golden robes with golden, flowing curls, the beautiful Angel ends her speech with, “You men and women, you who were once children, too, be a child again today. Rejoice when Christchild now invites you all to see this market. Whoever comes to visit will be welcome.”

You will find nearly two-hundred stalls selling their wares. From handmade crafts, ornaments, candles and wreaths to fruit cakes, spicy gingerbread, and mulled wine. This is the perfect spot to find a unique ornament that you can cherish for Christmases to come.

Children love the Christkindlesmarkt, and not just because the place is crawling with irresistible sweets. A ride on the steam train or around the old fashioned carousel is fun for the whole family. The House of Stars offers a plethora of ever-changing children’s activities, and every Tuesday and Thursday, the Christmas Angel will be there to read their favorite fairy tales.

 

How to Not Have Bedbugs Eat You Alive

Ughhhh! Bedbugs! When I used to manage the hostels in Hawaii, we had a few run ins with bedbugs. Travelers coming down in the morning with bites covering their entire bodies. In some cases we would throw out all the mattresses on an entire floor, fumigate, and then re-open the rooms to travelers.

In fact though, not all hostels take bed bugs so seriously or even know how to deal with them. I realize, that because of my quick jaunt to Morocco to see my wife, things are out of sequence here, but this is important enough to let you know about a quick trip I took to Rome. I figured that Rome in winter would be an easy place to find accommodations, but I was wrong. Rome is always filled with people. My first choice in hostel was booked full. (and apparently so were all the couchsurfing hosts since even Roman friends of mine were packed with guests and couldn’t host me), so the first rule is to book ahead in Rome. I hate to do it too, but I think it’s essential.

bedbugs in Rome
The first hostel sent me to their sister property where I hadn’t read the reviews on Hostelworld. The Hotel Beautiful seemed like a great place, except in the night when I started to itch. I had looked at the mattress before checking in, but the mattress was black and I thought to myself, huh, maybe that keeps the bedbugs away. Wrong! I woke up feeling itchy but not seeing the bites yet. Luckily, I had put my bags on hard surfaces away from the beds, so none of the critters could hitchhike. A hot shower and a change of clothes and I was out of there.

Later, after finding other hostels full, I accepted the offer of the Hotel Beautiful 2 and thought, I’ll rent a private room and relax a bit. Within minutes of lying in the bed, I found, guess what, a bedbug biting my hand. They work fast, I wasn’t there twenty minutes and my right hand was covered with bites. This time, I hadn’t checked the mattress and I’m itching myself for it. both hands and my neck were covered with more than sixty bites. Again, my bag and clothes were on a hard surface away from the bed, this time I think it was the pillow that housed the buggers judging by the bites on hand and neck and face.

I grabbed my things and went to the desk to complain. “But it was just fumigated last week!” she told me. Later, on trip advisor, I saw more than a few complaints about bed bugs for this dump. I asked them to find me a different accommodation but the best they would do was give me a refund and send me out in the street. If you have an infestation of bedbugs, for christ sake throw out the pillows!

Finally, after wandering the streets of Rome in the dark and finding nearly everything booked because of a coming festival and a rugby match, I checked into the Hotel Charter, a two star place that deserved three for their magnificently redone bathrooms, incredibly comfortable beds, and great staff. The price was out of my budget but they dropped it to 45 euros per night which i was glad to pay. A scalding shower, my clothes into a plastic bag, and myself in the clean, new sheets on a great mattress with no bug signs.

I would have preferred paying 90 Euros for two nights there than the 20 and 35 I paid at the bed bug hostels. The moral of the story is twofold. In Rome, book ahead and read the reviews on HostelWorld and on Trip Advisor.

The nightmare of every traveler is to become afflicted by bedbugs. In recent years even some of the top hotels in the world have suffered infestations of these nasty little creatures. Many people think you only find them in dirty or cheap hotels, but the truth is, they can be found anywhere. However, you find them in the cheap places more often than the quality ones. Don’t worry though, learn from my bad experience and miss out on this awful travel nightmare.

With a few easy precautions you can make sure to keep them out of your life. First of all read the independent reviews of hotels you plan to stay at using third party sites like Trip Advisor. If there are bedbugs there, someone will have mentioned it. While it is possible to get rid of infestations, it’s difficult, so your best bet is to avoid places where bed bugs are mentioned.

Once you check into the hotel, you want to also check the room and the beds for signs of the pests. Pull the bedding off the mattress and look for the black eggs or reddish marks left by bedbugs. The eggs are usually in the seams and look like black sand or coffee grounds. Don’t put your luggage on the bed or couch. Use the luggage rack or hard furniture instead. Pull the headboard from the wall and look for the exoskeletons which have been molted. Don’t forget to check the box spring seams too!

If there are bedbugs, the chances are that you will see some sign of them (but if the mattress is black, beware!) . One last thing, when you get back home, be sure to unpack on a hard, light colored surface (even the bathtub!) just in case you managed to pick up a hitch-hiker. You wouldn’t want him to get in your bed!

If I had followed my own advice, I wouldn’t be so itchy right now. Sometimes a little planning makes a big difference.

Arriving in Rome – Scaring the Indians

Colleseuem in RomeI arrived around 10 pm and as usual, I had no idea where I was going to stay, but I figured Rome would be pretty easy to find a place to stay in. I had met an Argentine backpacker named Josephina on the plane and she asked if I was heading to the center called Termini. That was actually all that I had planned. She spoke no English and my Spanish is terrible, but we somehow found the cheap bus to Termini and she indicated she was going to a hostel and I should check it out. I agreed. The Rome Airport Shuttle took us to Termini for 15 Euro each.

Once at Termini we used the maps and addresses she had printed out to wander around the dark streets of Rome around midnight looking for a hostel. Finally, after asking a half dozen very friendly Romans who spoke neither Spanish or English, we found it. Josephina was in, but as for me and the Indian guys who had been leaving when we arrived, there was no room for us. After a few minutes, the clerk told me “I’m sorry, we have no room, but follow those Indian guys that left a few minutes ago, I sent them to our other hostel, just go out and go right and follow them.”

I said goodbye to Josphina and ran out the door. The Indian guys were already well down the street and so I ran to catch up. Not wanting to scare them, I began to shout as I got closer and had exactly the opposite effect since after all it was 1 am in the rough streets around Termini station and a madman they didn’t know was running at them and shouting “Hey, are you the Indian guys? Do you speak English?”

The two of them split apart and began to run in opposite directions!!!! Stuck between the desire to feel bad for scaring them and the desire to laugh as they reacted just as the lovable guys in Bollywood films would have, I stopped and shouted “The guy from the hostel told me to follow you, he has no more room.”

They both stopped and we trudged down the streets and into the darkness together, a strange trio looking for a place to sleep. Eventually, we found a room for the three of us to share, we went out for a late night beer and some pizza, and we all became friends.

The important part was that I had arrived in Rome. The funny part was that I was sharing a room with two Indian guys I scared the crap out of by chasing them down the streets at 1 am. Here is a fun little slideshow of a few things I saw in Rome over the next few days…

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