Sunday, April 17, 2011


The next stop for us after Portugal was Spain. Spain was easily a step or two up than its neighbor to the west. In Spain we met up with Alethea's mom and husband Ronnie. We visited a total of three cities during our 9 night stay in Spain. We started in Barcelona then traveled half way across the country to Toledo. We then traveled a short but confusing distance from Toledo to Madrid for our last stop.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph the first stop for us in Spain was in Barcelona. Alethea and I flew from Porto, Portugal while Alethea's mom and Ronnie flew from Nashville to Atlanta to Barcelona. We met up at the designated meeting point inside the terminal that Alethea and I flew in to. We then hopped into a taxi to reach our apartment in Barcelona. Our taxi driver kind of ripped us off a little by not driving up the street to our apartment. He said the roads were too narrow and the apartment was only 50 meters away which was not true. We had to walk multiple blocks up to our apartment but it wasn't too bad. Taxi drivers are one of the groups of people I trust the least. It's a hard life but quite a few of them seem like they are trying to hustle people versus providing a valuable service. I'll stop before going too much further.

Sagrada Familia - Barcelona, Spain

We spent a total of three nights in Barcelona seeing the major attractions of the city. We spent the first afternoon walking down the Ramblas (mile long street) and the La Boquería food market before retiring for the evening. We were all pretty tired. I was quite exhausted since I didn't sleep well the night before and got up at 4 am to catch a taxi to the Porto airport to start the day. Once I met up with Alethea's mom I started taking benadryl which makes me very drowsy so I was glad we had a light day.

Our second and third days in Barcelona were full sightseeing days. On our first full day we visited Park Guell, Sagrada Familia, and walked down the Passeig de Garcia. Park Guell was a neat funky park that was supposed to be a housing development. It has some weird designs but also offered some great views of the city. Our second stop was my favorite of Barcelona and that was the Sagrada Familia. The construction for this church started in 1882 and it is still under construction. It is scheduled to be completed in 2026 although it was dedicated by the pope last November as being open for business. The outside of the church looks nothing like any other church I've even seen. It was mostly designed by Barcelona's own Antoni Gaudi in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The inside has recently been mostly completed and looks very modern and quite beautiful. We spent a few hours touring the outside, inside, and taking the elevator up to an observation platform before walking down. One our third day of sightseeing we strolled around the Gothic Quarter, Barcelona Cathedral, and the Olympic Village areas. I thought the Olympic Village area was the neatest.

Olympic Park - Barcelona, Spain

Next stop after Barcelona was Toledo. We decided to travel from Barcelona via car. We tried to purchase train tickets but weren't able to do so at an acceptable price while in Italy which turned out to be a good thing since traveling by car was cheaper than train (even with gas and tolls). It took about 9 hours including some pit stops and lunch but it was a nice scenic drive. The scenery reminded me of driving out west with some parts looking like Texas, Nevada, and Wyoming. We saw plenty of wind turbines too which is a good sign for the environment. Spain is actually one of the leading producers of wind power in Europe.

We spent a total of two nights in Toledo. The first night was the night we arrived which wasn't until 9 pm. We essentially had one full day of sightseeing. It was a full day but we saw all the sights we wanted to see. Toledo reminded me quite a bit of Siena, Italy. It is a hilly old city about a hour south of Madrid. It used to be capital of Spain. We spent most of our day visiting churches. We bought a church pass and visited multiple churches, a synagogue, and even a 1,000 mosque that later became a church. The most impressive thing by far was the Holy Church Cathedral. The cathedral's construction started in 1226 and wasn't finished until 1493. It was built on top of a Moorish mosque. The cathedral is massive and has numerous chapels on the inside along with some original El Greco paintings. I think it is one of the top churches in Europe that I've seen.

Holy Cathedral Church - Toledo, Spain

The final stop on our tour of Spain was the capital city of Madrid. It is a one hour drive from Toledo to Madrid. It wasn't exactly easy though. Our directions from Google Maps didn't match the reality on the ground plus streets weren't labeled that well in Madrid. It was a frustrating drive from Toledo to Madrid but we eventually found our hotel. We stayed in Madrid for a total of three nights. However, we only went out sightseeing for two days. We spent the afternoon after we arrived walking around Retiro Park which is a 300 plus acre park. We then visited the Prado Museum which is one of the top art museums in all of Europe. It is free Tuesday through Saturday from 6 pm to 8 pm so we arrived shortly before 6 pm and kind of did a speed museum tour using the Rick Steve's Spain book as a guide. We spent our second day in Madrid visiting the Royal Palace which is one of the top palaces in Europe. We then visited a few churches before visiting the Plaza Mayor and the Puerto del Sol. Minutes after we left the Puerto del Sol we came across a steady stream of protestors who were marching towad the Puerto del Sol. These were mostly political protestors for the upcoming May elections. We saw groups that were socialist, communist, and pro or against the king. We didn't do any sightseeing on our final full day in Madrid. Alethea' mom and Ronnie decided to fly back to the US one day earlier than planned. Alethea's mom works for Delta and can fly for free based on seat availability and the odds of them getting home looked far better on Friday than they did on Saturday. Alethea and I stayed in and rested on our last day in Spain. Alethea's head cold has gotten worse and I benefited from a day of rest after suffering the effects of allergies over the last two weeks. The only thing we did was work on pictures, blogs, and walked to the train office to pick up our train tickets for our overnight train from Madrid to Paris.

Royal Palace - Madrid, Spain

his concludes our nine night sprint through Spain. I really enjoyed Spain. We pretty much stuck to the general tourist circuit of Barcelona, Toledo, and Spain but I thought it was well worth it. I probably enjoyed Barcelona the most. It is a different funky city but at times reminded me a little bit of Rome. Spain is definitely a country that I could see myself visiting again in the future. There are more destinations that I would like to see. I cannot really think of any negatives for our stop in Spain. Accommodations in Barcelona and Madrid were a little expensive but we booked only a week or so out and were trying to book family or quad type room but it wasn't too bad. It was pretty easy to get around and the people were nice and helpful throughout Spain. You run into a few language issues but nothing that can't be overcome. I would highly recommend Spain as a place for a week to 10 day vacation. The only real negative for me were my allergies which I cannot blame on Spain. They started to get pretty bad in Portugal and stayed bad throughout Spain. I've used quite a bit of the benadryl that Alethea's mom brought over. It is has often left me exhausted during the day while sightseeing after having taken a couple doses during the day. I think it has also contributed to my overall travel fatigue as well. Traveling can be kind of rough when feeling well but can be especially rough when not feeling well. I am definitely ready to head home at this point and just relax for a little bit.

Even though I just commented that I am ready now to head home, we still have two stops planned out on our trip :-). The next stop for us will be France. We've both been to France before but would like to visit it again before concluding our travels. We plan on spending just under two weeks in France. We'll take an overnight train (it was cheaper than flying) from Madrid to Paris then spend 5 nights in Paris before heading to Colmar in the Alsace region. We'll wrap up our France stay in the Normandy area visiting the countryside and the D-day beaches along with U.S. military cemeteries before heading to Belgium.

Diane and Ronnie - Retiro Park Madrid, Spain

That is all from Spain. I would like to thank Diane and Ronnie for joining us on our travels throughout the country. We enjoyed their company and I hope they had a good time!

Links to photo albums:

Daily Log:

Friday April 8th
Arrived around 9:30 am into Barcelona airport with no issues. Sinuses were really bothering me. One of the worst days for sinus issues on are whole trip. Constantly was blowing my nose non stop for over half the day.
Waited about 10 minutes for Ronnie and Diane.
Took taxi to apartment. Got overcharged @ 42 euros. Was charged 2 euros per bag plus driver didn't go to our street.
Waited in front of apartment for about 15 minutes then checked in.
Took nap for 2 hours.
Woke up went out.
Ate lunch at nice restaurant.
Walked down Ramblas. It is one mile one way.
Wakled around La Boquería market. It was Ok but not as big as I thought.
Went to grocery store and came back to apartment.

Saturday April 9th
Woke up with the alarm at 8:30. Slept good thanks to benadryl
Left apt close to 11 am.
Took subway then bus to Park Guell. Stayed for about a hour. Very neat park with great view of the city.
Took bus to a few blocks away from the Sagrada Familia. Very impressive church. Unusual and looks modern but still beautiful.
Walked over to Passeig de Garcia. Strolled down the street checking out all the art nouveau styled buildings.

Sunday April 10th
2nd full day of sightseeing.
Visited the Barcelona Cathedral
Walked around the Gothic Quarter
Walked around Barcelona City Hall – it was like a museum
Took funicular to Montjuïc Hill
Walked around Olympic Village
Walked back to apartment and ate dinner
Allergies my quite a bit.

Monday, April 11th
We rented a car and drove across Spain today.
Left around noon and arrived in Toledo around 9:15.
Scenery was pretty. Felt like I was in Texas and/or Nevada at times.
Tolls and gas were expensive.

Tuesday, April 12th
Full day of sightseeing in Toledo. Left hotel around 10:15 to 10:30. Back in hotel around 7:00 pm.
Bought a church pass for 8 euros a piece. It paid for itself. Also paid to the main cathedral.
Visited the following sights:
Monastery of San Juan De Los Reyes
Sinagoga de Sta. M. la Blanca
El Entierro Del Senor De Orgaz
Isglesia Del Salvador
Holy Church Cathedral (main church)
Iglesia de Los Jesuitas
Mezquita Cristo de la Luz

Wednesday April 13th
Traveled from Toledo to Madrid via our rental car.
Got off to rough start. Directions didn't match reality plus the drive was unpleasant.
Made ti Madrid and dropped off Diane and Ronnie at the hotel while Alethea took the rental car back. We took the subway back to close to our hotel.
Ate a good lunch close to hotel.
Walked around Retiro park for a couple hours which was about the worse thing I could have done since my allergies are killing me. Pretty much taking benadryl 2-3 times a day.
Toured the Prado Museum. One of the top art museums in Europe. It is free from 6 pm to 8 pm Tues. through Saturday. Very impressed. Staff was very rude when we left when they wouldn't let us use the restroom.
Feel very tired and exhausted. Pretty much ready to go home at this stretch. Will continue on to France and Belgium but could really go home at this time.
Weighed myself for .20 euro today. Weighed in at 81.9 kg or 180 lbs. Height is 1.85 meters or 6 ft. 1 inches.

Thursday, April 14th
Full day of sightseeing in Madrid.
Visited Royal Palace for a couple hours
Ate good lunch a few blocks down.
Visited some churches that Diane was interested in visiting. Some were pretty good. Some were Ok.
Walked to Plaza Mayor
Toured Puerto del Sol.
After leaving Puerto del Sol we came across multiple groups of protestors who were marching to the square. They appeared to be anti Franco and Royal Family in addition to pro Communist and pro Socialist.

Friday, April 15th
Day of rest.
Diane and Ronnie left today in order to have a good chance to get back to the US. They made their flight.
Alethea and I stayed in and rested.
We did walk down to pick up our train tickets before dinner.

Saturday, April 16th
Pretty much stayed in the hotel. Alethea wasn't feeling good plus we had to check out at 12 noon. The woman working the hotel was very rude and wouldn't even let us use a toilet. We ended up going to a restaurant next door.
Left unfriendly hotel around 5 pm and made it Chamartin train station with no problem.
Waited an hour for the train. Didn't pull up or have a track assigned until less than 30 minutes before departure which is rare for an overnight train.
We had our own cabin which was nice. Cabin was pretty good and so were the bathrooms.
Scenery was nice. I worked on research our Paris itinerary while Alethea worked on editing pictures.
Went to bed around 10 pm ish.

Friday, April 8, 2011


The next country for us after Italy was Portugal. Unfortunately this put Portugal in a difficult position since Italy and especially Rome are tough acts to follow. We spent a total of 9 nights in Portugal. We started in the capital city of Lisbon and worked our way up by bus to the city of Porto. In all we stayed in four different cities in Portugal. Prior to this trip I didn't know Portugal had four cities but as we traveled I discovered that they indeed do have additional cities outside of Lisbon.

The first stop for us was in Lisbon. We spent a total of 3 nights in Lisbon. Our place of residence was the Lisbon Dreams House. It was a nice comfortable hostel type facility just north of the old city area. The staff was nice and helpful and they served a decent breakfast plus they had enough of a kitchen to allow us (Alethea) to cook a couple of good dinners. As far as sightseeing goes we pretty much just followed three different Rick Steves self guided walks from his Portugal guidebook. We did the Bario Alto, Alfama, and Baxia strolls. Each walk was a little different covering various areas of the old city part of Lisbon. Lisbon only had I believe one 3 star tourist attraction which was a museum but since we just left Rome and have more museums to go we decided to pass. I do not think we actually paid an entrance fee in Lisbon that I can remember. Lisbon's attractions are just walking around and taking in the sights. We did bus over to Belem which is just to the west of Lisbon to the Jerome Monastery which was pretty neat. We saw the final resting place of the explorer Vasco da Gama. We saw where he died and was initially buried in Kochi, India about 6 weeks ago. I guess we keep following him around. The rest of our time was spent mapping out the rest of our itinerary in Portugal as we only had planned our flight in and our first three nights in Lisbon before leaving Rome.

Praca do Comercio - Lisbon

Next stop after Lisbon was Nazare. Nazare was a 2 hour bus ride north from Lisbon. We decided to bus to different towns within Portugal because it was cheaper and more convenient than taking the train. Some of the train stations were located a few kilometers outside of town which makes it a little more of a hassle. Nazare is situated on the Atlantic Ocean. It is a relatively small town with a full time population of only about 15,000. It is a popular summer beach town. We were definitely there during the off season. The town was pretty much empty which isn't a bad thing. It was still somewhat cool too. We were only in Nazare for about 24 hours. We spent our time strolling around town. We also took a funicular (tram) up the steep hill to Sitio and did some strolling up there as well. We visited a beautiful small church and saw a 1,300 year old black madonna statue that originated in Nazareth, Israel. We also saw a bull fighting arena but unfortunately there weren't any bull fights scheduled while we were there. One definite for me was our dinner. We ate at a local seafood restaurant. I had some type of shrimp dish served over lettuce and french fries. I had to peal the shrimp so it got a little messy but we both enjoyed are meals.

looking down on Nazare & the Atlantic Ocean

Coimbra was the next destination after Nazare. Coimbra was about a 2 hour bus ride northeast from Nazare. Coimbra is known for Coimbra University. It is the most prestigious university in Portugal and is the 3rd oldest in Europe. It was founded in 1290. Coimbra has a population of around 150,000. We spent a total of two nights in Coimbra. The first day and evening was spent on planning for our upcoming trip to Spain. It took most of the day to complete. It was a little more challenging since we were making plans for 4 people since Alethea's mom and husband will be joining us while in Spain. On our second day we followed the Rick Steves walk of the city which only took about 2 hours. Coimbra is pretty scenic and has an old town with narrow cobbled stone streets. It is also somewhat hilly.. We toured the various places on the walk including the university itself. When we were done with the walking tour we stopped for some adult beverages before getting some lunch. It turned out to be probably our best meal in Portugal. We ate at Restaurane Ze Manel. It is a local restaurant tucked away on a small street. We only knew about it because of the Rick Steves guidebook. It was a place that Anthony Bourdain would enjoy. We each ordered a dish recommended by our server since we couldn't really make out the handwritten menu. We shared a dish of lamb and a dish of pork served with pickled garlic over red beans and rice. The lamb was good but the pork with garlic was even better. We washed the meal down with a liter of house red wine (we thought we were only getting a half liter but a whole one showed up with our meal). We were surprised when the bill for everything was only 20.40 euros especially since we weren't sure what we had ordered and if he had ordered the half or full portions. He had ordered the half portions. It was plenty of food. It was so much I didn't eat anything the rest of the day. If you are even in Coimbra then I would visit this small (only had 4 tables) restaurant.

Alethea serving up what I thought was the best meal in Portugal

Porto was our final stop in Portugal. Porto is located in the northern part of the country and is the second largest city with a population of around 250,000. Porto is primarily known for port wine. The city is located at the mouth of the Douro River. The Douro Valley is the only area in the world where port wine can be produced and called port wine. Port wine is fortified wine that has about 20% alcohol in it and is made with a blend of grapes and other alcohols. We considered going on a river boat cruise up the Douro River but decided against it because of the cost. It is still off season and not many cruise boats are running or are not running every day. We did decide to go on a port wine tasting tour the afternoon we arrived. We went to three different wineries over a 3 and a half hour time span. At each place we got to sample a white and a red port wine. Good thing we ate lunch before going since these wines were quite strong. We spent the remaining part of our time there just walking around the city and working on trip related stuff. The guidebooks describe Porto as a gritty town and I would have to agree. There are quite a few run down areas but there are some nice areas as well. I think the area would be more enjoyable if it time were spent out in the valley versus the city itself.

Alethea in front of a large cask of red porto

This wraps up our 9 night trip through Portugal. I have been trying to think how I'll describe Portugal. I think I'll describe it as basic. It is definitely different than Italy but doesn't really stand out in any particular way. Portugal doesn't really have in my opinion any must see sites like other countries do. It is cheaper than most other countries I've been to in Europe. The guidebooks mention that it is the least visited country in Western Europe. I assume that is mostly because of geography more than anything else. The people were nice and friendly and we had some good meals that didn't cost us a fortune. I'm glad we came but I too probably wouldn't come here or recommend it unless I was on a trip to Spain and had some extra time to spend. I do have to keep in mind that we visited during the off season and only saw Lisbon and the northern half of the country. I don't mean to sound too negative on Portugal. I did enjoy it and glad we visited. I cannot really think of any real negative except that you cannot purchase benadryl anywhere in the county according to a pharmacist in Lisbon. My allergies started to bother me a little bit more in Portugal due to different plants and trees that were blooming. I used up my supply that I've been carrying throughout the trip within the first day or two upon arrival. Instead I started using a nasal spray that Alethea has been carrying. Her mom is bringing us a fresh supply. Only other observation I have regarding Portugal is the language. There are some similarities to Spanish but not that many. Quite often when I heard it spoken if I closed my eyes I would think the people were speaking Russian or some other type of Slavic language. I expected it to sound more like Spanish but it really doesn't based on what I experienced.


Next stop for us is Spain. We fly in to Barcelona where we'll meet Alethea's mom and husband Ronnie. We'll then make our way to Toledo and Madrid. We're scheduled to be in Spain for 9 nights. Hope everyone is doing well!

Links to photo albums:

Daily Log

Wednesday March 30th
Arrived in Lisbon around noon. Plane was over 30 minute late leaving due to a technical problem.
Took airport bus to stop by our hotel. Cost only about $10 for 2 people.
Walked to hotel. Pretty nice. Lisbon Dreams Guesthouse.
Went to grocery store to get lunch supplies.
Settled in and took naps.
Walked around our area before eating a nice dinner at a local Portuguese restaurant.

Thursday March 31st
Slept in until 9:20. Guess I was more tired than I thought. Took a couple benadryl last night which pretty much knocked me out. Allergies have been pretty bad here. Lot of things are blooming.
Pretty much just strolled around Lisbon.
We took an old 1920's era tram 1.5 loops around the city. Got back off at the top and walked down to an old town square. We then went on another walked.
Visited a couple churches.
Stopped and had a couple draft beers.
Was offered hashish and/or cocaine several times today. Lost count after 7 or 8.
Stopped at grocery store to buy items for dinner.
Processes pictures, blogged, and worked on trip planning things.

Friday April 1st
Spent 1st half of day planning and booking items for the rest of our Portugal stay.
Printed out bus and plane tickets.
Took bus 727 the wrong direction and then looped back to Belem.
Toured the Jerome Monastery and church
Took bus back to hotel
Went to grocery store to get dinner.
Worked on booking hotel for Porto
Worked on blog

Saturday April 2nd
Checked out of hotel around 9 am.
Walked to metro station and discovered our transport passes were only charged for buses and not the subway as originally though. Found bus 746 that took us to Seti Rios bus terminal.
Took bus from Lisbon to Nazare. Took 2 hours. Bus was nice and comfortable.
Got to Nazare around noon. Walked to hotel from city center. Only a few blocks.
Checked in. Walked around town.
Took funicular up to Sitio. Went to old church to see the 7th century black madonna from Nazareth, Israel.
Came back down the hill to Nazare and walked on the beach.
Went back to hotel and worked on Spain planning.
Ate dinner at local Portugal restaurant. Meal was great.

Sunday April 3rd
Took bus from Nazare to Coimbra – left at 10:50 arrived around 1 pm.
Walked 500 meters to hotel and checked in.
Went to grocery store to buy supplies for lunch.
Spent afternoon on Spain planning.
Walked to telepizza for dinner.
**Hit my budgeted amount for money for the trip today. Supposed to have run out two months ago but made it until 4/3. **

Monday April 4th
Slept in until after 9 am which was a good thing since I was tired.
Left around 11 am for our Coimbra sightseeing walk.
We were done with the walk around 1:30 pm. It was pretty but nothing spectacular.
Stopped and had two .5 liter beers at Cafe Santa Cruz.
Walked over to Restaurante Ze Manel – best lunch in Portugal to date. Had lamb and pork chops over riced served in pickled garlic. Also had 1 liter of red wine. Total cost was only 20 euros. Much less than we were expecting.
Came back to hotel. Edited pictures, looked at transport options from Madrid, and blogged a little.

Tuesday April 5th
Took bus from Coimbra to Porto. Bus ride took 90 minutes. Bus was about 10 minutes late.
Could see our hotel from the bus stop. It is very basic and only 30 euros a night. No breakfast but it does have free wi-fi and hot water in the shower.
Walked to tourism office and Port Tours office. It cost to much (59 euros per person) to take one of the boat tours. Would have done if we were on vacation but we have a budget. Instead we bought a 18 euros (for two people) ticket good for 3 port winery tours wihin walking distance here in Porto.
Toured three port wineries. We toured Sandeman, Offley, Frerera. The 1st tour was the best then they kind of went down hill from there. Still enjoyed. Sampled a white and red at each facility.
Walked around back to the Riberia area and found a basic local place to eat dinner. Only cost 10 euros total for two people.
Also, on the way over to the port tours we crossed a very high bridge. Apparently minutes before we crossed someone committed suicide and jumped to their death.

Wednesday April 6th
Slept in until 10 am. Didn't realize I was tired. Our room also is very dark. I still thought it was around 8 am when I woke up.
Worked on some trip planning stuff for Spain.
Left around 12:30 pm. Found nice local restaurant. Had a lot of food for only 10 euros.
Walked around Porto for about 3 hours. Nothing spectacular. Did see some better parts of town though.
Came back to hotel by around 4:45. We both hand washed some clothes so we'll have something clean to wear by the time we get to Spain.
Worked on pics and blog and some more Spain itinerary stuff.
Took our last malaria pills! Been taking them since 11/19.

Thursday April 7th
Woke up around 9 am.
Got some hot water for coffee
Walked down to grocery store that we discovered at the end of our street to buy some breakfast items.
Worked on Spain and then mostly planning for the rest of our trip which is going to be France and Belgium.
Didn't leave hotel until around 5 pm.
Ate dinner at the restaurant we did the first night mainly because we got a lot of food and it was only 10 euros.
Walked around for about 90 minutes before going back to hotel and calling it a night.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Italy Part 2 - Siena and Rome

The second part of our tour of Italy involved the cities of Siena and Rome. I'll spend a few minutes highlighting some of the things we did during our stops. First up is Siena.

Siena was our next stop after Florence. We chose to travel to Siena via bus instead of train. The primary reason was that the bus delivered us closer to the downtown area which was where our hotel is at. If we had taken the train we still would have been a couple kilometers away from where we needed to be and would have had to hire a taxi. It may seem trivial but these things can make a big difference when it comes to saving money and the overall hassle factor. The bus ride from Florence to Siena was pretty smooth. We got to see a little bit of the scenery and the bus was comfortable. It only took about 90 minutes to go from Florence to Siena and cost 7.50 euros per person. Siena for us was an attempt to balance out visiting large cities with a small to mid size city. I think we accomplished the task. Although tourism plays a big role in their economy we still got the feeling that we were in a town a little outside of the normal tourist circuit and that we were intermingled among the locals.

St. Domenico in Siena

We spent just two nights in Siena but packed in quite a bit of sightseeing. We arrived on a Monday afternoon. We spent a couple hours on our first day walking around our area. We purchased a museum pass for 10 euros per person and visited a church and the museum next to it which was part of the pass. The pass did end up paying for itself. The second day was a full day of sightseeing. We started off with visiting St. Domenico after purchasing our bus tickets to Rome for the following day. We then visited the main Duomo or Cathedral called Santa Maria Assunta. It was built in the 13th century and was pretty impressive. It was good thing we purchased the museum pass because we would have had to pay to get into the church. The museum next to the Cathedral was worth it especially the observation platform that provided great views of the city without an extra charge. To climb the nearby Piazza del Campo bell tower would have cost at least 8 euros per person and it isn't much taller than the museum's observation area. We also toured the church's crypt which was only discovered about 10 years ago and the baptistry. We then meandered our way over to the Piazza del Campo to take a view of this impressive plaza during the day time. The museum and bell tower were separate from our museum pass so we decided to skip them. After a late lunch we spent the rest of the day strolling around different parts of Siena which can be a little tricky with all the windy and hilly roads.

 Cathedral Santa Maria Assunta - Siena

Siena was a nice little town. I would recommend it on the northern Italy tourist circuit. I would say two nights should cover the main attractions but one could stay longer if you venture out to the wineries that surround the city. The only real negative for me was that even though it is an old city with much of its medieval architecture well preserved including narrow streets there were still lots of cars and mopeds to keep an eye out for. I think they should be more restrictive on the amount of motor traffic allowed within the city walls. It is a hilly city so I bet there would be quite a bit of push back from locals who have to move around on a daily basis. Only other negative which isn't the town's fault was that it was pretty cool. On our full day of sightseeing we both wore the tops and bottoms of our thermal underwear and both our jackets just to stay warm.

Alethea looking out at the Piazza del Campo in Siena

Next stop for us after Siena was Rome. For the first time on our 8 month round the world trip I was actually in a city that I had been in before. I visited Rome back in 2006 on my first visit to Europe along with my brother Doug who was living in the Netherlands at the time. Alethea had also visited Rome before as well. Rome is one of my favorite cities to visit in Europe mainly because I'm a history buff and in my opinion no other city has had as much influence on western civilization than Rome. It was good to be back in a somewhat familiar area. It didn't take me too long to recognize different parts of the city.

In all we spent a week in Rome. Instead of staying in a traditional hotel or hostel we decided to rent an apartment. It made a lot of sense since the apartment Alethea found cost about the same as what hotels we would want to stay in cost. Our apartment was 35 square meters. It had 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, a full kitchen, and a living room. It also had a washer and wi-fi which are always a plus. The apartment was in the Trastevere neighborhood a few kilometers south of the old city section of Rome. It was located close to bus stops and a train station. We saved a quite a bit on eating too since we prepared our own breakfast and Alethea cooked dinner while I performed my usual role of washing the dishes afterward. It was also nice to be able to do our laundry whenever we wanted without fear of not getting everything back when we send it out to be washed. Needless to say I think we were both glad we rented an apartment versus a hotel or hostel.

Alethea cooking dinner at our apartment in Rome

As I mentioned earlier, Rome is a city that Alethea and I visited before. Even with this in mind we put together a list of things we wanted to see and then plotted out our course. For me I wanted to see some of the major sights again plus some additional items which were mostly churches that I didn't get to see on my first visit. We purchased within a couple days of arriving a Roma pass which allowed us to get the 1st two museums we saw for free with remaining museums being discounted plus all transport within Rome is free for a 72 hour period once the card is first validated. Our two free museums were the Forum and Ostia Antica. Ostia Antica is a 2,700 year old town 35 minutes outside of Rome close to the Mediterranean that has been largely preserved. It was pretty interesting. The second museum we used our pass for was the Colosseum and Forum. The Forum area used to be free to enter but it now has been gated off and an ticket must be purchased to enter. It was nice to visit both again. We actually didn't use the pass for any more museums but did use it quite extensively for transportation. The pass did pay for itself. We did visit some of the other traditional tourist sites such as the Pantheon, Trevi Fountains, and the Spanish Steps which are all still free!

The Pantheon - Rome

Most of the other sites we visited within Rome can be put into the church or religious category. We visited a few churches that I had not been too before. The two main churches that I hadn't seen were St. Paul's Outside the Walls and the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Both are major churches and were impressive. St. Paul's is for the most part only about 160 years old since it burned down in the 1800's and has been rebuilt. It also contains the alleged remains of the apostle Paul underneath the altar. The corner of his tomb is visible. From what I have read it is highly likely to be his remains and the bones were recently carbon dated to be a 1st century AD male. The Basilica of St. John Lateran was somewhat impressive. It is the official church of the pope. On the inside it is well kept and worthy enough to be called a major basilica but the outside doesn't look that impressive and it is located a little outside of the old city area. I really don't know why the pope's church isn't St. Peter's since it is larger and much more spectacular.

St. Paul's Outside the Walls - Rome

Speaking of St. Peter's we spent parts of two days at the Vatican. We spent most of one day at the Vatican Museums. We discovered during our planning that the museums are free on the last Sunday on the month so we decided to get up real early and wait in line in order to save a total of 30 euros or $42 USD. We waited outside in line for about 1 hour and 15 minutes and then another 15 minutes once the line actually started to move. We had both been before so instead of working our way to what is essentially the grand finale we headed straight for the Sistine Chapel. We pretty much had it to ourselves for at least 30 minutes. There were probably were only about 30 other people in the chapel. The last time I went there were hundreds and you could barely walk around. We stayed for a good 40 minutes while listening to a Rick Steves podcast that explained the paintings on the walls which were mostly done by Michaelangelo. The Sistine Chapel is stunning and is something I think everyone should visit at least one. We then worked our way back through the museum for over a hour or so before exiting. We made our way over to St. Peter's Square but it was packed being a Sunday. The line to get in was long and thick. We decided to bus over to the Colosseum and Forum and came back the next day to tour St. Peter's. When we came back we spent 3 hours at least touring the church. We listened to another Rick Steves podcast on the church then we split up for a little to tour different parts of the church. I went down to the crypt to see the tombs of the popes. Normally, they charge 5 euros per person but for some reason with no explanation they were not charging anyone. It was kind of underwhelming. I did see the tomb of John Paul II along with many other popes. I then circled back around and paid my 5 euros to hike all 521 steps to the top of St. Peter's. It is a great view and well worth it. I really enjoyed St. Peter's. I think it is the most spectacular church or any other religious structure that I have visited to date in the world.

St. Peter's Basilica - the Vatican

This wraps up our busy week in Rome. In addition to the sightseeing we spent a couple afternoons in doctor's offices. Alethea will probably go into detail in her post regarding Rome but she decided since we had a full week in a major city to get her shoulder examined. It has been bothering her for quite some time and she has been experiencing increasing amounts of pain especially on days we are carrying our big backpacks. The basic verdict is that she has bursitis. I'll let her go into more details. I am glad we got it checked out though even if one of the shots hurt quite a bit despite the doctor saying it wouldn't. I always figured it would be me seeing a doctor first considering how clumsy I can be at times.

View from St. Peter's Basilica

In addition to wrapping Siena and Rome it wraps up our time in Italy. I really enjoyed Italy. Traveling around Europe is so much easier for the most part than many other parts of the world. I enjoyed the food as always even though we pretty much ate basic meals since we have a budget to stick too. We've saved quite a bit with Alethea cooking or preparing our meals from sandwiches to simple meals we cook at our hotels or other places we've stayed at. It is hard to pick a favorite destinations in Italy. I enjoyed Rome as a I thought I would but also liked all of our other Italy destinations and would recommend them as well. Venice would probably be my favorite outside of Rome. I am not sure I would recommend Milan as a place to stay for 3-4 nights as we did but I would still include it for at least one day. I cannot think of too many negatives. I guess one might be just the reality that Europe is expensive especially when you come off 3-4 months of Southeast Asia and India. Some other negatives might be that there is a lot more smoking in this part of the world unfortunately and I guess the only other is that at times there are more language barrier issues with Italians not being able to speak much English. It was easier in India and many parts of SE Asia at times in my opinion. Alethea may disagree since she knows maybe about a 100 words of Italian and occasionally found someone to speak French too when needed.

one of the most famous pieces of art in the world - Miachealangelo's Pieta 1499

I would like to conclude with a couple of non trip notes. First is that I am glad that I or really that my dad sold my car back home. I got a good price for it. I know I got more than what a dealer would pay for trade in. Thanks Dad! I don't have any definite plans to use the money to extend our travels although I've looked a little bit at taking a swing up to Iceland since we're in the neighborhood. Another idea might be on our way back to the US to stop in Montreal, Canada. We'll see. I'm still not all that interested in South America yet. I want to go there some day but don't really have a burning desire to go there at this time. I haven't ever been to Mexico but might want to let that place calm down a little bit before I go there. One other final note that I'll touch on briefly especially since I believe Alethea will mention this in more detail is that we almost decided to return back to the US after Rome. Alethea's grandmother, Barbara Patterson, is not doing too well. Alethea and I have decided to continue on for now on our travels but will keep her grandmother in our thoughts as we continue on.

Next stop for us is Portugal. We fly out early on Wednesday the 30th and will spend 9 nights in Portugal before we travel on to Spain. I've never been to Portugal or Spain and am looking for to it. In Spain we are planning at this time to meet up with Alethea's mom and her husband Ronnie. Hope everyone is doing well.

Link to photo albums:

Daily Log

Monday March 21st
Travel day from Florence to Siena
Left Devang's apartment around 11:30 am.
Took Florence bus to train station.
Had to ask multiple people before finally finding the private bus line to Siena. It isn't the same company as the train system . Immediately bought two tickets for 14.20 and boarded the 12:40 bus to Siena. Drive was pretty. Took 90 minutes. Passed US military cemetery on the interstate.
Walked to hotel. Directions weren't good. Got lost for a little bit. Staying at B&B San Francesco.
Walked around town. Stopped at St. Francesco (St. Francis) church and toured museum. Purchased Siena museum pass for 10 euros each.
Ate dinner at Chinese food place that was pretty good.
Walked back to hotel.
Siena is cold and windy or at least it was today. Probably will wear thermal underwear tomorrow. Most activities will be inside but we may do a lot of walking.

Tuesday March 22nd
Full day of sightseeing in Siena
Wasn't as windy as yesterday but still cool. We both wore our thermal underwear the whole day.
Bought bus tickets from Siena to Rome for 21 euros a piece.
St. Domenico
Duomo – (Cathedral Santa Maria Assunta) original church was there in 9th century. Current one from 13th century
Duomo Musuem including tower view of Siena that was very pretty on a clear sunny day.
Crypt of the Duomo
Baptistry of the Duomo
Piazza del Campo
Went to grocery store and bought meat for lunch and liter of wine.
Wondered around from 4 pm to 6:30 pm until we ate dinner at a local restaurant. Alethea had the set menu while I had a pizza. It had olives, ham, artichoke, mushrooms. Instead of putting all toppings together they were split with each quadrant only having one topping. Alethea had garlic sphagetti (good), pork chops, and spinach. All were excellent.

Wednesday March 23rd
Travel day to Rome.
Caught bus at 10:38. Supposed to arrive in Rome at 13:45 but arrived 10 minutes early.
Took train two stops to Travestere.
Walked around block until we eventually found the apartment.
Waited 90 minutes until met ladies' daughter at aparment.
Went to grocery store and stocked up on groceries.
Cooked dinner.
Got online and caught up on expenses and researched notarization options.

Thursday March 24th
Spent the morning mapping out our itinerary for Rome.
Alethea called to move up her Dr.'s appointment for tomorrow but the dr. said to come on in.
We took a bus and train to the Dr.
Went to radiologist to have MRI. Orthopedic gave Alethea a shot in her shoulder. She is in a lot of pain.
Took two buses back to apartment that took 2 hours.
Stopped at Kebob place for dinner.

Friday March 25th
Full day of sightseeing in Rome. Visited the following sights:
St. Pauls' Outside the Walls – saw the tomb of St. Paul's, nice church too
Trevi Fountains
Spanish Steps
Piazza de Popolo
Santa Maria del Popolo

Bought groceries. Alethea cooked a good meal and I slaved over cleaning the dishes.

Saturday March 26th
Full day of touring Ostio Antica
Took bus to metro to regional train. Regional train took 30 minutes.
Spent 3 hours touring the sight. Pretty neat. City is 2700 years old.
Took train back to end of line.
Saw the Pyramid.
Took bus back to home.
Went to grocery store
Planned out the next day's options.

Sunday March 27th
Full day of sightseeing.
Alarm went off at 6:15 am. Left around 6:45. Took two buses to the Vatican Museums. Arrived by 7:45 am.
Vatican Museums are free on the last day of the month so we got their early before they opened at 9 am. We waited for 1.15 minutes then another 15 minutes once the line started to move. We immediately took off for the Sistine Chapel. We pretty much had it to ourselves. There were probably only 30-50 people in there. The last time I went their were hundred and you couldn't move. We stopped and listened to a 30 minute Rick Steves podcast. We then worked our way back and went through different wings on the museum. We left around 12:15 pm.
Walked over to St. Peter's Square. The line to get into St. Peter's was long and the square was packed with it being a Sunday. We decided instead to go to the Forum and Colosseum.
Ate lunch by the Forum then spent the next two hours listening to Rick Steves podcast of the Forum Colosseum before catching a couple buses back to our apartment for the evening.

Monday March 28th
Full day of sightseeing.
Toured St. Peter's Basilica. Listened to Rick Steve's podcast. Spent about 1.5 hours in the church. Still think it is one of the most beautiful churches in the world. Visited the tombs of the popes. Normally there is a charge but everyone was getting in free today. Saw the tomb of Pope John Paul II. Next hike to top of St. Peter's Basilica. Cost 5 euros but worth it for the 521 steps.
Visited Alethea's doctor to pay the bill.
Took the Metro over to the Latern Palace. Technically the official church of the Catholic Church. It was pretty. Went across the street and saw the Holy Staircase too.
Took two buses back to our apartment. Cooked dinner. Got online.
Althea's grandmother is not doing well. If she passes away we may be coming home.

Tuesday March 29th
Day of rest.
Slept in and caught up on picture editing and other stuff.
Alethea spoke to her mom. Her grandmother is not in good health and may mean we go home tomorrow instead to Portugal.
Went to Orthopedic Dr. to have Alethea's shoulder checked out. Left at 3:30 pm and returned around 7 pm.
Went to grocery store to purchase microwavable dinner items :-)
Cleaned apartment and packed