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Tips for Travel: Italy

27 Apr

I know it has been absolutely forever since I’ve posted, but between travel, school, and my internship, things have been crazy! However, I just returned from a fantastic trip to Italy. I spent 6 days exploring Vatican City, Rome, Florence, and Venice. I saw and experienced so much, but I also learned some good lessons. In honor of the four weeks I have left in Europe, I will give four helpful hints for traveling to each of these cities.

 

Vatican City

Sign leading to the Vatican Museum

Sign leading to the Vatican Museum

1. You cannot get to St. Peter’s Square and St. Peter’s Basilica from the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. They have separate lines and both are crazy long (2-3 hours).

2. Definitely get tickets to get into the Vatican Museum before you get there. It is definitely worth the price to get in (8 euro for the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel for students), but the line can get a little tedious. You can order your tickets online though before you go and get to skip the line.

3. Ignore the people walking by offering to let you get in early with their “skip the line” tours. If this tour is legitimate (some of them don’t seem to be real) the groups are incredibly large and get very crowded. Better to save your money. The cheapest tour of this kind that we were offered was 25 euro a person.

4. Remember that this is a religious place. It doesn’t matter if you are Catholic or not; it is a sacred place and should be treated as such. People will get angry if you don’t treat it with respect (me included).

Rome

At the Trevi Fountain

At the Trevi Fountain

1. If you buy a ticket for the Colosseum, you are also buying a ticket for the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum. Therefore, your best option is to go to the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum first and buy your tickets there. The cost is the same and your wait time will be cut in half. Then you will feel magic when you get to the Colosseum and get to skip the hour-long line to get it (I know I did).

2. Go to the Trevi Fountain at night! It is less crowded and the lighting around it is fantastic!

3. There is a place right on the Trevi Fountain square that is fantastic for cheap dinner. They have pizza that you purchase by the weight and they have fantastic (and inexpensive) gelato!

With the Gladiator

With the Gladiator

4. There are men walking around the city dressed as gladiators and are willing to take a picture with you. Just remember that this will cost you! They may try to tell you that it is a ridiculous price after the picture is taken (ours tried to get 20 euro from each of us), but don’t pay any more than a couple euro a piece. When in doubt, negotiate a price beforehand.

Florence

Room at the B&B Guelfi e Ghibellini

Room at the B&B Guelfi e Ghibellini

1. Stay at the B&B Guelfi e Ghibellini. It is about a 15 minute walk from the center of the city, but it is in a nice area that has a grocery store and good restaurants. The rooms were fantastic, the people who worked there were so warm and helpful, and the breakfast was wonderful and consisted of breads, jams, cereal, meats, cheeses, quiche, and pastries, as well as coffee and tea. It also wasn’t any more expensive than any of the hostels would have been.

2.If you want to go see The David at the Academy Gallery, book tickets in advance. That is what everybody suggested and even though we didn’t want to go inside to see it (not enough time), we saw that the line was crazy to get in. Should you really want to see it though, I’ve heard to it worth it. If you don’t really care about seeing the real one, there is a reproduction of it right outside of the museum with a number of really cool other status.

Reproduction of The David outside of the Academy Gallery

Reproduction of The David outside of the Academy Gallery

3. Florence is a good city to just walk around. However, wear good walking shoes. The cobblestone streets aren’t the most even to talk on and the sidewalk tends to break up or slope at random places.

4. Check out the Galileo Museum. Though it isn’t advertised as much in the tourist information online, it is supposed to be fantastic!

Venice

1. Spend a day just walking around Venice. We only have 1 full day in Venice and we didn’t plan anything out. We started at the main square next to the train station and just started wondering throughout the city. We went through little alleyways, over bridges, and found some very pretty gardens. I honestly felt like I got more out of Venice from just walking around than I would have from visiting a bunch of museums and churches.

2. Invest either time or money in the masks of Venice. At least spend some time wondering through the mask shops of Venice. You can find some pretty masks at the tourist shops and stalls, but the real art is in the handmade masks that can be found in shops all over the city. They really are an art in themselves. Zach (once of my friends I travel with) invested in a beautiful, handmade mask, while I invested in an inexpensive plastic one from a tourist stall. Both are very pretty.

3. Gondola rides run around 80 euro. We just couldn’t justify the price for one. Therefore, if you’re trying to travel thrifty, try not to get your heart set on a ride. If there are more inexpensive options, I definitely did not see them.

4. Sit and relax at a cafe on the canal. Have some lemoncello, or a spritz (Italian alcoholic beverage), or just a pop (soda for those of you not from the Midwest). Just sit, relax, and take in the beauty of the city!

 

I hope those hints are a little helpful in your planning. If you have any more questions, just comment here and I’ll get back to you. Here are some more pictures from our adventures below.

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Playing Tourist (Fall Break Day 8)

9 Nov

I know that I am skipping a day again, but on day 7 my friend and I both woke up pretty sick. We spent most of the day in bed at the hostel until that night when we went to the movies and saw Thor 2 (which was exciting because it came out in Europe before it came out in the US and because it takes place in London).

On Saturday, our last day in London, we got to play tourists and just try and get up-close to the sights that we hadn’t had a chance to see yet. We got off the Tube at the Westminster stop and went out the exit toward the river. After taking pictures of Big Ben, we walked over to Westminster Abbey. I really wanted to go inside, but it was unfortunately closed for a special service when we got there. However, we got to explore the grounds around the abbey itself, and it was beautiful! After exploring the abbey for a while we started our walk over to Buckingham Palace (it should have been a short walk but there is a lot of construction in London right now that cut off our route a couple times). We grabbed lunch next to the Victoria Station at a restaurant called Shakespeare (had the Big Ben Burgers). After lunch we continued our journey and stopped along the way for some much-needed souvenir shopping (some of the best shops are the ones next to Buckingham Palace). We got our photo shoot in at Buckingham Palace right before it started raining again. Since neither of us wanted to get more sick, we decided that that was our cue to head indoors and wait for our bus home. We found a Starbucks back at the Victoria Station and enjoyed their free wifi for a while. In my opinion, it was a nice, relaxing end to our trip in London!

Below are some of the pictures from our last day!

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Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about the last day of Abroad With Amy Trivia! This is your last chance to receive a special prize from London! First person to answer the question below will get the prize.

Here is the answer from the last post: (Congrats to Jodi Seybert for being the first to give the correct answer!)  The original Crown Jewels of England, some most then likely dating back to Edward the Confessor in the 11th century, were destroyed after the Civil War in 1649. During the Civil War, the Tower fell into the hands of the Parliamentarians. After King Charles I was overthrown and executed, Oliver Cromwell ordered that the Crown Jewels be taken to the Tower and destroyed and used for purposes to benefit the Commonwealth. The gold objects were melted down and made into coins. The gemstones were removed from their settings and sold. When King Charles II reestablished the monarchy in 1660, he commissioned new Crown Jewels to be made and modeled after those that belonged to his father. These Crown Jewels were completed by his coronation on St. George’s Day in 1661. The only piece that remains is the 12th century gold Anointing Spoon, which is used to anoint the Sovereign with holy oil during the coronation.

Today’s Trivia Question: Westminster Abbey was first used for a coronation in 1066 with the coronation of William the Conqueror, King William I. Since then, Westminster Abbey has been the uninterrupted sight for coronations and has held 38 coronations. However, two monarchs since then were never crowned. Who were these two monarchs? 

Historian Heart: Halloween at the Tower (Fall Break Day 6)

8 Nov

Most people can pinpoint the exact moment when they knew what their passion was. Though I had always been interested in history, I know the exact moment that I fell in love with history. That moment was when my dad gave me the book The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir. Though I bought this book for him for his birthday and I read it after him, I absolutely loved it! I became obsessed with Tudor and Reformation English history. Therefore, it can be understood that going to The Tower of London was an absolute dream come true. For those of you who do not know much about the history of the Tower, here is a brief description.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London

The Tower of London

On the sight of former Roman ruins, the Tower of London has a history of being a fortress, a prison, a castle, a palace, and now a museum. It is also the home of the ravens. The ravens that are housed at the Tower have their wings clipped, so they cannot fly away. The presence of these ravens at the Tower are traditionally thought to protect the monarchy. It is said that “If the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.”

The Norman Beginnings

Remains of the Roman city wall

Remains of the Roman city wall

Edward the Confessor died in 1066 without any direct heirs, which left many people attempting to claim the throne. Though Edward’s brother-in-law Harold Godwinson was crowned, William, Duke of Normandy, claimed that he was the rightful king of England. William eventually defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. After William’s coronation at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066, he travel to Barking in Essex, ‘while several strongholds were made ready in the City to safeguard against the fickleness of the huge and fierce population, for he saw that his first task was to bring the Londoners completely to heel’.(1) The location of this fortification was on the sight of the former Roman city walls. Those fortifications were eventually replaced by the White Tower, which was completed by 1100.

Medieval Times

The medieval kings built on to the original White Tower to make the Tower of London the fortress that is famous today. Additions were added by Richard the Lionheart, John Lackland, Henry III, and Edward I. By the reign of Edward I, the Tower was already being used for military purposes, as a residence, and as a prison. However, Edward saw the Tower as a safe place to store valuables and papers. The Royal Mint was established an the institution played a significant part in the Tower’s history. The Tower became of great importance after the Wars of the Roses. It saw the tournaments of Henry VI, the coronation celebration of Edward IV, and victory parties for Henry VII. However, it also saw the executions of Henry VI, Edward V, and his brother.

Tudors and Reformation

Armor of Henry VIII

Armor of Henry VIII

The reign of Henry VIII saw the end of the Tower’s role as a royal residence. His break with the Catholic Church caused the number of prisoners held at the Tower to increase. Some of these prisoners included Sir Thomas More, Bishop Fisher of Rochester, and his wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. All four of these prisoners were eventually executed.(2) After the death of Henry VIII and his son Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey was crowned queen. Unfortunately, she only held the throne for nine days before she was overthrown and Mary I ordered her execution. Lady Jane Grey was executed at the Tower. Mary I also had her half sister, Princess Elizabeth (future Elizabeth I) imprisoned there. When Elizabeth finally became queen, she continued the trend of imprisoning large numbers of people in the Tower.

Civil War

Along with Charles I’s reign came a devastating civil war that saw the fall of the English monarchy. During the war, the Tower fell into the hands of the Parliamentarians. The first permanent garrison was added to the Tower by Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell in 1653. After the monarchy was reestablished with Charles II in 1660, the Tower became less of a prison and became the headquarters of the Office of Ordnance.

Tourist Attraction

Though the Tower had guided tours as early as the 1590s, the amount of visitors to London who visited the Tower increased dramatically in the 19th century. By the end of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1901, over half a million people were visiting the Tower each year.(3)

The Tower of London

The Tower of London

Famous Prisoners of the Tower (4)

  1. Anne Bolyen- The second wife of King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn resided in the Tower twice, once while as queen-in-waiting before her coronation and again as a prisoner. After three years of being married to Henry VIII and her continued inability to give birth to a male heir, she was arrested and charged with adultery, treason, and an alleged incestuous affair with her brother. She was executed on May 19, 1536. Her cousin and fifth wife of Henry VIII, Catherine Howard, was also executed at the Tower in 1542.

    Room of Sir Walter Raleigh in the Bloody Tower

    Room of Sir Walter Raleigh in the Bloody Tower

  2. Sir Walter Raleigh This prisoner is known as the longest-serving prisoner of the Tower with his confinment of 13 years, though not always at the same time. He engineered the failed English colony at Roanoke Island, but was a favorite of Elizabeth I. His first imprisonment was in 1592 when he secretly married one of the queen’s maids of honor. His second imprisonment was in 1603 when he was accused of plotting against King James I. He was housed in the Bloody Tower, but lived in relative comfort because of his high social status. Sir Walter Raleigh was eventually released and sent to Central America to look for El Dorado, but was eventually executed for attacking a Spanish outpost without the King’s orders.
  3. The Princes of the Tower- The Princes of the Tower included Prince Edward V (12) and Prince Richard of Shrewsbury (10) who were the children of King Edward IV. They were housed in the Tower after their father’s death in 1483. They were placed there by their uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and had their titled stripped from them so that he could take the throne and become King Richard III. These two boys disappeared and were never seen again after mid-1483. Though the bodies of two small boys were eventually found, it has never been proven that they were the bodies of the Princes of the Tower. (At the Tower, there is an interactive voting system where visitors can cast their vote on who they think killed the children: Richard III or Henry VII.)
  4. Guy Fawkes- Guy Fawkes was imprisoned in the Tower after the failure of the Gunpowder Plot that was meant to kill King James I and other members of the British government by blowing up the House of Lords. This plot was meant to be taken out on November 5, 1605 (November 5 is now a holiday in Britan known as Guy Fawkes Day). Due to an annonymous tip, Guy Fawkes was caught, tortured, and condemed to be hanged, drawn and guartered. He escaped this fate by jumping off of the gallows and breaking his own neck.
  5. Lady Jane Grey- Edward VI, son of King Henry VIII, died without a male heir. He did not want the throne to fall into the hands of his Catholic half-sister, Mary, so he chose tennager Lady Jane Grey to take the throne so that it would remain in Protestant hands. Lady Jane only held the crown for 9 days before Mary raised a rebellion and caused Jane’s downfall. She was taken prisoner in the Tower and was found guilty of treason in 1553, but was pardoned by Queen Mary I. Unfortunately, her father took part in a Protestant rebellion that led to their execusions, her’s being on the Tower Green on February 12, 1554.
  6. Rudolf Hess- Though the Tower became a tourist attraction by the 20th century, it was briefly reinstated as a state prison during World War II. Rudolf Hess was one of two Nazis captured on British soil and were held as prisoners in the Tower. Hess was known as “Deputy to the Fuher” and served as second-in-command to Hitler. He was capturedafter her parachuted into Scotland in 1941 in a renegade attempt to negotiate peace with the British. Churchill did not trust that he really wanted peace, and imprisoned his in the Tower. He only remained there for a few days, but he was the last state prisoner held at the Tower. He was eventually put on trial at Nuremberg and served a life sentence. (Added note for Agnes Scott students: During the 1930s, Rudolf Hess’s niece was a study abroad student at Agnes Scott. Another Agnes alumae, who was a translator at the Nuremburg Trials, actually met up with her again and asked her opinion of the war, in which she apologized for the role of her family in the war).

I hope you enjoyed that little history of the Tower of London! Now it is time for Abroad With Amy Trivia!!

Answer from last post: Congrats to Lesa Ward in correctly guessing the last trivia question! The first Ferris Wheel was introduced in 1893 at the Chicago Worlds Fair, also known as the World’s Columbian Exposition to celebrate 400 years since Columbus found the new world. The World Fair committee wanted to find a centerpiece to their fair that would outshine the centerpiece of the last world fair, the Eiffel Tower from the Paris Worlds Fair. The Ferris Wheel is named after its designer and constructor, George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.

Entrance to the Crown Jewels

Entrance to the Crown Jewels

This post’s trivia question: One of the highlights of visiting the Tower of London is getting to visit the Crown Jewels. However, these are not the original Crown Jewels. What happened to the originals?

Works Cited

  1.   “The Normans,” Historic Royal Palaces, http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/sightsandstories/ buildinghistory/normanbeginnings.
  2. “The Tudors,” Historic Royal Palaceshttp://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/sightsandstories/buildinghistory/tudors.
  3. “19th-Century Tower,” Historic Royal Palaceshttp://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/sightsandstories/buildinghistory/theTowerinthe19thcentury.
  4. “6 Famous Prisoners of the Tower of London,” History Channelhttp://www.history.com/news/history-lists/6-famous-prisoners-of-the-tower-of-london.

Double-Decker London (Fall Break Day 5)

7 Nov
On top of the double-decker bus in London

On top of the double-decker bus in London

After an 8 hour Megabus ride through Belgium, France, and the UK, my friend Caitlin and I FINALLY made it to London at the amazing time of 8 AM! Since we couldn’t get into our hostel until 2 PM, we decided that we wanted to find a double-decker bus tour. When you’re in London, there are many choices on which bus tour you could take, but we decided on The Original London Sightseeing Tour. This is the oldest, open-top bus tour company in London. They have 3 different tour lines through London, with over 80 stops at different tourist attractions all over the city. Lucky for us, we found wifi at Starbucks (it was AMAZING being in a country that has Starbucks again) and found an online deal. This deal included a two-day bus pass, a English-language walking tour, and a river cruise! We instantly got these tickets and went on our way. Caitlin and I spent 5 hours on the top level of the bus and rode the entire Original tour line to see all over the city. Though it was cold and windy, we had an absolute blast! I would definitely recommend this tour bus for the future. After the hours on the bus, we got a late lunch/early dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe London (the original  Hard Rock Cafe and the one that brought my total number of Hard Rocks visited to 14) and then headed to our hostel in Hammersmith (I’ll write later about the hostel).

Enjoy some pictures of our tour below! I also decided that I wanted to add another aspect to my blogs from London and ask a trivia question! There will be a trivia question on each of my blog posts from London and the answer and explanation will be posted on my next blog, and if you are the first person to answer correctly in the comments, I will send you a little something I picked up in London. Here is the first trivia question:

The London Eye is one of the most famous tourist attractions in London. It is also known as the Millennium Wheel, as it was opened in 2000. It is the largest Ferris Wheel in Europe. However, this is obviously not the first Ferris Wheel. When and where was the first Ferris Wheel introduced? 

Things I Learned While in Amsterdam!

6 Oct

At the end of last month, I returned to the Netherlands after 3 years! It was a quick weekend trip to Amsterdam, filled with two missed trains, free lodging (thanks to a friend!), and tons of laughs!

After being in Amsterdam twice now, I can say pretty comfortably what the most important thing to do for tourists is to do. That is taking a canal tour! Amsterdam loves their canal, and rightfully so because they are historical and absolutely beautiful! There are also lots of options. For us, we wanted a great experience for a reasonable price. Though there were other cheaper options, we ended up taking the Eco Tours Canal Tours which was 18 euros for 75 minutes. It was an open top boat that only took about 12-15 people max. Lucky for us, there  were only 9 people on ours, including our captain/tour guide. It was a very personalized tour, and our captain was obviously very knowledgeable about the history of the city and the canals. Along with some of my favorite pictures, I wanted to give everyone some of the tidbits of information that he bestowed on us. Enjoy!

FUN FACTS OF THE AMSTERDAM AND THE CANALS!

  • Approximately 15,000-16,000 bikes are pulled out of the canals every year by the city of Amsterdam.
  • The houseboats on the canals are at least temporarily attached to the seawalls. They are required to be moved for cleaning and maintenance every few years.
  • You can no longer buy a new slot on the canals for a houseboat. If you want to live in a houseboat, you have to purchase one that is already there. Though the price is extremely expensive, it includes the price of the boat and the slot itself.
  • Back at the beginning of the city, streets did not have street numbers on them. Instead, each of the houses had a name and symbol. A good amount of those symbols are still on the houses today (in my pictures, there is a house that was the “Red Lion”).
  • A good number of the houses around the canals are leaning. Some are leaning because the ground under them have shifted through time. Others were built intentionally leaning to make getting shipments in and out of the buildings easier.
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To Do: 5 Places in Brussels

26 Aug

I had a few days to myself before school started this week that I earmarked for wondering around Brussels, seeing what there is to experience. Unfortunately for me, I had errands that were really more important than wondering and I didn’t feel the greatest. However, I am going to a college that schedules a bus and walking tour of Brussels available to first year and study abroad students for the weekend before classes start, so I took part in that. Thanks to Mother Nature, that walking tour turned into a strictly bus tour  because it was super cold and rainy! I enjoyed it this way because not only did I get to sit and see a great overview of the city that I will be spending the next 9 months, but our guide (a professor who teaches about European history and has lived in Brussels her entire life) got to give us great explanations of what we were seeing.

So on this trip, I saw a TON of great places to visit this year. However, in this post, I have narrowed that list down to 5 specific places that I know for a fact that I really want to visit. Most of the information I am posting about each of the sites came directing from our professor. Pardon the pictures I’m posting; I took them with my phone, through a bus window, during the rain. Better pictures will come later when I visit them for real.

1. Law Courts of Brussels

Law Courts of Brussels

Law Courts of Brussels

     Also known as the Palace of Justice and the Palais de Justice (in French), this was commissioned to honor Belgium’s 50th anniversary as an independent country by King Leopold II. It is located in uptown Brussels, which is literally called that because it is up above the rest of the city. There is a spot next to this building where you can look out and see Brussels spread out below you. In the Middle Ages, this was the site where public hangings would take place. Vesalius (our college’s namesake) would come here after hangings and collect the bodies to study them to learn more about anatomy. It has an eclectic architectural style, meaning that it does not display just one style throughout its design. For the 19th and most of the 20th century, this was the biggest building in Western Europe.

2. Royal Palace

Royal Palace

Royal Palace

     The Belgian Constitution was made in 1830, and construction of this Royal Palace was completed in 1850. Though this is the seat of the government, the currently King of Belgium, King Philippe, and his wife, Mathilde, live in a royal mansion in a different part of the city. The Royal Palace is located in an area called the Royal Park, which also holds the Belgian Parliament and the Belgian Prime Minister’s offices. In the actual park next to this building, there is an interesting monument. There was a point in Belgium’s history where a large party was thrown. At this party, Peter the Great indulged in great amounts of both food and alcohol. This monument in the park is there to commemorate the place in which Peter the Great got sick that evening.

3. Cinquantenaire

Cinquantenaire

Cinquantenaire

     The Cinquantenaire was commissioned at the some time as the Law Courts of Brussels, by King Leopold II, to celebrate Belgium’s 50th anniversary. It was not completed until after he passed away and was inaugurated by King Albert I. King Albert was actually Leopold II’s nephew and never actually planned to have to take over the thrown. Unfortunately for him, he eventually was king and had to serve during World War I, when he stayed with his army instead of fleeing the country.

4. Chinese Pavilion

Chinese Pavilion

Chinese Pavilion

     This pavilion was one of the exhibits at the 1900 World Fair in Paris, France. King Leopold II like it so much that he had it and the Japanese Tower reconstructed in Brussels after the World Fair was completed. The outside of this structure takes parts of many different kinds of Chinese architecture into its design, the interior is actually designed in an art nouveau style. Interestingly enough, the man who design this was French and had never actually been to China.

5. Atomium

Atomium

Atomium

     Of course, no trip to Brussels would be complete without going to their iconic destination, the Atomium. The Atomium is a replica of an iron molecule (increased in size by 165 billion times) made for the 1958 World Fair in Brussels. It was never meant to last longer than the World Fair, but the people fell in love with their symbol and it remained; however, it was at one time damaged and had to be rebuilt in a different kind of material. When this happened, tightrope walkers had to be commissioned to put parts of the structure back together.