A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020- Cochem

Our last stop on our Summer Holiday was back in Germany in a small town called Cochem. This is the weird part of the blog posts as I am going to do a general blog post today on Cochem and the couple of things that we did, but one of our reasons for stopping in Cochem, was its vicinity to a couple of castles we wanted to see. I’ll be giving full details on the castle’s in separate blog posts, but wanted to get this last stop blog post out for you. We really enjoyed the time we spent in Cochem (2 nights) and it really solidified how much we’ve fallen in love with Germany (which I’ll talk about at some other time). Regardless, after leaving Belgium, we crossed the border back into Germany and headed straight over to Cochem. 

Cochem is a small town (total population ~5300) on the Moselle River.

It has had settlements from the 1stcentury onwards, was an Imperial estate in the 13th century, and was granted town rights in the early 14thcentury. It’s been under the rule of Germany, France, and Prussia. During World War 2 there was an underground subcamp of the Natzweiler Concentration Camp with 13,000 prisoners at its height. It’s important to note that Cochem is located along the Mosel River which happens to be an area of Germany that produces, and is known for, wine. German Wine is typically a Riesling wine as that is the most widely planted grape, although they do produce a variety of white wines. (Luckily for me- I love a good Riesling so I was in the very right place ha-ha). 

The first place we stopped at, the minute we arrived in Cochem, was the Reichsburg Cochem, or Cochem Imperial Castle. As I said, I’ll be doing a whole separate post on Cochem Imperial Castle, but I’ll include a brief overview here as well.

Reichsburg Cochem dates back to around the 12th century when it was occupied and declared an Imperial Castle. In the 17th century the French King Louis XIV overran it and then destroyed it. In the 19th century a businessmen from Berlin purchased in and then reconstructed it. It is now owned by the town of Cochem. After a tour of the interior, we headed to our hotel and over to dinner. We stayed at Hotel Zenthof which was another perfect spot, right off the main bridge connecting the two sides of the river, and a view of the castle out the front. We had dinner right on the waterfront and watched the sunset with a lovely glass of Riesling for myself and a beer for my husband (this is the aforementioned moment where we just realized how perfect Germany has been for us). 

The next morning, we were up and off early (only stopping at a local supermarket to pick up some pastries for breakfast) to head over to our second castle, Burg Eltz.

Again, a full dedicated blog post is coming, but this is a medieval castle located in the heart of the hills above the Moselle River.  First dating back to the 12th century, this particular castle is still owned by the same family that lived there at that time (it was actually 4 families and quite an interesting tour!). We had the dreamiest morning walking along its walls and corridors. 

From there we went to do a little…adrenaline push. In Hunsruck there is a 360-meter suspension bridge (its height is 100 meters up) that you are able to walk across. The Geierlay Suspension Bridge was first suggested in 2006 and rejected, then re suggested in 2010 for a second look.

Modeled after the Nepalese suspension bridges (which means that it is “unstiffened”), construction started in 2015 (record time as the bridge opened 130 days later), and the bridge was inaugurated at the beginning of October of the same year. The bridge itself has a layer of local Douglas fir that you are actually walking on as you walk across the bridge.  Finally, the name was picked after an open competition and refers to the land and history of the area of the bridge.  The bridge itself is center to several hiking and biking spots, so you can definitely combine a hike with crossing the bridge.

Honestly, I am terrified of heights. Well, I mean really I suppose I am more terrified of falling, rather than heights, but the two go hand in hand. So, the idea of walking across this suspension bridge that moves with every movement (even more so in some areas than others) was not…appealing. As always, while I was on it I just stepped one foot in front of the other and just focused on that. I did, from time to time, look up to take in the absolute beauty that was around me, but on the whole it was an accomplishment to make it to other side breathing normally for me. And once I got to the other side? I felt like a bad ass ha-ha.

We decided to hike our way back to the car, rather than walk back across the bridge (this would have actually been preferrable, but my older son wasn’t keen on walking back across the bridge). The hike itself is gorgeous, taking you down into the valley before up the mountain side. It’s not a terrible hike, although I would recommend wearing comfortable shoes. 

A few things to note about the bridge currently (during Covid-19)- in order to maintain the appropriate health precautions, they are restricting movement on the bridge. This means that during the heightened visitor time (11-5 I think) they only allow foot traffic one way each hour. So odd hours going from one side, even from the other. This meant that we waited in line for about 2 hours to just make one pass on the bridge. One side is easily more packed than the other (as it would be) and the line wasn’t the most socially distanced it could have been. However, they grouped people together in groups of 10 or so that they would release on the bridge at a time, so it wasn’t a massive amount of people walking through at a time.  If you are going to go, I would recommend going outside of the popular visitor hours (I would recommend this regardless though). For example, I am looking at the webcam as I am writing this (10:26AM German time on a weekday) and there is hardly anyone on the bridge at this time. No lines, no crowds. 

And that wrapped up both our time in Cochem AND our Summer Holiday! What was your favorite stop? To recap on our entire Summer Holiday (or if you missed any) you can go along with us to LUXEMBOURG, PARIS (1 & 2), MONT-SAINT-MICHEL, NORMANDY, and BELGIUM. 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Belgium

Ah, Belgium. This was our second time in Belgium and I’m putting that very lightly as we visited a museum in Bastogne before heading to Luxembourg last year (we also went to Luxembourg this year). This year we wanted to not only stop in Bastogne again to see a couple more stops, but also to see Brussels, Belgium. There are a couple of really pretty cities in Belgium (Utrecht and Brugge are the tops), but we decided on Brussels.

Before we get into Brussels though, I want to talk about our stops on the way to Belgium. Our first stop was the Bayeux Cathedral. The Bayeux Cathedral is easily one of the coolest and most unique cathedrals I think I have yet to see. Consecrated in the late 11th century, this church is not only neat on both the exterior and interior, but also was the original home of the Bayeux Tapestry.

Our second stop was in Bastogne. After leaving Bayeux, we headed to Bastogne to look at the Foxholes and stop at the Airborne Museum in Bastogne. The Foxholes are exactly what you think they would be, but something about it just felt like walking on sacred ground. I think because we all know the story, we’ve heard the names, there is a bit more of a personal note, that walking the forest just felt…different to walking other places.

From the foxholes we went over to the 101 Airborne Museum. The museum is located in the former officer’s mess building of the Belgian Army, which was also used by the German Army during the occupation. Once the war ended, it was used as a Red Cross Hospital. It has been transformed into a museum that displays a collection of items from the fighting as well as a basement that has been transformed into a bomb shelter.

The museum is incredible, BUT fair warning on going down to the basement area. I would not say that it is…kid friendly, but it is important to experience. Walking down the stairs you are taken to a small dark room where you experience what it would be like to live during the battle for Bastogne and that was just…something that was hard to do. I don’t even have the words for that experience, just that I cannot imagine. From there you then walk along hallways that show various scenes (recreated…with mannequins- again not necessarily suitable for kids, depending on your children’s level of coping and understanding) from the battle. This includes the men fighting through crevices in the defenses of the building, to surgery scenes, to items that were found in the nearby forests and on the streets above. It was something to see and experience and something I will not forget for a long time.

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Brussels has long been a settlement, but it became fully known in the late 600’s when a chapel was built on the banks of the Senne River. The city was then officially founded about 300 years later and has been a place of rebellions, battles, and economic development. We spent most of our day in Brussels walking around the old town area, snacking on waffles, and absorbing the sights. Brussels was a really cool mix of old world and modern, with a hint of opulence and we enjoyed our day exploring. We stayed in a hotel called Hotel Noga and were very pleased with our room and the service.

IMG_6854We started off with a breakfast of…(drumroll please)…waffles. I mean, we couldn’t go all the way to Belgium and not have some waffles. We stopped at a spot in the National Galerie called Mokafe and had some delicious waffles, Strawberry for myself, chocolate for the boys, and berry variety for my husband. Absolutely delicious. Fun fact about the waffles, there are actually two varieties: Brussels and Liege. Brussels are hard rectangle and topped with powdered sugar and some variety of berry or chocolate. Liege waffles are more oval and tend to be more of your…grab and go waffle. The sugar in Liege waffles is also baked directly into the waffle.

After filling up on the delicious waffle and cappuccino breakfast, we headed out to wander. We started our day at the Church of St. Michael and St. Gudula.

This is a relatively “modern” cathedral and church, having only gained cathedral status in the early 1960’s. The church itself dates back to the 11th century, with completion in the 16th, and is currently used for ceremonies of national interest (it is host to royal family events). It was stunning, one of those churches you can’t help but admire.

From there we headed through more of the Altstadt and over to the Grand-Place of Brussels. This seemed to be a common stop for us throughout the day as we gravitated back here several times- which makes sense as it is the central square of Brussels.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the most important tourist destination of Brussels, with guildhalls, Museum of the City of Brussels, and the Town Hall rising up around the square itself. The buildings are displays of opulence with gold touches and gothic architecture. It was voted (at one point) the most beautiful square in Europe and I think I would agree. The square is opulent, but not overbearingly so. It’s definitely the heart and was full of life each time we were there.

We also managed to see Manneken Pis. Yep, you read that right. Manneken Pis is a fountain sculpture of a little boy peeing into the fountain. The first mention of the fountain was from the 15th century when it is mentioned about drinking water for the residents. The first bronze statue was placed in the 17th century, with the current statue replacing it in the mid 20th century. The Mannekin Pis has been the subject of several thefts (of which the punishment was severe) and several legends (which are all quite…interesting to read about). One of the Mannekin Pis traditions is to be dressed up in a variety of different costumes. These can range from famous individuals, to sport options, to holiday attire. Overall though, the Mannekin Pis is a symbol to the people of Brussels; a symbol of the sense of humor that they share and their independence of mind.

The final thing we attraction we saw in Brussels was The Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

First commissioned by Leopold II in the early part of the 20th century after being fascinated by Paris. His original intent was to model his church off of the Sacre Coeur in Parish (HERE) with a street similar to Champs Elysees (HERE) connecting it to the main city center. The Church was consecrate in 1951, awarded the designation of “Basilica Minor” in 1952, completed in 1969, and is now the 5th largest church in the world. This church also holds two museums, The Black Sisters Museum and the Museum of Modern Religious Art. You are also able to go up to a balcony right under the dome to get a bird’s eye view of Brussels.

Once again, this was incredible due to the sheer size. You can definitely feel the more sleek, modern (almost non frivolous, sparse look), art deco style of the church throughout, but the size is just a site to behold.

After finishing up with the Basilica, we wandered back towards the main center square, did a little shopping and picked up some dinner before heading to our hotel. We definitely did not see everything that Brussels has to offer, not even close, but I feel like we got a good amount in our one day there, and were able to get the “feel” of the city.

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Normandy Tips & Recommendations

If you missed my “what we did” post detailing all the information about Normandy, you can read that HERE. I feel like this will be the most…different of all my tips/recommendations posts. Most of Normandy is largely based on what each individual wants to do. Some people want to walk the actual path of the World War 2 Soldiers. Some people want to see every museum there is in the vicinity. Some people just want to take in the sights. I feel like we did a little bit of both.

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Honestly, my tips and recommendations for the Normandy region are quite simple…

You’ll want a car. Similar to our time in Inverness, we spent a lot of time driving from one place to another. This wasn’t a bad thing as driving through the French countryside is kind of a dream AND you can stop in whatever little town you please. Some of the towns even have pictures of what they looked like after D-Day so you can see both the destruction and the re construction. The car also gave us a little chance to have a little downtime in between stops, and gave the boys a chance to eat some snacks and such.

You are able to camp out right off the beaches, but you don’t miss out on anything by staying in one of the little towns. We stayed in a tiny little fishing town, right on the docks, and still felt centralized to everything we wanted to see. We had thought about “camping” right off the beaches, but this ended up being a better option.

In terms of what to see, I think, at minimum, you should visit one beach, Pointe du Hoc, Sainte-Mere-Eglise, and/or one additional museum. I would add Lounges Battery if you have the time to as you are able to see everything almost exactly as it was in 1944. You could, in theory, do that in one day if you wanted, but I would stretch to two days in the region just to do more. The only museum we actually walked through was the Airborne Museum in Sainte-Mere-Eglise and that was such a good one both for us as adults, but also for our boys. There are so many museums though and each covers a different section of D-Day, Normandy, and World War 2 in France. Depending on what your specific interest is (my husband was interested in the Airborne and infantry portion), you can find a museum that will probably give you a wealth of information and artifacts to look at. In terms of beaches, I think (my opinion as a mom with two army heavy boys) that Utah Beach was a better option. They had more for the kids to see/do and really helped them gain a pretty clear idea of what D-Day was (Colton told quite a few people what happened on D-Day in the days following our trip).

Also, if you are in the Normandy region and have the time, I would highly, highly, recommend a visit over to Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey. I think I made it clear as to my thoughts in my previous blog post (HERE), but I will reiterate a smidge here. For us, staying in Port-En-Bessin-Huppain, it was about a 1 ½ drive and the drive itself was gorgeous. If you plan your time right, you can get to the abbey during the second tour, spend a few hours, and then head over to Sainte-Mere-Eglise (which is what we did), and still have time to walk the beach or enjoy an evening dinner somewhere. It is completely and totally worth it.

Finally, one thing we did notice was the hours of…well everything. Most restaurants didn’t open until well after 6 (sometimes even as late as 8) for dinner and most places (like the entirety of Sainte-Mere-Eglise) closed at 4pm. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just something to keep in mind when looking for food or if you need a last-minute item. On the restaurant side of things, we weren’t sure if this was a Covid situation or if it was all the time, so I figured I would mention it here as an FYI.

Do you have any tips or recommendations for the Normandy region? There is so much to see and learn and I know we didn’t come close to doing half of what we could.

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Normandy, France

We spent a total of 2 ½ days in Normandy (including our to “travel days” to and from as we did things on those days). You’ll have seen my post devoted to Mont-Saint-Michel already (if not it’s HERE), but we did so much more in Normandy than that. Normandy has played such a role in World History being a landing site and the beginning of the Allied Forces taking charge during World War 2, however before that it was just…an area of France. The beaches that were stormed were just beaches and the area is absolutely gorgeous. During our time in Normandy, save for the Mont-Saint-Michel reprieve, we focused very heavily on World War 2 history. My husband had a long list of places that he wanted to see, and we managed to see most of them. Not only that, but our children were able to learn and understand what happened during that war, but I’ll get into that a bit later.

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After checking in to our hotel (we stayed at an Ibis in Port-en-Bessin-Huppain which I would recommend), we decided to just hit the ground running and head off to our first spot. It only felt right to pay homage and respect to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice before anything else, so we started at the American Military Cemetery at Omaha Beach.

The cemetery was originally a temporary American cemetery established in June 1944 and was the first American Cemetery on European Soil in the war. The cemetery has 9,385 graves, most of those who perished in the D-Day Landings and following operations, as well as a Walls of the Missing monument that contains 1,557 names. There is a visitor center within the cemetery, although this was closed due to Covid and there was also a path from the cemetery to the beach, but that closed due to security a few years back. You are able to walk the entire cemetery, through several different pathways (should you choose to walk along the beach side, the center, or the roadside), the wall of the missing, and the monument that details out the landings and invasion.

From the cemetery we went over to Point du Hoc. We wanted to make sure we were able to walk the area before it closed (as the locations with centers have opening and closing times, the beaches do not-you can walk those at any time), so we passed walking the beach until after. Pointe du Hoc is a little west of the center of Omaha Beach and a Ranger battalion was tasked with attacking and capturing the fortifications. Pointe du Hoc is a wall. A rock wall.

The Germans had a completed 4 casemates that housed guns, an observation bunker, and anti-aircraft guns.  The plan was to land by sea, scale the cliff and capture the area. There were quite a few problems that arose during the attack, a timing setback, the ladders weren’t long enough, and the second wave of soldiers did not get the flares in time and wound up landing on the beach rather than scaling the cliff. Now you are able to walk amongst the paths of the original fortifications and see the various gun mounts, observation deck, and bomb craters from World War 2. The site starts with a large plaque detailing what happened, and pointing out information before you start walking through the path. It ends at the monument to the battle.

We went to two beaches while we were in Normandy, Omaha and Utah Beach. I’m not going to go into all the history of what happened at the beaches as we should all have a basic understanding of D-Day and, quite honestly, there is so much information about the pre landings, landings, and ongoing battles afterward that it would be too much for this one post. However, I will do a brief rundown as to what we saw at each and a little comparison.

We went to Omaha Beach first.

Omaha Beach is probably the most “well known” of the beaches, the one that is featured in a lot of the films/movies, and the one that is talked about frequently. At Omaha Beach you are able to see the remains of the temporary harbor that was built after landing during low tide, as well as the memorial. The memorial is located at the center of the beach and features three independent sections. It was an incredible bit of time walking the same steps that a soldier might have taken.

Utah Beach was our second beach, visited on our second day, and it was another incredible experience.

Utah Beach was different from Omaha in that there was a lot more artifacts to explore. Utah Beach had one of the Huey Boats, had the anti-tank obstacles, had some tanks, and the museum also has airplanes and other items from D-Day. Our boys were able to have a much better understanding of what happened as they were able to see and visualize what it looked like.  It was something special to, once again stand there, but then see and wander through the various areas that…really haven’t changed in these 76 years.

After leaving Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey on our second day in the region, we headed over to the Airborne Museum in Sainte-Mere-Eglise. Sainte-Mere-Eglise is one of the well-known towns from the various battles in France during World War 2. The town was under German control and the airborne paratroopers were to drop in the town during the night. What led was one of many firefights to liberate the French town. Over 3 days the Americans managed to maintain control of the bridges through the town, liberate, and continue to move forward. Sainte-Mere-Eglise is one of the French towns that continues to hold the American Military and the night of liberation in the highest esteem. The town is milestone 0 of The Freedom Path which is the path taken by Patton’s 3rd Army from Sainte-Mere-Eglise to Bastogne.

The Airborne Museum was born out of a desire to continue the memories of those who gave all and of that night that the town was liberated, and all of World War 2. This was one of those museums that you just have to visit. Beyond the typical artifacts and such that were used in the war (which were incredible) the museum has debuted an interactive iPad experience. They also offer a simulated jump experience that replicates what it would have been like to jump during World War 2 as well as what the ensuing battle would have been like. Excellent for both kids and adults as it’s a bit tamer than some of the other WW2 museums we went to (like Bastogne…but that’s another post).

The final place we went to on our final morning in Normandy was Longues-sur-Mer battery.

This is a World War 2 German artillery battery that is still relatively intact. On another cliffside, this battery is between Omaha and Gold Beaches. This is the ONLY battery in Normandy to retain all the original guns in their original positions. Walking the path, you are able to see the 4 casemates and the observation tower all fully intact, as well as walk through the guns in the casemates. I don’t think we could have picked a better spot to end our time in Normandy as this was just…incredible. To see the guns in the places they would have been, the cliffside as it was, the debris in the water, the view from the observation tower…there are no words.

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And on that note, we drove out of Normandy and over to Belgium.

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey

I’m going to start our time in the Normandy Region off with our visit to the Mont-Saint-Michel Abbey. It wasn’t the first thing we did, BUT it was one (in a long list) of the most incredible things we visited. Our entire time in Normandy was full of incredible places, both in happy and heartbreaking times. 

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I’ll be honest- I’m going to give a brief rundown of the history of the abbey, a short breakdown of our visit, but I’m mostly going to just let the pictures speak for themselves in this post. It’s safe to say that this was hands down my favorite place we saw on our entire summer holiday. A place that I’ve heard about so many times, is featured on so many bucket lists, a place that you can only dream about, and a place that I can now say that I’ve been to and it doesn’t disappoint. 

Mont-Saint-Michel dates back to the 1st century (708 to be exact) when a bishop had a sanctuary built on the Mont-Tombe. This mount soon became a sacred point of pilgrimage and in the 10th century a group of Benedictines settled in the abbey. The village outside the abbey grew larger until it reached the edges of the rock island it is located on. Of course, the abbey hasn’t only been used as a religious spot, it was also used as a prison the in the 19th century. During that time, it was known as the “Bastille of the sea”. Finally, in 1874 it was classified as a historic monument and restoration work was able to begin. Restoration work is regularly done to continue to keep the abbey in the state it would have been during the Middle Ages and in 1979 it became the first property in France to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. The abbey is still, of course, in active use today as a religious site. 

 

An interesting note to make about the architecture (before I get into our visit) is that the concept of the abbey had to be somewhat redesigned to accommodate the pyramid nature of the rock. This makes it entirely unique; unlike any other monastery. The church stands on various crypts and a platform so that the church itself doesn’t collapse. The concept applied in order to make sure the entire abbey stood and stayed were relatively new and unheard of at the time as it met both the constraints for the monks as well as the constraints placed by the land itself. Walking through the tour you are able to see how this was done and where various platforms and load bearing spots are. 

Like I’ve already mentioned, I think this was one of the spots that I was most in awe and will never forget (like most of the Normandy portion of our trip). From walking the path to the bridge to cross the water, to walking through the tight alleyways with the shops and restaurants out to get your business (it’s not nearly as sinister as it sounds- promise), climbing up the rock until it opens up to the abbey itself was a memorable experience. The view from the uppermost point is the most incredible view, you really get the sense of isolation it could have been (as – at the time – it was only accessible at low tide). The abbey itself is an incredible feat. The architecture aside, the sheer beauty of the church, the intertangling yet separation of the various spots within the abbey was really neat to see. You are also able to see one spot that is an homage to the buildings use as a prison. 

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To be honest, we spent way too long contemplating if we would actually go. It was one of those situations where we would probably not ever get *this close* again, but it was just a bit too far. We didn’t know how long we would spend there and it was across the peninsula from us. The morning we decided to go it was a spur of the moment let’s just do it and have no regrets…and I’ll be honest- it was well worth it. The drive to the abbey is gorgeous, meandering through the French countryside and then along the shoreline leading up. The parking wasn’t bad at all (we did get there early thought), and the crowds were less than what I was expecting (but still more than we had seen previous). We only stayed for a couple hours at most before heading out, but those were hours very well spent. 

 

In terms of Covid and general tips…

I would purchase your ticket online, park, and then walk the path to the Abbey rather than take the bus (take the bus after your visit). The walk isn’t long and it’s stunning to see the rocky island get larger and larger in front of you as you get closer. We went mid-morning (our tour was around 11:30-45 I believe) and it wasn’t that bad. The shops are fun to look into and walking through all the little back alleys was neat. You get a real gist of what it would have been like to live there. They do require masks at all times once you enter in the abbey and the tour is, as many others, a very strict one-way tour. There is also an option to rent a room and stay overnight on the island (which I kind of wish we had done, but it’s totally ok). If you choose to just go for a day, I would plan on spending a few hours on the actual island. 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2020 – Paris pt. 2

There is a word derived from French, flaneur, and it means to stroll and observe; which is basically what we spent our second day in Paris doing. If our first day was spent dotting from here to there, hopping off and on public transport and staying on more of the Notre Dame side of things (read about it HERE), our second day was spent truly walking the streets of Paris. We utilized public transport twice, once heading in and then again heading back out. So, what did we do?

We started our day off at Hotel national des Invalides, or The National Residence of the Invalids. This building has several different facets, but it’s original use was as a military hospital and retirement home for war veterans. It also holds a large church with the tallest dome in Paris and the tombs of some very notable war heroes (we will break this down in a bit, but <cough, cough> Napoleon <cough, cough>).

The original project was commissioned by Louis XIV in the 17th century and it has some key history beyond just serving as a military hospital. During the French Revolution it was stormed by rioters and used against the Bastille, it also served as an important spot in the degradation, and then rehabilitation, of Captain Alfred Dreyfus (which I am just now learning about?!), and holds the sarcophagus of Napoleon Bonaparte. Of course, Napoleon is not the only Frenchmen interred in the dome, there is an exhaustive list of tombs, vaults, and hearts that are in Les Invalides. 

These days the property not only serves as a facility for veterans (it still holds a medical and rehabilitation center), but it also serves as a museum center with museums detailing war history as well as an archive center for the 20th century archives. The complex is massive, and we spent a few hours walking through all of the sections. The amount of compiled information just in the museum portion is a lot and spans not just French history, but quite a few other countries as well. They’ve got a lot of little models of battlefields and battles that our boys enjoyed. The church and dome are also quite grand and incredible in their own ways and of course, the tomb of Napoleon is front and center. 

From the Hotel des Invalides we walked over to the Eiffel Tower. We chose to simply walk as the distance is not that far and it’s an easy route (you just keep the tower in your sights…). It was actually a really nice walk that allowed us to see a bit more of the Paris architecture (that is different from the countryside in my opinion). 

So, the Eiffel Tower. Constructed in the late 19th century for the 1889 World’s Fair, it “towers” over Paris at 324 meters tall. I feel like it should be noted that this particular World’s Fair was held to celebrate the centennial of the French Revolution. As with the Louvre Pyramid, there were objectors on several fronts (although the Eiffel Tower massively predates the Louvre Pyramid- HERE). The two popular counter arguments to the Tower were those who objected on aesthetic grounds and those that did not believe that such a tower could be constructed. Gustave Eiffel fought back, had powerful people behind him, and so the tower went ahead. The tower has a storied history, but survived both World Wars (narrowly in the second as Hitler did order it to be destroyed) and still stands today. There are three platforms with the third being at the very top. We were not able to go up to the third due to Coronavirus, and ended up choosing not to participate in going in the Eiffel Tower at all. Instead, we walked “under” (really beside it), across the Pont D’lena bridge and over to the Trocardie Gardens for a view of the full tower. We didn’t linger to long, partly because you can see the Eiffel Tower from any viewpoint on this side of the city of Paris, choosing instead to head over to our next stop of the day. 

From the Eiffel Tower we walked along towards the Arc de Triomphe. The route that we ended up walking allowed us to see a bit more of the “white collar” business side of Paris (I say white collar very lightly) as well as a part of their embassy section. It wasn’t a bad walk and before long we were right at the Arc. 

Commissioned by Napoleon towards the beginning of the 19th century, the Arc de Triomphe is a tribute to the armies of the Revolution and the French Empire. Napoleon really liked Roman antiquity (and you see this theme in quite a few of the buildings he commissioned) so there are a lot of similarities between this arc and those in the Roman Forum. It was placed in a central point of the city, with the Emperors residence at one end of the walkway (now the Avenue des Champs-Elysees) and became a central point for numerous roads leaving from the arc (did that make any sense?). Construction on the Arc was quite start and stop, however once completed it became a rallying spot for the French Army and is home to several large military parades and demonstrations. In 1920 the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was interred beneath the Arc and the first eternal flame in Western/Eastern Europe since the Vestal Virgins was lit. There are a lot of architectural details and war history carved into the Arc and you are able to go to the top of the Arc and see the expanse of Paris. We declined to do so, but wandered around the base reading the names and paying our respects to their tomb. 

From there we wandered down the Avenue des Champs-Elysees which was open to foot traffic (not vehicular). The Champs-Elysees is an avenue that runs from the public square of the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe. It is home to luxury stores and boutiques as well as military parades and other major events. Originally called the Grand Promenade it was originally an extension of the Tuileries Garden and the Tuileries Palace. It quickly was extended (several times) and then became home to townhouses of the nobility before finally, much much later in history (not entirely- right around the 1860’s) settling to the shopping center it has become. The avenue is not only famous for its shopping, but also for its military parades. The Germans had two victory parades, but the most joyous were of the parades of the French and American forces after liberating the city. While we didn’t do any magical, high end shopping, we did stop for dinner on the avenue and treated ourselves to a nice little feast before continuing on. 

We wandered over towards the Grand and Petite Palais on Winston Churchill Avenue. The Grand Palais is an exhibition hall and museum dating back to the late 19th century. It is dedicated and intended for the arts and showcased objects innovation and modern technology (think planes, automobiles, household goods). During World War 1 it was used as a war hospital and during World War 2 it was used (by the Germans) as a truck depot and propaganda center. The Petit Palais is directly across the avenue and is an art museum and dates back to the 1900 World’s Fair. 

From there we walked across Pont Alexander III Bridge, which was built to connect the Champs-Elysees with the Hotel des Invalides and Eiffel Tower. Named after the Tsar Alexander III it was commissioned and built in the late 19th century. It is the most ornate and extravagant bridge in the city and boasts incredible views- from one side the Grand Palais, the other the Hotel des Invalides and out towards the water you see the Eiffel Tower. 

And that concludes our time in Paris!  

A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday 2019 – Rome The Final Days

And so, we come to our final “what we did” post of our Winter Holiday. Our trip was jam packed from start to finish, although there was a definite difference to the second half of our trip. Vatican City was a nice way to “break up” the week we were there as that trip was about halfway through. We’d covered most of the Tourist Spots in our first few days in Rome (read that HERE), we covered Vatican City at that halfway mark (you can read that HERE), then Ancient Rome (one of my absolute FAVORITES read HERE)and now all we had left was New Year’s Day and then some.

So, a quick brief breakdown, Day 1 was spent at Castel Sant’Angelo, checking into our Bed & Breakfast, The Spanish Steps and The Trevi Fountain. Day 2 was spent at Piazza Navona, The Pantheon, and Piazza del Popolo. Day 3 was spent at Santa Maria in Aracoeli, The Alter of the Fatherland, and Quirinale Palace. Each day also consisted of a lot of just walking the streets of Rome- you see so much more by just walking around and you get such a great feel of the place. Day 4 was spent at Vatican City walking the halls of Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. Day 5 was spent going back in time to Ancient Rome and discovering what life was like in a vastly different era. So, that brings us to New Year’s Day and Day 6 of our trip…

A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday - The Final Days

Day 6: New Year’s Day

Oh, New Years in Europe. New Years in Europe is like nothing I’ve experienced before. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t that big of a New Years party goer, but saw the Times Square parties on TV and have heard enough to stories to have what I think is a good idea and I can tell you… the United States doesn’t have much on Europe. And most of the celebrations continue through to the next day. The streets on New Year’s Day are full of celebration, most places are closed, and the atmosphere just feels fun!

We started off the New Year with a breakfast at The Loft, where we had previously eaten. Ate some delicious food, drank some delicious coffee, and then headed out to a very exciting event. We were able to attend the Pope’s New Years Day Prayer. IMG_5054Now, the prayer is actually the Angelus and he will also give a reflection on the Gospel of the day, and on the day that we were there, some additional commentary. Here’s a secret, you can go to this most Sunday’s at noon and participate in this very special moment. I have included a link to the commentary that he gave on New Year’s Day (HERE), and you can view his “schedule” HERE to check if he will be doing the prayer while you are there (if this is something you are interested in). The entire prayer and comments lasts about 15-20 minutes and he speaks into a microphone from the window to the right of St. Peter’s Basilica. It was an incredible moment, so moving and you could feel everyone around you just being swept away by his words and his speaking. It’s something to be experienced, whether you are religious or not.

After the address we decided to further our religious experiences and head over to the Great Synagogue of Rome.

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This Jewish Quarter is one of the oldest, most intact in the world and the Roman Synagogue and Museum reflect both the community and the history. There has been a Jewish presence in Rome since at least the 2nd Century B.C and the museum, located in the basement of the synagogue, displays the history of the community, several artifacts through the history, and is a wealth of information about the traditions and rights of passage of the religion. For me personally, having grown up in a Jewish family, I found it really welcoming and heartwarming to see so much of what I know in such a positive, beautiful light. It was neat to learn some facts about the history of the Jews in Rome and how they were saved during World War 2. Before we get into that, first you need to know that Rome is the ONLY city in Europe to never expel it’s Jews. Did it try to convert them? Yes, there was even a Jewish Ghetto in the 16th century, but it never expelled them (and the Ghetto was abolished in the 19th century- the last in Europe to do so). When the Germans occupied Rome in 1943 the Jewish Community was told it could be saved by giving 50kg of gold. The was given to the Germans and included contributions by non-Jews as well, but the agreement never ended up being upheld. About 2000 Jews were still sent to concentration camps.

Admission to the Museum includes admission and a short tour of the Synagogue.

The Synagogue itself is incredible, dating back to the 19th century and  featuring several different styles which you can see simply by looking from the ground up to the ceiling. You can see the various cultural and design elements (including Spanish, Egyptian, & Roman) and it feels like a good representation of what the community is now. After all, it is an eclectic meld of a wide variety of people from all around Europe. It also features a square aluminum dome which causes it to stand out amongst the other dome’s and, as such, is easily identifiable.  The Synagogue has been visited by 3 different Pope’s, the first of which being a surprise visit in the 1980’s (and marked the first visit since the early history of the Catholic Church).

Finally, we spent our first night of 2020 watching the Sunset over the Roman Forum.

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it for a really long time, Roman Sunsets are incredible. I’ve always just really been a Sunrise fan, but this trip in particular reminded me just how beautiful a sunset can be.

Day 7:

Our final day in Rome was one that we weren’t really sure what to do with. We had almost the entire day to explore and weren’t quite sure what else to really do. Most of our “big ticket” items that we wanted to see we had seen, so we decided to just jump on the subway, pick a random spot and explore from there. Lucky for us the “stars aligned” and we wound up at Villa Borghese Gardens.

Listed as the third largest public park in the city, it’s a little haven of beauty in the city. Dating back to the early 17th century, when Cardinal Borghese decided to turn his vineyard into an extensive set of gardens. Within the gardens there is The Temple of Aesculapius, which has a beautiful lake around it and a Piazza that has been turned into a dog park, but was previously used as an equestrian track. There is also the famous Galleria Borghese (that you need to purchase tickets in advance to see) and its garden, the Villa Medici, which now houses a French Academy, a replica of the Globe Theatre, and a Zoo.

We wandered through the Gardens, which was a really nice little nature break, saw the Water Clock and Temple, stopped by the Borghese Gallery, and then headed to the Zoo. This is the Exposition Zoo, which features minimal caging and contains a little museum. I was really surprised by this zoo, the number of animals it contained, and how well cared for they were. Some of the things that I am normally concerned with in terms of zoo’s, were handled well at this particular one. The boys really enjoyed their time there, noting the Elephant, Snakes, and Crocodile as their best and worst animals (the crocodile because it was “scary”).

These couple spots seemed to be the perfect way to end our trip, which worked out well because shortly after our Zoo visit we headed to the train station and made our way back home.

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The entire trip still feels so incredibly surreal and one that I really loved. In my first post, I talked about how we handled this holiday a little bit differently than our Summer one and I can definitely see the benefits to both ways of traveling (the go, go, go vs. take it easy and truly vacationing). We just had such a lovely time and, yet again, a dream trip come true.

I hope that you enjoyed coming along with us! I hope I’ve done it just a little bit of justice for you.

A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday 2019- Ancient Rome

I’ve decided to do another split in the Holiday posts and give Ancient Rome the post that it truly deserves. To be fair, when I planned out the original posts, I didn’t really know how it would shake out at the end. I mean, I should have known because I just tend to overshare the information anyways, but I wanted to try and condense it down as best as I could. Just the portion that covered Ancient Rome was almost 2000 words. Instead of giving you an almost 4000-word blog post, I just decided to do two separate posts.

So, today it’s all about Ancient Rome. Next it’ll be our last couple days in Rome (which was a fairly decent size too). Finally, I’ll have some tips and recommendations coming your way later on (probably in February).

So, on to the good stuff…

A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday - Ancient Rome

We started our 5th day out bright and early in Ancient Rome. So early in fact, we got to see the Sun breaking through the remains of the Colosseum.

What a way to start the day, huh?!

We booked another tour with Through Eternity Tours to see the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, and The Colosseum. Once again, as with The Vatican, this was most definitely the right way to go about seeing these spots. Our tour guide was John and he was incredible. He shared information not only about the time, the people, and the places (aka the history of Ancient Rome), but he also clued us in on excavation projects including the first one we walked past, which was the most recent excavation to be done. The tour was the best way to get a somewhat in depth look at the history of Ancient Rome, the history of the location and different landmarks within the Forum and a history of the Colosseum. It was also great because we were able to bypass a lot of the lines that very quickly build up to get into these spots. I would highly recommend doing a tour (especially through this company) as it gives you a good overview of these spots and then once you are finished with the tour, you can then double back to the spots that you want to see more of (we went and walked through some other parts of The Coliseum). You know it’s a good choice if we are recommending it as we are not tour people at all.

IMG_4659.jpgSo, our tour started at the entrance of the Roman Forum. The Roman Forum was the heart of Ancient Rome, the heart of the empire, and the starting point of so much of our Western Culture/Civilization. Before I get too much into the history, let me start by saying how absolutely incredible, breathtaking, overwhelming it was to be walking these Ancient Streets. It is an experience that I am never going to forget. My history loving heart was just exploding with happiness, but it was also a bit overwhelming at times to think of just how old, how ancient these places are. It’s hard to wrap your mind around while you are standing there in the moment. To give an idea to this, many historians believe that people first starting meeting in the forum around 500 B.C., even though the “city” wasn’t founded until 753 B.B. (by Romulus and Remus). The Forum has served many uses under many rulers, from a marketplace, to a religious spot full of temples, to a circus/gladiator ring (pre-Colosseum) to a public affairs location where soldiers would march the streets after their victories. In fact, there are a few arches within the forum that were made in honor of the rulers’ military victories. When the Roman Empire started to decline, the Roman Forum went along with it and during the Middle Ages it was completely destroyed to make room for farms and animals to graze. In the very early 1800’s excavations began to uncover the Forum and are even continuing on today (the most recent excavations were “completed” about 5 years ago, I think?). Fun fact/super neat fact: Every time something would get ruined (due to the fact that the Forum was actually located in a swamp/flood area), the Romans would just build over it. So, there are actually several different “eras” to the forum.

A couple of the really cool bits that we got to see (I mean the whole area is incredible) was the old Senate House building. A lot of Roman history focuses on the Senate- it was one of their proudest bits of government, and you are still able to see the exterior of the Senate building. They were in the process of cleaning and restoring when we were there, so we were not able to see the specifics, but still a really awesome site to see. With the restoration in process, we were only able to see bits of the Temple of Saturn, the front columns to be exact. The Temple of Saturn was, what is thought, one of the first temples in the Forum. These specific ruins date back to around 42 B.C. We were also able to glimpse the Arch of Septimus Severus, one of a few arches still surviving, the few columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux dated in the 480’s B.C., AND the Ara di Cesare which is the spot where Caesar was burned after his death (this is one of those things that just still boggles my mind, that we were standing there). We walked past the Temple of Antonius and Faustina, which was probably the most intact and preserved I’ve seen in the Forum, around the Arch of Titus which was dated the 1st century A.D. and built to honor Domitian after successfully winning the Siege of Jerusalem. The level of detail on this arch is incredible (that is THE menorah).

From there we started to walk up towards Palatine Hill and the Palazzo.

Palatine Hill is the center hill of the Seven Hills of Rome and was the actual heart of Rome. It has long been used (dating back to around 10thcentury B.C.) and became a spot for ruler’s palaces and the place to live for the affluent Romans. It overlooks both the Forum and Circus Maximus. Wandering through the rooms you can see just how the wealthy and ruling class of Ancient Rome truly lived. We looked at the “back windows” of the hill towards Circus Maxima and peaked into Palatine Hill’s own Stadium, where the wealthy would work out, have “baths” and various other spa treatments.

From Palatine Hill we walked down the hill, passed some of the last aqueducts
(outside of Aqueduct Park), past the Arch of Constantine and over to The Colosseum.

Commissioned in the 70’s A.D. and later opened 80 A.D.;  the colosseum was originally given the name: Flavian Amphitheater. Since this massive amphitheater (since that was it actually is) was completed under different rulers and there are no documents recording anything that have survived, we don’t know who the architect or builders were. The Colosseum was unique for its time in several ways; first, it was the largest of its time and second it was freestanding, rather than dug in. Each story had a different variety of columns, with seating for 50,000 (seated by class of course). There were also awnings built into the top in case the sun became too bright during the fights. Within the Colosseum there would be gladiator fights against other gladiators or animals. Despite what you see on TV or in movies, these fights would be massive theatrical productions. This was a source of entertainment (in as much as tv and movies are for us today) and so, to keep people interested elaborate storylines would be developed. This lasted 400 years and then the struggling Empire and a decline in attendance caused the fights to come to an end. Not only did the Colosseum struggle against Mother Nature with lightning, earthquakes, and such, but it also struggled from its own people. A large amount of the marble that was used in The Colosseum was “relocated” to St. Peter’s, Palazzo Venezia and other places around Rome. Finally, in the 18th century it has been conserved and listed as a sacred Christian site.

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I was truly amazed at the Colosseum. It’s a place that still very much sticks in my head as I think back to our trip (all of Ancient Rome does). To think about just how big these places and monuments truly are. The amount of work and engineering that went into each of these buildings is just incredible to think of. Then on top of that, the sheer age of the places just completely boggles my mind. In specifics to The Colosseum, aside from the size, the actual logistics of these tournaments, the truly theatrical experience was incredible to hear about it. You can see into the depths, where they would have platforms, levers, pully, whole systems that were so forward thinking for the time. It’s just absolutely incredible to think about and then to be there, standing right in the arena, seeing it all right in front of your face…no words.

Our Ancient Rome tour lasted about 4 ½ hours or so. It finished at The Colosseum and our tour guide finished up the tour with some recommendations on other places to check out. We spent the rest of our afternoon going to two of those spots: The Baths of Caracalla and the Santa Maria Maggiore Church.

Our first stop, The Baths of Caracalla, was not too far from where we were and was a spot that I truly just felt quite…small compared to what was around us. This was kind of a running theme for most of the day, but this just really compounded that in my head.

These baths are the second largest of the public baths (a 62-acre complex with columns reaching close to 40 feet tall) and date back to somewhere in the early 200’s. They were open for about 300 years before falling into ruin. While functioning, these particular baths were listed as one of the wonders of Rome and hosted a number of around 7,000 bathers a day. Something unique to these bath’s was the on-site public library. The library had two rooms, one for Greek texts and one for Latin, and each wall had niches built in to hold books. There was also a “frigidarium” (cold room), caldarium (hot room), a double pool, Olympic size pool, and two gym rooms to wrestle or box. One of the key parts to look at were the mosaics completed in marbled tile. You are able to see quite a bit of the mosaics as you walk along the complex. There were quite a few statues at one point in time, but those were either ruined or have been moved to other museums within Italy.

Our final stop of the day was a church. The Santa Maria Maggiore church is the most important church for the adoration of Mary.

This particular church was granted a Papal Major Basilica status, which is a really big deal (it’s one of four to have this title). Dating back to the early 5th century this church is incredible. Not only are the mosaics amazing, all in tribute to Mary, but it also contains some important things. Under the high alter is the Crypt of the Nativity, or a crypt that is said to contain the wood from Christ’s crib (as in- THE crib). It is also the home to Bernini’s steps AND at the time that we went, had the first nativity set on display. These figures are said to be from the 13th century made for Pope Nicholas IV. The church itself is beautiful, as is the nativity scene. We weren’t able to head up to the alter as a service was beginning.

That was the end of our day heading back farther into time than we could have ever imagined. Ancient Rome is probably one of my top places of our trips and this day was easily one of my favorites of our entire trip. I hope you enjoyed it too and that I did the history, information, and photo’s justice for you.

A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday 2019 – Vatican City

It’s the smallest country in the world. It’s among one of the holiest spots (save for Mecca/Jerusalem/and the like) in the world. It has quite the history in both good terms and bad terms. And we spent the better part of the day walking its paths, looking at its artwork, learning its history. Vatican City.

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Where to even start? Our route was simple, we started in the Vatican Museum, then the Sistine Chapel, and finally to St. Peter’s Basilica. Before we even go much further I want to talk about how we saw Vatican City. We booked our tour through Through Eternity Tours (website HERE). They have a couple different options when it comes to Vatican Tours, but we decided to go with the Early Morning Vatican Tour with Sistine Chapel. It’s slighter more expensive (though still incredibly reasonable) and the timeline is specifically set up to get you the best time in the Sistine Chapel. I cannot recommend them enough. We had Federica as our tour guide, and she was great. She had not only great art knowledge and Vatican knowledge, but she also has a personal connection in that her husband works there, her son was baptized there (by the Pope himself!) and she shared not only the important stuff, but also little anecdotes. It may have been a very early morning, but it was very early. Honestly- if you are planning a trip and looking at different tour groups, this is the one that I would go with. They have their meeting place, their headset and ticket gathering down so that when you line up with the rest of the tour groups, you are already ready to go and one of the first groups in. (You’ll hear about them again in the next Rome post as well as we did a separate tour with them elsewhere)

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Our tour started off with meeting Federica and picking up our headsets at 7AM. From there we headed to the entrance spot (one entrance!) and waited in line. We were up towards the front with only a couple groups in front of us. While we were waiting, Federica made use of the time giving us a quick rundown on the history of Vatican City and specifically the artwork and artists displayed within the walls.

The history of the Vatican dates back to the 4th century when the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica began over the grave of St. Peter (issued by Emperor Constantine I). As the chapel and location grew in popularity, so did the development of the city. The walls were originally commissioned in the 9th century (after an attack) and were expanded through to the 17th century. The Pope’s have not always lived in the Vatican; however, a residence was built in the 6th century with a tunnel connecting the Vatican to Castel Sant’Angelo ( from our first days in Rome HERE) added in the 13th century. The Catholic Church briefly left Vatican City to relocate to France, but returned relatively quickly and worked to restore and rebuild most of the country.

Much of the Vatican City that you see today was due to Pope Julius II (with a bit of Sixtus IV and his commissioning bits of the Sistine Chapel). Julius II not only commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel, he also commissioned a new church (St. Peter’s Basilica), and a new courtyard.

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Now, a quick foray into the Politics of Vatican City being its own country, separate from Italy and some information about the country itself. The Pope originally held power over its regional territories, but in 1870 a unified Italian government decided to take back the land located outside the walls of the Vatican which caused some…issues. In the 1930’s Mussolini signed an agreement that allowed Vatican City to become a separate, sovereign entity and had them receive compensation for the loss of territories. The Pope now only had power over his country, which is 109 acres and has a 2-mile border. The smallest country in existence. As many of you have probably heard, the Vatican does have its own post office, banking system, and you can potentially (depending on who is working) get a Vatican City passport stamp.

Our tour started in The Vatican Museum. The Vatican Museum actually takes you through the residence rooms of various Pope’s that contain artwork or statues that were either commissioned or used during their time as Pope. However, before you can get through to the artwork and rooms you go through the courtyard, statue, tapestry, and maps rooms. Each of these rooms featuring exactly what they are named for and each being almost more incredible than the last. Each room (or museum) has its own unique story and informational background. I’m going to link the official site of the museum and its history HERE as this blog post would get even longer than the last (and potentially more boring) if I went into elaborate detail about each spot. Instead of doing that, I’ll take a little bit to talk about each of my favorite one’s.

The map room in particular was incredible as the walls are lined with maps of Italy (and the islands) as it was seen at that time. It’s a much much different look at the world as this Gallery was opened in 1581. So much was still relatively “undiscovered” by Romans and their view of the world was much different. The walls of this room are lined with these maps and you can really see how they saw their “world” in a sense.

I also absolutely loved Raphael’s Rooms which, similar to the Sistine Chapel, were commissioned by Julius II and feature some absolutely incredible artwork. Raphael was given free reign over the design and depictions in the fresco’s and they are just an incredible sight to see.

A final cool spot (mostly because of the Pope) was Pope Alexander VI (Borgia)’s rooms. This particular pope is a very well known (some might say infamous) Pope and his rooms are exactly as you would expect. They are located in one of the most exclusive wings of the Apostolic Palace and were not inhabited by any other Pope’s. The ceiling of one of the rooms was decorated with pinecones, a symbol of fertility (yep you read that one right) and remained vacant after his death.

Something to note about the entire indoor areas of Vatican City is the floors. The floors are these absolutely incredible mosaic tiles, each individually laid and placed with care. These are the same floors that have been in existence since it’s origin. So, while you are walking through these various rooms, walking through the paths of artwork and statues, you are walking the same floors that many, many, great’s have walked before you. You are walking the same path that Michelangelo would have walked while he was working, the same path Raphael walked to get to this commissioned rooms. Just incredible to think about.

Once we finished with the museum portion (the Borgia apartment is the last to see), we headed straight into the Sistine Chapel. IMG_4474.jpgI have no pictures of the Sistine Chapel. First off, you are not allowed to take pictures in the chapel. Second, I don’t know that I would have wanted to take pictures even if you could. The Sistine Chapel is something that simply needs to be experienced, something that should just be taken in, without prior knowledge or warning. It is a spot to sit in silence and just revel at the beauty that is around you. It is truly incredible the amount of work, the paintings, the level of detail. Our tour guide, Federica, did a great job at pointing out a couple of spots for us to pay attention to when we did walk through. A couple of spots of note were the spots where Michelangelo inserted his…”opinion” on the commission. It is well known that Michelangelo had no interest in painting the fresco’s, he worked with marble, created statues- he hadn’t painted fresco’s in many many years. This “petty attitude” towards the Pope that he developed came through in some areas of the large painting (specifically where a little child is “flipping the pope off”). He also managed to apply this attitude to those who had…less than desirable opinions on the artwork (there is a Cardinal that is in a…precarious position in The Last Judgement).

We were able to spend 20 minutes in the Sistine Chapel before moving on to St. Peter’s Basilica.

I’ve already briefly touched on St. Peter’s, but I’ll continue it here (very briefly to spare you). It took a little over 100 years to complete (after being commissioned in 1506) and the alter sits directly atop the shrine of St. Peter. It is truly a masterpiece just in terms of a church not even considering the incredible art inside the church. One of the major pieces that you can see within the church is the Pieta by Michelangelo. You are also able to see two pope’s that are “on display” within the church.

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When they were ready to be entombed in the Grottoes, they actually were found to be in perfectly preserved condition. Instead of being placed down in the Grottoes, they were placed at two different spots within the church for all to see. That’s not to say you can’t see the other Pope’s, simply head down the stairs to the Grottoes and you can learn about the histories of each of the Pope’s. It’s a pretty incredible site to see.

Our final stop within Vatican City was not as part of the tour, but something we decided to do ourselves, and that was to climb to the top of the dome on St. Peter’s Basilica. We’ve always been “those travelers” who like to get above a city and get a sort of “eagle eye view” of the city. This was the perfect chance to get as high as we could and take a look.

I will say this, despite my incredible fear of heights/falling from said heights, this view did not disappoint. It wasn’t my favorite of our entire trip (Alter of the Fatherland was as a side note), but this one was so special both for views and location. It is quite the climb up (500 something steps to the top), but you are able to take an elevator for about 200 of those steps. The elevator stops you at a higher point within the church, so you are able to see the interior of the dome a bit better and see down into the church from a higher viewpoint. Also, the steps aren’t really that bad as you are going up, you are able to tell each part of the dome that you are in.

IMG_4323 2.JPGThe Vatican was one of the most incredible parts of our visit and something that I am going to remember for the rest of my life. To stand in this most sacred spot for so many is something that words cannot describe and then you bring it’s long (and rich) history…it’s a lot. A lot of feelings. It is definitely a spot that you HAVE to go to if you are in Rome and a spot that I think is best done as part of a tour group (the line to get in without a pre-planned tour ticket was INSANE…heck the line to simply get into St. Peter’s Basilica without the tour was INSANE too). Through Eternity exceeded all of our expectations and we will definitely use them in the future if we are ever in need.

And that wraps up Day 4/Vatican City. I hope that you enjoyed!

A Cuppa Cosy Winter Holiday 2019 – Rome The First Days

For our winter holiday this past year we decided (somewhat last minute- have to get a bit better about that) to start knocking some of our Italy spots off our bucket list. We started with the big one, Rome.

We did things a little bit differently with this holiday, deciding to devote our entire week to only Rome, to an overnight train as our form of travel, staying in a Bed & Breakfast style hotel, and doing a couple guided tours during our holiday. Honestly, our holiday couldn’t have been more perfect in any other way.

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This morning starts the full holiday blog posts except rather than breaking them down by location (as I did for our Summer Holiday), I’ll be breaking them down in chunks of time. Today’s post will cover our first few days, then we will talk about our day at The Vatican in another post, then conclude things with our last few days. As always, I will also have a separate post detailing out my recommendations and tips at the end of the “series”.

***I want to make a note that I am not going to be detailing every single place we ate/drank/food related. You may think that that is crazy- oh but it’s Italy how can you not talk about the food?. I’ll be talking about the food, but honestly we ate at so many spots that I don’t remember every single one, AND there are very few spots that you can really go wrong food wise in Italy. It’s delicious just about anywhere. I’ll name the spots that stuck out to me that I remember and were above delicious, but overall you can’t go wrong with food in Italy.***

So, as I’ve already mentioned we decided to train over to Rome for this trip. There were several reasons behind this decision, BUT ultimately it came down to price and ease.Let’s be honest, as much as we like driving, it’s not always the easiest or fastest option. Driving would have allowed us to maybe make a stop or two on the way there/the way back, BUT driving IN Italy is a bit tricky (and there are tolls) and we definitely didn’t want to drive in the city. This meant that we would have to find parking for the car, and figure out what tolls we would hit on the way down. It also just meant a long drive (13 or so hrs.) and when the train option presented itself, we figured we might as well give it a shot.

We picked an overnight train which was about 13-14 hours long, leaving around dinner time/late evening and arriving the next morning. Overnight meant that most of our travel the boys were sleeping (and we could try and catch some z’s too), so less of an issue of keeping them occupied. We booked a standard (nonsleeping) compartment that came with six seats, so two additional passengers could be in our compartment, but a sliding door to shut and the seats themselves folded down for comfort during the trip. It was a super easy trip (once the boys calmed down from the train excitement) and definitely an option that we will keep in mind for future travels.

Rome Day 1:

When we arrived in Rome we basically hit the ground running. After a stop to drop our luggage off at our Bed & Breakfast (I’ll touch on this in a bit), we headed straight out for food, coffee, and a wander. We started our tourist exploring at Castel Sant’Angelo (actually called Mausoleum of Hadrian) right on the Tiber River. There was a small line to get in, but it moved quickly and the castle itself wasn’t crowded once you got in. This particular castle is actually a mausoleum (now) and has previously been used as a fortress for both Emperors and Popes alike.

Construction on the castle started in 135, finished 4 years later, became a military fortress in the 5th century, and then around the 13th century, a corridor was added connecting it to Vatican City in case of danger to the Pope (this corridor did end up getting used in the 16th century!). While walking through the castle you are able to see exactly how and what the castle was used for. Both the military fortress aspects and mausoleum parts have been very well preserved AND you get an excellent view of this side of the city from above (including a clear shot towards Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica).

It was probably one of the best clearest viewpoints we got, aside from Alter of the Fatherland. We spent a good hour or so here wandering the corridors, ramparts, and park.

Once done there, we were able to go back to our Bed & Breakfast and properly check in. We stayed at Tibullo Guesthouse Rome and it was a great spot for us. We chose a larger room that contained one double bed and two singles as well as a separate, but private, bathroom. It was reasonably priced and is not 10 minutes away from the Vatican or Castel Sant’Angelo. The hosts were incredible, so incredibly warm and welcoming, and made sure that we had everything that we needed (and then some!). The actual guesthouse is quite small, and breakfast is offered and is served in the comfort of your own room should you choose to do that.

After settling into our rooms and freshening up, we decided to head out again. This time heading into the heart of Rome and the most touristy/heavily populated spots. We hopped the metro and headed into the heart of the city. We started at the Piazza di Spagna, home of the Spanish Steps.

Dating back to the 18th century, The Spanish Steps are one of the most famous spots (although could be arguable). They’ve been home to poets, authors, painters, a very special tearoom and, most importantly, connect the church at the top of the hill to the square at the bottom. These famous steps are quite incredible to look at and we definitely had a lovely time climbing them, stopping for a little Audrey Hepburn moment, and then watching a Roman Sunset to end our first day. I think this might have been one of the most surreal moments (up until going to Ancient Rome and the Vatican).

After the sun set we got to see the city come alive (all over again) and headed over to Trevi Fountain.

Trevi Fountain. Where are the words? The Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque Fountain within Rome and easily one of the most talked about in the world. Built in the 18th Century and centered at the cross of three roads, which also marks three points of aqueducts. It is absolutely incredible, a true feat of architecture, and at night it is completely lit up. Absolutely gorgeous. A fun thing to do (if you want to fight the crowds), is to actually toss a coin in the fountain. You are allowed to do this, and by tossing it behind your back it is said that you will return to Rome. The city actually collects the coins and donates them to a charity so your money will not be wasted if you choose to do this. We had a quick stop at the fountain as it was packed to the brim and we had a sleepy toddler (napping on my hip), but it was truly incredible to see.

We did quickly stop in Oratorio di Santa Maria in Trivio, a church across from the fountain before heading away to dinner and then the Bed & Breakfast for sleep.

Rome Day 2:

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For our second day in Rome we had a bit of a sleep in. After being exhausted from all our travels the day before and hitting the ground running, we took it easy first thing in the morning. When we finally emerged from our room, it was to head out for brunch and then exploring. We stopped at The Loft for brunch and this was a great stop (we liked it so much we actually came back a second time and probably would have more if we had the time). After a breakfast of waffles and cappuccino’s and fresh squeezed orange juice, we hit the metro to head to our first stop.

 

 

We started our day at Piazza Navona.

This is a public square that was originally intended as a stadium which dates back to the 1st century. This was changed around the 15th century when it was turned in the city marketplace, Piazza Navona is now a square that holds markets, fountains, and a slew of restaurants and stores. There is also a very small Gladiator Museum on one entrance side to the square, which we did visit. If you are interested in Gladiators and replica’s then it is a neat visit. If it isn’t something that you are interested in, or you want something much more in depth, then give it a miss. There are a couple other stores of note, a toy store in one of the main entryways provides a bit of delight for adults and children and there are two “Made in Italy” shops that have some of my favorite leather-bound journals that I’ve ever seen. When we visited the Piazza, they had a little Christmas Market going on. Christmas is a bit different in Italy, celebrated on January 6 (Three Kings Day/Epiphany- long story which I can talk about on a different post), so they still had this little market going. It’s geared mostly towards children with games and such, only a couple booths have items to purchase or food.

From there we headed over to the Pantheon.

The Pantheon was originally used as a temple dating back to around the 2nd century (it might even be a little older than that as the current Pantheon was built on the remains of another temple). It’s most striking feature (because 12 columns and sheer size isn’t enough) is the opening in the ceiling that looks out to the sky above. There is what we would call a hole in the ceiling, not only that but the dome is the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. This is also known for being one of the best preserved Ancient Roman Buildings. After being used as a temple, it was transformed into a church and is still in use today. It was absolutely incredible to walk through and in this building.

From the Pantheon we just headed out to walk the streets. Honestly, that was a lot of our following days, just walking the streets of Rome.

No matter when or where, you can always find anything just by walking the streets. We wandered the streets finding hidden columns, little squares, and paths upwards. Our general goal was to make it over to Villa de Medici, but when we arrived our boys were in no mood to join in on a guided tour. We cut our losses on that, rather walking the gardens right next to the villa (somewhat near Borghese) and seeing the start of the sunset at the top of Piazza del Popolo.

This was one of the coolest squares that we saw, at one end was the Porto del Popolo, a massive arched entryway to the square. At the opposite end are two churches. Right in the center of the square is the Fontana dell’Obelisco; a massive fountain with lions on each corner and an obelisk rising from the center.

We ended up having dinner at a restaurant called Don Chisciotte and feasted on delicious homemade pasta & sauce, wines, tiramisu and cheesecake.

The perfect end to our day!

Rome Day 3:

We started our 3rd day with breakfast at a little café, Café MeMe. After a delicious heaping of eggs, bagels, pancakes, cappuccino’s, and smoothies (I promise you- this was spread across the 4 of us), we decided to hit one of the biggest monuments that we were seeing from every vantage point of the city…The Alter of the Fatherland. Before actually going to the monument we stopped at the church right behind it, Santa Maria in Aracoeli.

I don’t have any pictures to post from the inside, but I promise you- you MUST go to this church. It is absolutely incredible, just achingly beautiful. This may have been one of our favorite churches EVER and we’ve been to a lot so far. It is literally right next to the monument and so easy to just stop in to. And now, The Alter of the Fatherland.

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That name is actually not the correct name, although it is referred by that name regularly. This monument is the Victor Emmanuel II Monument and it is a masterpiece. Before we get into the history, let me just say that this structure with all its steps, individual monuments and sections, the museum within, and the view from the top is absolutely incredible. It sits in between Ancient Rome (right next to the Forum and atop Capitoline Hill- the center of Ancient Rome) and the more modern city of Rome via the Piazza Venezia. Work started in the late 19th century being completed in the very early 20th century and since then, this building more than anything else is seen as the “symbol of Italy”.

Not only do you have the steps leading up to the first landing, at that first landing is their Italian Unknown Soldier tomb (which is guarded), then there is a second landing which is the Portico, and then a third landing which you can walk around towards the back for the elevator to the top. Honestly, this is a most stop spot. Climb the steps, pay homage, and see the view of the city from above. I think this might have been my favorite “view from above” of Rome as you can see EVERYTHING.

It’s a great overlook of Ancient Rome, a great look of the modern city, and you see the domes of the churches and basilicas stacked up.

From there we stopped for a late lunch at Ristorante Il Miraggio which was a restaurant that we found randomly, looking for bathrooms, but it was one of the best random finds we had. It was down a side street and we had the best waiter I think we’ve ever had. It was so much fun to just watch him work, greet and entertain everyone from the paying diners to the random people walking down the street.

The food was delicious (as I said earlier- you can’t really go wrong wherever you go), and I had one of the best cups of standard black tea that I’ve had in a long time. It was the perfect stop and felt like such a good little spot.

After feeling refreshed from lunch, we started walking down the road once again. We headed up to Quirinale Palace.

This was a last minute, half hazard decision, and one of the few that worked out for us, but also didn’t work out. We headed up to the palace to go see it, but it was starting to get a bit later in the day and on the way up I ended up pinching a nerve in my back. So, we pretty much got to the actual palace (which wasn’t too bad) and then turned around to head back to the Tiber River. This was kind of a bummer as I would have liked to actually go in and experience it, but it wasn’t in the cards. This is the reality of traveling sometimes.

After a little rest, and some medication for my back, we just wandered along the Tiber River, crossing over at the pedestrian bridge and just wandering the neighborhoods. Which is such a nice perfect way to end this first post about our Winter Holiday. It was a long one and if you made it to the end…thank you. What was your favorite spot that we went to in these first couple days?