In 1996, my friend Denise and I decided to take a bus tour around Italy. We had a few days in London to start with and then nearly 2 weeks in Italy. It rained almost all but the last 4 or 5 days!
by tvordj on January 15, 2009
An early ungodly hour to be called to get the bus to Gatwick the next day, 3:30 a.m. for a 7:30 flight!! That really put my body clock off for a couple days. I thought I was coming down with the flu! The flight to Venice was ok but I tried to sleep a little because I wasn’t feeling all that well and as a result missed the view of the Alps peeking over the clouds. Treviso airport was small and crowded since the plane was full of tourists like us, about to embark on an escorted bus tour! There was at least 5 busses waiting! We got sorted out and on the right bus for our hotel and had our first look at Italy. It seemed pretty flat so far. The houses and buildings seemed old and in disrepair and there were industrial areas that we passed on our way to Marghera where our hotel was.A quick overview of our itinerary: Two weeks on a Cosmos bus tour beginning in Venice and ending in Florence. Stops in Urbino, Gubbio, Assisi, Sorrento, Capri, Pompei, Rome, Orvieto, San Gimignano, Lucca, Siena and Pisa. By the end we were hitting information overload and looking to come home to our own beds and familiar surroundings. We saw and did SO much and climbed SO many hills and staircases! Many of the towns we visited are up on top of a mountain and the bus can’t go all the way up into the historic centre so we would get off and have to climb up 2 or 3 steep streets. Some were worse than others and some towns were flat once you got up (but some weren’t!). A church (‘duomo’) in every town to be examined and most were very nice, lots of frescos and mosaics and statues inside. My favourite hill town was probably the historic centre of the state of San Marino where, the evening we were there, it was quite foggy which gave it a very medieval feel though because of it, there was no view down the mountain.The tour company also arranges to take you to various shops that demonstrate how they make their products. We saw molten glass being shaped, lace being sewn, cameos being carved, wood being inlaid, leather being gilded and heard all about the lemon liqueur made in Sorrento. And of course we got a sales pitch in every one of the shops! You know of course that the guide is probably getting a percentage of any sales but we weren’t pressured into buying anything, either by the shop people or the guide and I found that the goods in most of those shops, while very nice, were more expensive than shops nearby anyway. Well, all except the cameos which had good prices. I did buy a few pieces of cameo in Italy, it wasn’t at the shop we were taken to in Sorrento which did have a very good demonstration of how the cameos were made. We did not know that the cameos you see with blue backgrounds are not true cameos after all. True cameos are made out of conch shells which do not come in blue! Only shades of brown, salmony orange, pink and sometimes even almost red.The day we arrived in Venice was sunny though I think it had rained earlier in the morning. We took a public bus from the hotel in Marghera into the Termini in Venice where we then boarded a waterbus or vaporetto for a ‘cruise’ down the Grand Canal to St. Mark’s Square. We walked around the square, took pictures of course and then explored along all the narrow pedestrian streets and bridges between the little islands that make up Venice on either side of the Grand Canal. We didn’t go inside St. Marks or the Doge’s Palace since we were really just interested at that point at a ‘look see’ of as much of Venice as we could. We crossed the Grand Canal on one of the larger bridges a few stops down from St. Mark’s square and continued along back to the Termini on that side of Venice and you know what? Because we did that, we missed seeing the Rialto Bridge! We must have passed under it on the vaporetto, but we don’t remember seeing it there either! It was much too crowded on the water bus to pull out our cameras and there was so much to see from the water! Duh! We noticed that many of the buildings that lined the canal and in other parts of Venice were very worn on the surface, with chunks of the surfaces of the buildings worn away. The buildings looked to be covered with what might have been plaster or stucco of some kind and painted (at least at some time!). The buildings were stained and dirty and in disrepair though some were kept up well. This is caused by the pollution and the erosion from the salt water from the sea and it must cost quite a bit to keep the buildings maintained. But it was still Venice and still magical!We found the right transit bus to go back to the hotel from the Termini though it seemed to take a detour around the piers where the cruise ships and commercial ships were first but we managed to get off near the hotel and find our way back. Dinner in the hotel that night as it was included in the tour. Wasn’t very good either. Some sort of meat which looked to be pork cutlet (shades of things to come! We were served a LOT of pork on this tour! I know I won’t want to look a pork chop in the face for a long time after this trip is over!). I wasn’t feeling well so I didn’t eat much anyway. I think I was still suffering from the lack of sleep the night before we flew here, delayed jet lag possibly! Our room in the hotel was pretty small with a shower that barely trickled! Apparently some of the others on the tour later said their shower was fine so I guess it was just us!
The tour officially started the next morning with a motorboat ride to St. Mark’s Square on the lagoon side of Venice instead of down the Grand Canal and since it was raining, (boy, was it raining!) the gondolas weren’t operating either. That meant that anyone who hadn’t gone into town the day before missed out on any sort of cruise down the Grand Canal! Lucky us for doing it on our own! When we got off the boat, we rushed to a nearby shop that had an overhanging canopy. That shop also was selling rain gear like jackets and ponchos that fold up. We all bought something to keep us dry as it was windy so umbrellas didn’t do much good! The guide met us there and away we went on a walking tour around St. Mark’s Square! Which floods. Did you know that? We didn’t. The water was bubbling up between the stones on the square and apparently that day the square flooded to the highest level in a few years! It looked like it was at least 4 or 5 inches deep or more in some spots but they have low, knee high tables set up all around the square for people to walk on when the square floods including a table/path right into St. Mark’s cathedral. We walked around, crowded under the loggias of the buildings surrounding the square with all the other tour groups. We did have a walk through of St. Mark’s which was absolutely stunning though it was dark inside the building so hard to see some of the ceilings. Some of our tour group went back in the afternoon and said the lights were on then. St. Mark’s was the only building we saw from the inside and since time is limited, you have to pick and choose what you want to see on your free time. The inside of the Doge’s Palace is supposed to be very beautiful too but we had a tour booked to the island of Burano for the afternoon so didn’t see all the things we might have.We were taken to a glass factory but I wasn’t really impressed. The demo was very short and the sales pitch very long. We escaped and searched for a place to have lunch and luckily it had finally stopped raining. It just showered lightly once or twice during the rest of the afternoon. We had lunch in a cafeteria style place and sat outside in damp plastic chairs with our first plates of real Italian pasta! Mamma mia! Fabuloso! We checked out a few shops along the way back to the lagoon side and bought a few souvenirs of glass and ceramic. We met back at the pier on the lagoon for an afternoon excursion (optional, meaning it costs extra!) to the island of Burano where lace is made. Burano is really pretty and so colourful! All the houses are painted a different bright colour, shades of blue, green, yellow, purple etc. No pastels here like the rest of Italy (Italy’s buildings, if they aren’t brick or stone have a plaster coating that is painted or washed with a colour that reminds me of desert colours, shades of yellow, gold, tan, white, pink, green. Not exactly pastels, but light warm shades to reflect the heat of the Mediterranean sun. Not that many single detached houses either except for farm houses in the countryside. Most of the towns and cities are full of apartment buildings and flats above shops and attached ‘row’ or ‘garden’ terraced houses of various sizes and shapes and ages though we didn’t see very many huge modern glass and concrete buildings, just a few on the outskirts of Rome and Florence. Burano doesn’t have much else besides fishing and the lace making but the workmanship is really beautiful. We bought some items after a bit of haggling and met the boat back to Venice and then back to the hotel. We decided not to stay in Venice on our own in the evening because although the weather had cleared up a little, we were damp and tired and wanted to rest and were still a little wary of managing public busses without getting lost in the dark. That evening we had dinner again in the hotel with some of our fellow tour members and started to get to know them. There were some very nice people on our tour of about 40 members. Quite a few from England, some Americans, a group of girls from Taiwan and also some fellow Canadians. A group of the Canadians that were all travelling together seemed to want to spend most of their time travelling and exploring independently, using the tour bus mainly as transportation between locations and spent little time socializing with the rest of the group. The Taiwanese girls were very nice but also kept to themselves but I think that was because their English seemed a bit limited. Our tour guide, Muris, was from Bosnia. He was in his early 20's and was a student in Rome during the off season. This was only his second season guiding and it showed. He read everything from notes and didn’t seem all that enthusiastic for the job. We didn’t really think he was all that good at it overall. The guide for the tour I took of the UK in 1993 was absolutely fantastic and really added to the pleasure of the trip and others on this tour that had taken other tours said the same so I guess we were just unlucky this time! Many of the other tour members, as I said, were very nice and we spend time with each other at meals and off and on during the days but nobody seemed to want to socialize after dinner in the evenings! They all just retired to their rooms after dinner! I was looking forward to a repeat of the kind of evenings I had experienced on my last tour where many of the group would sit around in the lounge or lobby and chat together. Oh well.
The next day we boarded our bus with our driver Franco and guide Muris. Off we went, first stop Padua to have a look in St. Anthony’s Basilica (in the rain). Very nice. You can’t take pictures inside most of the churches (duomos) in Italy though. We later had time to peruse the souvenir and bookstores in the small square (piazza) and I went into a little bar to use the toilet. Surprise! A porcelain bowl set into the floor with two treaded tiles, one on either side for your feet! Actually it wasn’t as much of a surprise as normally would have been as our Italian language instructor had warned us before we left! Ok, how low can you squat’’’’ I managed not to pee all over myself and get back up without losing my balance. There’s a trick to that I think. Back on the bus, on to Urbino, our first hill town. These towns were built on top of high hills and mountains for defence since in medieval times, most were independent from each other. Italy has only been a unified country for about 100 years (or a little more I think). All these great cities, Florence, Venice, Orvieto, were city-states that usually tried to conquer all the little independent towns. The Popes in the medieval and Renaissance times were just as bad, trying to rule over as much of Italy as possible. Urbino is where the artist Rafael was born but the house/museum of his birth was closed that day. The buildings in the walled city of Urbino were made of a stone that seemed to have almost a golden-pinkish tone. Would probably be very pretty under a sunny blue sky or at sunset. We saw Urbino under a cloudy sky, having driven away from the rain in Padua. We had a cup of tea in a cafe overlooking a busy square after inspecting the duomo and a few side streets before we had to go back down the hill to the parking lot. Ah, yes, the hill. Although there are vehicles allowed in most of these towns, larger vehicles like busses are not, mainly because the streets are too narrow and twisty to navigate so the bus has to park outside the town and we had to walk into the historic center which usually included climbing one or two pretty steep streets. We were not warned about this! It wasn’t too much of a problem for us but we had one tour member who walked with a cane and she found it difficult and very tiring at times. There was one man, about 70 years old, however that usually beat the rest of us up each and every hill, including the steepest one which was in Siena!!! Good for him! We drove back into the rain on the way to the hill town of Gubbio whose buildings were of a gray stone, made darker by the rain. We lunched in a little place near the main square and Denise and I decided to find the duomo but the hill was quite steep. We made it to a piazza near the top but didn’t quite make it all the way. Going down on the wet cobblestones was a bit slippery. Nothing much to really exclaim over in Gubbio. We saw a few nice antique and ceramic shops whose wares were displayed outside to brighten up the dreary day.Last stop was San Marino. No rain but still overcast. San Marino was on the top of Monte Titano and is an independent principality/state. The bus climbed and climbed though some towns that looked like nothing special, lots of commercial signs and stores and other buildings and we thought this wasn’t going to be an enjoyable stop. We were wrong. The historic center of San Marino proper is a walled medieval city with three towers on one side overlooking the valley which we couldn’t see because of the fog and cloud, unfortunately. It only started clearing up as the sun went down. We were staying here for the night in the Titano hotel which was quite nice. The room was very pretty with green cast iron bedsteads and a long narrow bathroom with the shower head installed right in the ceiling. We didn’t have much of a view from our room but one other couple had a balcony that overlooked the valley and they sat and watched the sun set! We explored up the city by the towers and in some of the many many shops. San Marino looked very medieval in the fog except for the bright electric lights glowing out of the shop windows! San Marino specializes in postage stamps. Most of the shops sold their postcards already stamped with enough postage for North America though from being on racks displayed outside, the cards were mostly curved and I think that was why I didn’t get any of those. One surprise was that the leather was dirt cheap there! I bought a beautiful big bag with two compartments and a thick leather strap that can also convert the bag to a sort of back pack that you carry over one shoulder and it only cost me $50 Canadian! Every where else I went and saw similar they were at least $150 or more and I know I would pay $200 plus for it here at a good shop so I was really pleased with my ‘deal’! I also bought a shaving-kid sized case for my father for $13. Dinner at the hotel restaurant was actually pretty good though it wasn’t included in the tour price. Denise and I couldn’t find a little restaurant open by the time we decided we were hungry so she picked up a few snacks at a store to have in our room. I decided to eat in the hotel anyway where there was a tourist fixed price menu and I sat at a long table with some of the other tour members. Denise indulged herself in a long bubble bath instead!
The morning dawned clear and we got a good look at the view across the valley below San Marina before boarding the bus after breakfast. Another hill town today, the second largest pilgrimage center after Rome, Assisi, where the medieval monk, St. Francis, was born. After awhile the hill towns look pretty similar. Mostly we were there in the mornings before it got too crowded so they were quiet and peaceful. Some had great views over the valleys and some didn’t, depending on how the centre of town was situated. Assisi was nice with more narrow streets and lots of shops featuring Assisi-type needlework. The basilica is actually two churches, one built on top of the other. The old church has wonderful artwork inside on every surface with low ceilings and lots of arches! The tomb of St. Francis beneath the old church was quiet, small and filled with fresh lilies and was very moving. The frescos by Giotto in the upper church are or were brightly coloured but are now quite damaged and worn though pictures don’t show it. The gift shop is run by monks who wear the brown robes and everything! Denise bought some religious medals and books and I picked up some more postcards. The hotel was in a town below Assisi and we were not very impressed at all. It was cold in the rooms, the thermostats in the rooms were locked and complaints didn’t do anything to help matters except produce an extra blanket each. The beds were really hard and lumpy! Worst beds we slept on by far! Overall most of the tourist class hotels we had in Italy were ok. Nothing special. Denise wasn’t impressed as she is used to travelling for business in first class hotels or in quaint Bed and Breakfast Inns. I knew the tour company, Cosmos, was the budget version of the first class company, Globus and we wouldn’t be getting fancy hotels but the ones in the UK on my last tour were usually nicer than most of the ones in Italy so although I didn’t expect much, I did expect more that what we had. Yes, I know I keep comparing the two tours but you would, wouldn’t you’ Compare hotels, restaurants, guides, etc. with previous experiences whether it was an escorted tour or independent travel’
The next day was a long day of mostly travelling out of the Umbria region, across the center of Italy and down to Sorrento via the motorway where we stopped several times for breaks and lunch at motor stops. The scenery here was very different as we were now in the valleys and were looking up at the mountain ranges rather than looking down into the rolling valleys. We passed Rome which we could see at a distance, and Naples. The outskirts of Naples looked pretty poor and run down and I hear most of the city is like that too. We didn’t go into Naples at all on this tour and from all i’ve heard about the crowded polluted, crime-ridden city, i’m just as glad.The bay of Sorrento (finally under sunny skies!) was beautiful with Mount Vesuvius dominating the scene! Palm trees, and the blue Mediterranean. Sorrento, nestled against the bay around a point so you can’t see Vesuvius from there. It has lots of lemon and other fruit groves all over the place, though it seemed pretty crowded with lots of frantic traffic. The cars were SO SMALL! Wee little vehicles but could seat 4 people (and the engine). Small truck cabs with only three wheels and two men jammed in the seats, and pulling a small trailer behind for the goods. None of the cars were taller than my shoulder and most smaller. Oh, and the scooters! Everywhere, zipping in and out and around the cars. Quite a hazard! The pollution is worse here and in Rome I guess because of the cars for one. The don’t have pollution control on the exhaust and I think they still have leaded gasoline. Looking over the Bay of Naples towards the city of Naples or over the city of Rome you can see a haze, almost yellow in colour and you think it’s going to get overcast but no matter how far you drive, it stays clear skies above you with the haze still visible in the distance. We all felt like we had head colds by the second day in Rome! No wonder! Lemons are the claim to fame of Sorrento and there are lemons on everything possible to buy though mostly not tacky stuff. Lots of ceramic wares and tiles that were actually quite nice and colourful (some depicting lemons, some not!! :-) ) There is a lemon liqueur made here that is quite tangy and strong. The market streets are very narrow with lots of little tourist, fruit, veg, fish and butcher shops all along. Our hotel, the Rota, was not bad at all. Fairly comfortable beds, but no shower curtains! We were warned that this could be a possibility too! The floors were marble, purple in our room and we had a little balcony overlooking a parking lot and lemon grove. The dining room was plain and small though large enough for our group and the food was actually some of the best hotel restaurant food we had in Italy.The first evening in Sorrento we were walked through the main streets and to a look off point. We had stops at a liquor store, a cameo store and a wood inlaying factory and were treated to a gelato. Dinner in the hotel was actually pretty good as were all the meals we had in our three night stop here with excellent homemade soups and pastas and yes, more pork one night. Breakfasts here were the same as most places, hard hollow rolls and tea/coffee and juice. We were reduced to making non stop jokes about the hollow rolls by the end of the trip. Sometimes we were lucky and also had croissants on the table (Rome). We made sure we also kept snacks like packages of cookies or crackers with us for hunger pains since continental breakfasts like that don’t hold you very long when you’re travelling and doing a lot each day.
The next day was an excursion to Capri. The night before we went to the Isle of Capri there was an electrical storm on and off all night and the thunder was really loud, echoing off the cliffs along the seaside. On Capri it rained and thunder showered on and off all day. We went to a village 1000 feet up, Anacapri, and saw a beautiful Villa there, Villa San Michele which belonged to the doctor/writer Axel Munthe. Fabulous views and gardens there and an Egyptian statue that promised good luck if you rubbed it’s foot and made a wish. Our local guide, Pasquale was a real treat! All of the local guides we had in various cities and towns were all very knowledgable but Pasquale was our favourite! He was so cheerful even under the umbrellas in the rain! Memories of him calling out ‘Pasqualeeeeeeee’ to gather his group still echo in my mind! Since the rain seemed to be holding off some of us decided to go up the chair lift to the top of the Monte Solaro, another 1000 feet and 12 minute ride. So here we are, each sitting in a little metal chair hanging off a big metal cable about 20 feet off the ground going up the side of a mountain. Then about halfway up we notice it’s getting very dark out to sea just beside us and then the lightening starts (out to sea, that is). Well, if I could have crawled up the cable I would have. I mean, you’re basically sitting on a lightening rod! Well we did get the rest of the way up before the storm moved closer but they wouldn’t let us go back down until it passed and pass the island it did, went around the other end of it so it never did rain up top of the mountain where we were though it got pretty chilly. We had a glassed in room where we could wait in at least. The ride back down was chilly but no rain. The view from there was pretty spectacular too! The rest of the visit to the island was more or less and anticlimax, don’t you know! We wandered through the town of Capri after viewing the gardens, window shopping and gazing at the expensive goods in the designer stores, buying stamps and cards and testing the local gelato! It poured down raining while we were waiting for the boat to return to Sorrento!The next day, Saturday, Denise went on the (optional) excursion to go up Mount Vesuvius but I knew my limitations and a 30-40 minute steep hike was not included! She loved it though. I spent the sunny morning wandering through the market streets of Sorrento with one of the Irish ladies on the tour. We found a cafe at the far end of town with an outdoor terrace and sat in the sun with our tea overlooking Sorrento below us. It was so nice to feel warm sunshine on our faces. Mella and I made our way back downtown and had lunch in a small bar near the hotel with an American couple from the tour that we bumped into. I had pizza and it was fabulous with it’s thin crust and fresh tomato and basil topping! Back to the hotel to wait for the volcano climbers then it was off to Amalfi.That afternoon our optional excursion was a drive along the Amalfi coast where the mountains and cliffs go right up almost perpendicular from the sea and the roads are twisty and narrow and practically hang off the side of the mountain. Franco had to sound the bus’s horn before venturing around many of the hairpin turns. The view was the most dramatic yet and with beautiful sunshine and blue sky above, the water was that famous Mediterranean blue-green! The villages are built straight up the side of the mountain too though thankfully we didn’t have to climb around any of them!! We stopped once at a look off above Positano for pictures. There was a little souvenir stand and a fruit stand there as well. A further stop near Conca Dei Marini where we had a coffee break. It was there that I bought a cameo for my best friend Jo for her Christmas present at a pretty good price. We ended the excursion in Amalfi itself and had some free time to wander. We were given directions to the duomo but we got into these little narrow courtyards and streets and thought we got lost before we stumbled out onto the main street by the duomo. It turns out we must have misunderstood the directions because down at the end of that street was the waterfront road to the parking lot where the busses were! The duomo was less elaborate on the outside, with some decoration but not as much as some of the basilicas and duomos in Venice, Assisi and Rome. I was also on the lookout for a nice print for my mother and finally found exactly what I was looking for in a shop near the duomo. Now to keep it from getting all bent in the suitcase since I didn’t have any sort of mailing tube with me! I was told that if I kept it on the very bottom under everything there would be less likelihood of it getting ruined. That’s what I did and it arrived back home relatively unscathed. The drive home was more dreary as it clouded over and rained all the way back but it didn’t matter as we had the best view on the way out. We spent the evening relaxing in the hotel since the weather wasn’t conducive to exploring. The next day we were off to Rome with a stop in Pompeii.
On the way to Rome we stopped in Pompeii and it was really interesting to see artifacts that have been buried and preserved under 8 metres of ash and dust for 18 centuries. Herculaneum was on the other side of the volcano and it was the one buried in mud and lava. The victims in Pompeii all suffocated and then the ash solidified and preserved everything. It was kind of creepy to see the plaster cast of several of the victims of the disaster. The casts were created by pouring plaster into the space around where a body was buried (now a skeleton) and then chipping the solidified ash from around it. That meant, also, that there is a skeleton inside these casts and you can see the bones of the toes and fingers where the plaster has worn away!!! Our guide was another Pasquale which is a common Italian name it seems. He was very good, very professional but not as much fun as Capri Pasquale! Denise backed up to look at something at one point and fell over a piece of an old column. Leave it to her to fall over a 2000 year old ruin onto her backside! Only her pride was hurt! The piazza outside the site was full of souvenir stands but their wares looked a bit tacky and cheap. The city of Pompeii seemed a busy little place full of businesses and shops in the area around the site.Rome was huge! The traffic insane. Traffic lights are said to be ‘a suggestion’. We were well warned about pickpockets to the point of paranoia so none of us got victimized though one lady came close to losing her watch in St. Peter’s Basilica. We arrived in Rome in the late afternoon. Our hotel was quite a distance from the center of Rome which was disappointing. That’s what happens a lot with the budget tours though. The public transportation was nearby but we were also so paranoid from the warnings about thieves that we were not impressed that we would be warned that public transportation was dangerous then expected to rely on it if we wanted to go on our own. A cab to the center of Rome cost us about 2500 Lira both times we took cabs. Splitting the cost between the two of us helped but, though still more expensive than the public bus, we felt much safer. Next tour, I think i’ll spend the extra money and go first class because the hotels in the major cities will almost surely be more central.Some of us booked an optional excursion where we were taken on a drive past some of the Renaissance architecture of Rome at night. We had a stop in Piazza Navona where there are three lovely fountains by Bernini all lit up. The piazza is full of people and buskers and stands selling souvenirs and T-shirts. The sculpture of the fountains was magnificent! The main one in the center of the piazza represented the four major rivers of the world, the Ganges, the Nile, Danube and the Plate in South America (you’d think it would be the Amazon wouldn’t you’). Off to the Trevi fountain. I guess throwing the coin in that fountain did work after all! I was here briefly during a high school trip in 1977 nearly 20 years ago and here I am again. Well it worked the last time although it wasn’t exactly a speedy return. Why not try again? There was also a bridal couple having their picture taken in front of the lit up fountain which has the centerpiece of a statue of Neptune and the whole scene is carved out of the side of a building. The fountain has a ‘pool’ at the bottom and the area is sunken below street level with steps leading down to it and surrounding it. After that photo op, we were taken to a restaurant near the train station for a meal, included in the price of the excursion. We were all seated at tables in a small private room and served red and white wine, as much as we wanted and the meal was 5 course. Pork. Well some said it might have been veal but we thought it was pork. Again. Still it was very well prepared. There was also a singer and musician who played for us on and off (and tried to sell cassettes of their music). All in all it was an enjoyable experience though.The first full day in Rome: The morning started off with a drive into the city past St. Peter’s to pick up our local guide. Today was a view of ancient Rome including a stop at the Colosseum and drive by views of the Forum, Circus Maximus, Victor Emmanuel monument and various other antiquities. We stopped for a view over Rome from the top of the Janiculum hill though the view was somewhat impaired by the trees. A drive back down through Trastevere and on to the Vatican museums. We were conducted through some of the 17km of museums which included Egyptian and Greek antiquities. I didn’t realize there was art from so many places there, as I thought it was mostly paintings. We also saw the map room which was covered in paintings of old maps of the world as it was known hundreds of years ago. We didn’t get to see the Rafael rooms however as the tour guide took us on a more direct route to the newly restored Sistine Chapel. The light was low and filtered and the chapel was extremely crowded. You aren’t allowed to take pictures even without a flash. I couldn’t understand that because although I realize all those cameral flashes would eventually ruin the paintings, taking a picture without using a flash couldn’t harm them. So I sneaked two and they did come out ok though one was a little blurry due to a slow shutter speed and camera shake! I know, I know I was wrong to do it but I did though did not use my flash. We then were walked through St. Peter’s Basilica for a look at all the mosaics and marbles. It’s bigger than I remembered! There are marks on the floor showing the dimensions of the other large cathedrals and churches in the world as compared to St. Peter’s. St. Paul’s in London and the duomo in Florence are the next two largest and we were in both of those on this tour too! I also go to see the Pieta by Michelangelo. It enchanted me as much as it did in 1977!After all that walking, our feet were killing us! We had the rest of the day free so we had a sit in St. Peter’s square first, bought some postcards and souvenirs at a nearby store which I realized was the same one I shopped in 20 years ago! We then decided we were also hungry so tried to find a restaurant I had heard about on the net, Gianni’s which was supposed to be across the Tiber from the Castel St. Angelo, a medieval castle where the Popes used to live before they took up residence in the Vatican City for protection. We did find it but it was closed. Most cafes close at odd hours in the middle of the day, i.e. from about 2 to 5 or 6 pm. We found one just down from there that we thought was still open but the kitchen was closed. Our rudimentary Italian wasn’t very good but another patron who was finishing up spoke English and helped us out. The owners did let us order a cold beer and rest our feet so that actually held us until dinner. Once we left there we walked for awhile and eventually found the Pantheon which is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Rome. There is a dome with a hole in the center as well to let in the sunlight and though it is a church it is mostly used for ceremony and there are tombs of some Italian kings and other famous people here as well. Rafael is buried in the Pantheon. We were getting pretty footsore by now so we found a cab and returned to the hotel. We had dinner in the hotel dining room which was pretty good actually! I had pasta carbonara which I had always wanted to try and it has probably now spoiled me for ever trying to make it myself! We had dinner with another tour couple from England and they had the tourist fixed menu 3 course meal. Pork. This was getting ridiculous! Relaxed that evening, wrote postcards and updated our travel journals and even managed the pay phone in the lobby and called home!
Day 2 in Rome was a morning visiting some other lovely churches and later the San Callisto catacombs. We went to St. Peter in Chains (San Pietro ad Vincula) first to see Michelangelo’s Moses and later to Santa Maria Maggiore which was dark in side but had fabulous 13th century frescos and 16th and 17th century chapels built on either side with very elaborate decoration. The sun was streaming through the old stained glass and I managed to take a couple of pictures of the coloured lights beaming down, spotlighting some people sitting in the pews. I really liked that church and would definitely go back and see it again. There is also a church I had hoped to see that has a false dome painted on the ceiling inside! I had a small guidebook of Rome and had hoped to see a few more things but it turned out with the optional excursions we booked there was less free time than I expected.The San Callisto Catacombs were just a Christian cemetery, not a refuge for people being persecuted. Very interesting though and the guide that took us must have been Methuselah’s father or one of the original gravediggers! But he was very interesting and really knew his information but you really had to stick with him going through the corridors because you really could get lost in there and it wasn’t a place for claustrophobics. You went down 3 or 4 flights of stairs into narrow passageways that were very high, several stories deep. The graves were dug out of the walls and went up 4 or 5 levels up. Turns out they started at the top and dug down as it got filled up and there are several more levels beneath the one we saw. The graves are now all empty on that level, the bones had been moved to one of the other levels as it would be disrespectful for all these tourists to be gawping at them. There are little family chapels dug in as well with the remnants of decorations on the walls. It was quite cool and self ventilating too which surprised us.The optional excursion that afternoon after a quick lunch in a cafeteria near St. Peters was to Tivoli to see the villa and gardens and then to have an included dinner at a restaurant nearby. We weren’t really impressed with Tivoli at all. Most of the fountains in the gardens were small mossed-over squirts with just three or four more elaborate fountains though the one of the fertility goddess Diana was amusing as she had about a dozen large breasts, all spouting water. I had to have my picture taken in front of that for Josephine! The villa was empty with just a few frescos on the walls of one or two rooms. The town had nothing memorable in it. We sat and waited in a piazza at our arranged meeting point, discussing our disappointment with other tour members as they wandered back. Dinner at the restaurant was good though and lots of fun as we were entertained by a trio of very enthusiastic singers. The highlight of Rome had to be the Pope’s blessing! He has been ill and recovering from an emergency appendectomy so his private audiences were cancelled but we were informed that he might do a benediction from his window over St. Peter’s Square if enough people were there. Enough! There must have been tens of thousands there! We went to St. Peter’s Square in a taxi with an Irish mother and daughter who were travelling together. That taxi ride was quite something! It was still just after the morning rush hour so this was the real Roman traffic and the driver got into an argument with a business man on a scooter. They were shouting insults back and forth though it seemed our driver was being a little cautious. We laughed and told him to go for it! At one point the man on the scooter turned his head and spit at our driver but that backfired on him as the breeze blew it back on his own suede jacket! We all cracked up! We got to St. Peter’s Square about 10 a.m. There wasn’t too many people there yet and we ran into another American couple who had actually had a letter to get them into the Pope’s weekly private audience (of about 2000 people!) but as I said the private audiences were cancelled. We waited by a fountain on the side of St. Peter’s near where the Pope’s residence is for about an hour and a half. We saw the priests hang out a banner from a window so we knew we would get to see/hear the Pope after all and by that time the square was filled. There were choirs singing in various languages and people holding up flags and signs in different languages. He came to the window about 11:30 and spoke for about 15 minutes, repeating his message in about 6 languages including English. It was pretty moving and emotional even for me a non-practising Catholic. Your upbringing is still there and it still means something even if you think it doesn’t all that much.We separated from our tour companions after that and found Gianni’s restaurant open so were able to have lunch. Turns out this wasn’t a little off the beaten track place as I thought but also a cafe that catered to tour groups. The trattoria has 3 or 4 little rooms though so we were seated in one away from the group. We ordered the tourist set menu, not knowing what it was. There might have been a board or sign somewhere but we missed it. However there was a salad, 1/2 litre of wine, and the entry tasted like it might have been lamb shanks or something. It was.... you guessed it. Pork! Must have been a sort of pork hock or something as it was the consistency of stewing beef in a tomato sauce but it was tasty. After lunch we walked around by the Piazza dei Popoli with it’s fountains and twin churches. We made our way to the Spanish Steps but didn’t climb them as Denise wasn’t feeling very well. We stopped into the McDonalds by the piazza by the steps for a milkshake and a bathroom stop. It’s a beautiful place, with brass fittings and murals on the walls. We made our way back to St. Peter’s since Denise really wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to go any further and we got a cab back to the hotel. It turns out what we thought was a cold (I was sniffly and stuffed up too) was all the pollution causing our respiration problems. Others in the group had the same problems and they cleared up a day or two out of the city! I bought a some bread and cheese and pop at a little shop near the store and we relaxed for the rest of the evening.There was so much to see in Rome and so little time. Would I go back’ Maybe. I would like to see more of the Vatican Museums and some of the other museums and churches. After seeing the Sistine Chapel and some of the more famous statues Michelangelo sculpted, the Pieta, Moses and the David, you really realize the man was a genius! His paintings are a marvel but you can tell sculpting was his real expertise even more so!
Leaving Rome and onto another hill town called Orvieto which was one of the places the medieval Popes used to spend summers. The town is high up and to get there we had to take a funicular which is a cable car up a short ride and then the public bus to the center of town where a very impressive duomo stood. This duomo is made of two different coloured stone, limestone and black basalt which makes it all horizontally striped. The front facade is a couple of hundred years newer but still 15th century I think and very elaborate. We walked around some of the small narrow streets to an open air market where there were even cages of live chickens! Lots of ceramic shops too and I bought a little water jug at one of them. The air that morning was cool and clear and a relief from the congested air in Rome and Sorrento. We spent the rest of the morning and afternoon on the motorway, arriving in Sienna late afternoon. After climbing the steepest hill yet to get from the hotel outside of the city walls to meet a local guide, we were led on a walking tour of Sienna. Siena is a city made up of 12 districts and are very territorial! Some are enemies of others traditionally and you are not encouraged to marry across district lines of your enemies’ areas! The city was very nice and I enjoyed the architecture and the walking tour. We inspected the duomo which was really extraordinary. The floor of it is covered in mosaics, or ‘pavements’ but due to damage and the prevention of further damage, they are usually covered in boards most of the year. They are only uncovered for a couple of weeks a year and we lucked out here because they were uncovered when we saw them! They are I think 13th or 14th century workmanship. There is a lot of beautiful artwork in the duomo and the libraries are lined with frescos that are extremely bright and clear but which have never been restored. They look as fresh as the day they were painted which is amazing for their age which is early Renaissance, 15th century. So much of the frescos and mosaics we saw in duomos was damaged over the years or in the process of being restored. After leaving the church we arrived at the Campo, the shell shaped piazza where the famous horse races take place twice each summer. We were left there and Denise and I checked out the souvenir stores and then made our way along a shopping district street. We found our way back to the hotel and had a late dinner in the hotel restaurant which was pretty good. The next day, driving through Tuscany from Siena to San Gimignano, Pisa, Lucca and Florence was lovely! The rolling hills are beautiful and you will see a group of farm houses and buildings on the top of a hill with the orderly rows of the vineyards sweeping down the hill and the olive tree groves covering another side of the hill and of course, some of the trees starting to turn colour, mostly gold though ivies climbing buildings were often red or a red-pink. In San Gimignano there are 13 old defensive towers above the city and we did get a spot for a really good panoramic view of the misty morning Tuscan/Chianti countryside. We kept noticing boar’s heads in some of the butcher shops and found out later that the local specialty is sausage made from this beast! We sat in the central square by the old fountain for awhile before making our way back to the bus for the ride to Pisa. The countryside flattened out near Pisa in the Po valley.Pisa. The tower really does lean!!!! There really isn’t much else in Pisa other than that one square with the church, baptistery, cemetery and tower and boy oh boy is it the winner of theprize for tacky souvenirs! Booth after booth of souvenirs line the square and the streets surrounding. Little towers on everything you can think of. A cup and saucer, the cup is made to lean so the tower looks straight! Two foot leaning towers THAT LIGHT UP. And the vendors were pushy too!We also had a side tour of another old Tuscan town called Lucca. We were led from one lovely old church to the duomo along the city walls. Lucca is mostly a pedestrian city in the historic center and was historically quite a rich and independent city. By the time we got back to the bus we were all exhausted and decided our brains were about to explode with all the information! I think we are beginning to get tired of travelling and taking in so much info every day. We made our way to the hotel near Florence. I say near because not only was it not central, it was in another town about a 30 minute bus ride away! However it was next to a train station where you could get the train right to the center of Florence! This was also disappointing that we were that far away from the center of the city.Florence! Too bad that it was the end of our trip because I know I didn’t appreciate it as much as I would have had we started there. It was a case of information overload and homesick as well. Three weeks away is a long time with so much to do and take in. First thing in the morning we went to the Piazza Michelangelo where there is a reproduction of David and a fabulous view over Florence where we had a group picture taken. Then to the center of town where we had a look in a leather factory and then met a local guide for a walking tour around the main squares of Florence, the political centre and the religious centre by the duomo and saw the bronze doors on the baptistery which are only reproductions as the originals are being restored. Denise and I escaped before seeing the duomo museums so we could go to the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David which is so beautiful and so real looking you would think he would step right down off the pedestal. We left there, found a bar and had a light lunch and made our way past the San Lorenzo market to the Uffizi Gallery about 1 p.m. Good timing as we didn’t have to stand too long in line. We bought our tickets and a lovely book on the gallery.We went through the Uffizi Gallery although the best rooms are closed for restoration Which meant we didn’t get to see the paintings by Michelangelo, Rafael, Rubens, among others. We did see Botticelli and one beautiful one by Leonardo da Vinci though his main room was closed too. I did go into the Santa Croce church which has a lot of tombs and memorials to Italy’s top genius’s like Leonardo, Rossini, Michelangelo, Galileo and I also saw one small one to Marconi. Santa Croce is quite old in its origins too. Denise was really getting tired and though I felt like I might have my second wind I didn’t want to leave her to wander alone and go across the Ponte Vecchio so we found our meeting point for the bus and waited for about an hour, resting our feet and chatting to the other tour members as they arrived back as well. Most of us went back to the hotel tired that day. The meals in that hotel were cafeteria style and we felt rushed. There were several groups in the hotel and the staff in the restaurant seemed a bit cranky trying to move everyone along so the next group could get on with things. We just wanted to go home by this time! And so our tour ends. An early start in the morning (about 5:30 a.m.) and a long drive cross country to Treviso airport outside Venice where we dozed part of the way on the bus. We flew back to Gatwick on another crowded charter flight and were bussed to the hotel after saying goodbye to some of our favourite fellow tour people. We had dinner with another couple and flew home the next day.
This holiday happened in 1996 but IgoUgo only dates back to 2000 so that's what i've used. To prepare for our tour of Italy, we took Italian lessons the winter before we went. That was fun! I did get to use some of what i learned even though pretty near every person replied to me in English. Oh well! It added to the anticipation of the trip at least. We started in London. I had only been there once though have been many times since then. I've kept the travelogue that i wrote so the experiences will be in the words i used then. I don't remember the names of most of the hotels and they will have changed in the intervening 13 years, by price and sometimes even by name. I can recall what some of them were like, but not much else and the cost, of course, was included in the tour. Yes, we took a bus tour but we enjoyed it quite a bit. As a result we were in the main tourist areas and attractions but we did get to go off on our own on free time. We had four days in Rome, two to ourselves, and three days in Sorrento with lots of time to ourself there as well. Sometimes we chose to partake in optional extra tours (which cost extra too) and sometimes we did our own thing. The weather was not very good at all though not cold. It was overcast in London. It was rainy in Italy the whole first week. The sun only really came out properly the second week for a few days. When we got back to London at the end? Rain again but we were only there overnight before our flight home. We *loved* Italy, the bits we saw, rain or not! In retrospect, I'd love to return to Venice to see more of it on my own and i'd love to see Florence. By the time we got to Florence at the end of the trip, we were getting a bit burned out so really didn't appreciate it or see as much of it as we wanted because we were tired of walking, tired of churches, tired of art on walls and even tired of shopping! *gasp*! In London, we stayed at what is now the Thistle Euston in a twin room. This wasn't our choice as it was the hotel that the tour used but we were satisfied with it. We saw Sunset Boulevard which was playing at the Adelphi on The Strand. Awesome!!! We don't have theatres of that caliber here in Halifax though we do have some very good regional theatre. We visited Westminster Abbey in the evening and because they were using the nave for a choir practice, we were allowed in the chapel area for free which is usually costly. We were even allowed to take photos! Very cool, accompanied by beautiful music. We took a hop on hop off bus tour of London to get a real feel for the layout. I had been to London once before but not really had a chance to see much of it. This was a great overview and we stopped off a few times, once to see St. Paul's Cathedral and we even climbed right to the top of the dome! Fantastic views! Boy were our legs jelly when we came down and we had sore thighs for days!We spent a morning going through the British Museum. That was pretty amazing too. Seeing ancient things like the Rosetta Stone, the mummies and the Greek statues! We braved the crowded tube and went to Harrod's and even had tea in one of the cafes. On our last day in London, we met up with an internet friend of mine and they took us to Leeds Castle after a lunch in a very old pub called The Bell Inn. Leeds Castle was really beautiful. We weren't allowed to take photos but on my recent visit there with my mother, we could so i have lots now! I visited the Dog Collar museum, the aviary, and the English garden. We watched the ducks and went through all of the castle that was open to the public.
by tvordj on April 12, 2008
Leeds Castle, in the lovely county of Kent just south of London, is a wonderful place to spend a day. We went there as part of a day tour by coach but there really is a lot that will keep you going for most of the day. The castle was built in 1119 and has been a royal palace and later a private home for many centuries. Most famously used by many queens of England who would come here to live after the king died in medieval ages. Henry VIII also visited here frequently early in his reign. The castle is entered via some steps and through a Norman cellar and then you go up into a Heraldry room with portraits of various family owners and coats of arms. You pick up a laminated sheet that gives you an overall description of each room you go through. You can take photos in most of the castle except for the chapel.Disabled visitors can enter the castle on the main ground door that is normally used as an exit. You progress through several rooms that are restored to how they would look in the medieval era. A queen's bedroom and bath with light softly filtering in the tall pointed windows. There are a few miscellaneous rooms used for meetings and a board room and then you come to a Tudor era room with lots of windows and a grand fireplace. There are busts of Henry and each of his children that became monarchs (Mary, Elizabeth and Edward) in one corner. At the end is a lovely little chapel. In the 1920s a socialite bought the castle. This woman married a man named Baillie in the early 30s. Lady Baillie hired a French decorator to restore and redecorate the castle in meticulous detail. The more modern part of the castle reflects this. There are sitting rooms, a library, bedrooms, a dining room and other lovely areas. They are very elegant but you could also picture yourself living there as well! There are lovely old staircases, antiques, a grand marble staircase, original tapestries and paintings and sculpture to be examined. There are lovely views out over the moat and even the inner courtyards look inviting. The castle is on two small islands surrounded by a moat. The rest of the grounds are manicured with a number of other attractions to view on a nice day. Off the islands there are a group of brick buildings that house the gift shop, cafe, toilets and most wonderfully, a dog collar museum! That is a small one room museum with cases containing dog collars for animals both domestic and those used for hunting. It's hard to imagine some of those heavy spiked collars on a dog! It's by far the most unique museum i've been to... so far!Behind these buildings is a lovely English garden called the Culpepper garden after one of the former families that owned the castle. There is also an aviary of many colourful and rare birds. You can try to get through the maze elsewhere or view the greenhouse. There is a pond with many ducks including rare black swans and also a somewhat newer attraction, there is a hot air balloon ride available near the entry gate. There is a playground and a craft center for kids and they hold special events through the summer including a jousting match and a flower show. See the web site for various details. http://www.leeds-castle.com/It's a bit pricey at 15 pounds per adult with concessions and group/family rates but it isn't much when you think about all the things you can do and see. You can even play a round of golf for an additional charge. Getting there: You can catch a bus from Victoria coach station to the castle for 22 pounds which includes the price of admission. It arrives about 10:30 a.m. and returns to London about 3 p.m. Train travel to Bearsted station with a shuttle bus to the castle.
by tvordj on November 8, 2008
The British Museum is one of the top museums in the world and for good reason. It's main focus is ancient civilizations and the development of civilization in general. It's also one of the oldest museums in the world, opened in 1759 on the site of the current building which was opened in the mid 1800s and it has expanded several times since then. One of the original buildings considered was Buckingham House which later became Buckingham Palace! The British Museum also consisted of an extensive library, originating with the library items donated by King George III. Up until a few years ago, the Library was also part of the building that currently houses the BM but it now has it's own dedicated building near St. Pancras station, a short distance away. The Natural History museum was built to take on the overflow of that facet of the collections. If you've seen the size of that, you can imagine how much space even a portion of it took under one roof with all the other collections.The British Museum has many very famous items, often brought back from afar during explorations and excursions into places like the South Seas, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Ancient Roman, Greek, Turkish and Absynnian treasures, sculpture, and pieces from tombs and monuments are there. The famed Rosetta Stone that was found by Napoleon's troops in Egypt helped scholars break the code of the hieroglyphics in Egyptian tombs and the Egyptian Mummy collection is probably the best outside of Egypt. You'll need good shoes and stamina to see the whole of the museum's 2 miles of exhibits! Another popular sight is the aforementioned Rosetta Stone. There are usually crowds around this as well so it's sometimes difficult to get in close to have a look. It's also behind glass so if you're taking photos with a flash, approach it from an angle if you can. The huge Elgin Marbles and other ancient stone work such as the Neried monuments are very interesting and are in larger rooms so crowds don't seem to be as much of an issue. If sculpture or mummies aren't your thing, they also have loads of drawings and prints including some by the great masters of the art world such as Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt and Michaelangelo. There are also galleries representing the rich cultures of Africa, Asia, the South Seas and the Americas. In fact, there's a Haida totem pole from Canada in the Great court! I was rather pleased to see that! I've been to the museum twice in my visits to London and would like to go again to see more of it. The first time was some years ago and we walked and walked and walked. There's a lot to take in and you probably shouldn't expect to see the whole of it in one go, even with breaks or a light meal in the cafe. Pick what you would like to see the most and plan your route. But check out some of the other galleries too, you might be pleasantly surprised. The Egyptian antiquities galleries are probably the most popular and thus, the most crowded. Go early if you can. It fills up quickly with school groups and tourists. The second time I went was a couple of years ago. We had hoped to get tickets to the special exhibition about the Chinese Terra Cotta warriors but weren't able to in time. Our stay in London was only brief that time, so we weren't there early to queue for the day-release tickets either. We decided to have a quick look through some of the highlights at least, during a late opening. We did a thorough job of exploring the mummies and other Egyptian items which were really fascinating. The paint and gilding on the caskets is still so bright and vivid, and the hieroglyphics on some of them as clear as if they were written last week. We got a look at the Rosetta Stone and some of the big Greek sculpture, marbles and bronzes as well. One thing that we came across by accident that turned out to be one of my favourite things were these two colossal winged human headed bulls or some sort of mythical animals that were carved in to walls that guarded an Assyrian palace.The British Museum is free for all but special exhibits will have a cost. You can buy tickets for these online. They are often timed tickets for the really popular shows. There are several gift shops and a cafe and there is a lift as well, for disabled access. The main entrance has a little lift to the side of the stairs and there's a level access around the side on Montague Place. It's open late on Thursday and Friday until 8:30 though the Great Court is accessible later than that on those days. Don't really see the point, though, if the galleries aren't open unless they have something particular going on. There are several options if you want to eat or shop. You are allowed to take photos of anything, as well. British Museum website.
by tvordj on April 17, 2008
We decided on The Big Bus for our city tour. (And yes, i know the photo isn't actually a tour bus, but it was taken from the top deck of one!) The main reason is that one of their routes offers live guides. There are two or three different routes you can take with Big Bus. The red route has live guides most of the time. The Blue route is all recorded commentary. The blue route will take you down by the Knightsbridge museums and around the outside of Hyde Park and up to Madam Taussaud's. The Red route is mainly the central areas. The blue route covers this part as well. The Green route is a connector route that only runs between the Russell Square hotels (and the British Museum area) and Aldwych where you can catch a Blue or Red route. Busses usually run every 15 minutes or so (depending on traffic). Cost is about 18 - 20 pounds per adult. You can get tickets online, or right at the stop if there's a representative there or from the driver. The Big Bus centre is by Victoria Station. Tickets in summer also come with a voucher for a free cruise on the Thames and they also do walking tours with your ticket, from Trafalgar Square by the National Gallery. Original London Sightseeing tours, a different company, offer similar services though most of them do not have live guides. Tickets are good for 24 hours from when you bought them and you can get on and off all over the routes as often as you want. Busses don't run past about 6:30 in the evening and start about 8:30 or 9 in the morning. In winter, they'll give you 48 hours on a ticket. It's a great way to get an overview of the city and decide where you might want to spend more time. Yes, the tour busses are a bit pricey and you could do just as well with a city bus and a guide book, but if you have the budget for it, it's well worth it.
by tvordj on April 11, 2008
On Ludgate Hill, at the end of The Strand, you come around a turn in the road and this huge domed building looms out at you amid the busy traffic. St. Paul's Cathedral was finished in 1710, built after the great fire of London in 1666 burned down Old St. Paul's. It's a Baroque masterpiece, filled with tombs, statues, frescos and gilded everything. It costs 10 pounds for adults, 9 for seniors plus they have family (2 children 2 adults) tickets and that includes everything. You can visit the crypt and you can also climb up over 500 steps to go to the very top of the dome. It's fewer if you just want to go to the Whispering Gallery where a sound whispered on one side will travel around and be heard on the other. It really works! There's also an outside deck at the base of the dome with higher stone balustrades. At the very top, there's only a narrow walk way and a waist high railing. I'm ok with heights and even i found that a bit intimidating. You aren't allowed to take photos in St. Paul's but i took a few "stealth" non-flash shots by aiming the camera from my waist and kept the best of the ones that came out, after i was scolded by a staff member for taking a proper photo of an angel statue. The decoration in the cathdral is just spectacular. The Crypt is interesting as well, with the tombs of Waterloo veteran Wellington and Admiral Nelson. The simple tomb of Christopher Wren is there too, tucked away in a corner. There's a gift shop and a cafe as well for tired feet. They do have disabled access but you may have to ask for it. We did notice a platform that could fit a wheelchair on a rail to the crypt (where there are washrooms, and where the cafe and gift shop are). There's a wheelchair accessible entrance on the north side which enters via the crypt. The website, http://www.stpauls.co.uk/ has full descriptions of all the disabled access. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to St. Paul's. I didn't climb the dome this time but i have done in the past and the views are out of this world!
by tvordj on June 10, 2008
I've stayed at the Thistle Euston several times over the years and it's always been a pleasant experience. It has often been used as a "bus tour" or group tour hotel, which is how I first stayed there. The location is very good, just a block from Euston train and underground station and around the corner, on Euston Road, is the Euston square and Warren Street stations with in a block or two. Euston station is a major bus terminal as well. I didn't notice much noise from the trains and the neighbourhood itself is quiet. It's close to Regent Park and Camden too.The hotel has a nice little bar and a restaurant in the basement, both have pretty good food, though a bit pricey as you would expect from a hotel. If breakfast is included, when i was there at least, it was a continental breakfast served in your room. Between the first time i stayed, in 96 and the second in 2000 I think the hotel had refurbished. Certainly redecorated and it was much nicer.The rooms were average sized, nicely decorated and air conditioned. Nice television, there was a desk and chair and some side chairs as well. There are lifts in the hotel but some of the hallways also have a short flight of stairs so check where your room is if you have heavy luggage or mobility problems.Price is not budget but not too expensive either, though one year I booked it via londontown.com and got a ridiculously low price of 35 pounds per night. I've never seen that since and I think it may have been because it was over Easter weekend. They were willing to extend my trip for one extra night at the same rate as well, when i contacted them privately. I won't say the staff was overly friendly but they weren't rude either, just busy. I did get sick on my last stay there and they were helpful in contacting a doctor for me.I'd reccomend this hotel for the location.
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