Friday, September 22, 2017

The Oldest British Village

One of our first weekend trips after moving to London was a visit to Britain's oldest Roman city, Colchester. It still had a standing Roman wall from approximately year 65.

As in 1,952 years ago...😲

Colchester is only about 50 miles from London, making it the perfect day trip!

We were excited not only to see the capital of Roman Britain, but also to just see life outside of London as it was our very first trip outside the city after we had moved.

After taking the train about an hour northeast, we arrived in the small little village. It was a quite cloudy, yet bright, February day. We immediately started wandering about the city centre and stumbled upon things we hadn't even known about the city. We saw the town hall and the main street full of shops, we popped into the natural history museum, and also found the Colchester Castle! It was like a little oasis in the middle of the village. It was surrounded by gardens and flowers and trees.

After wandering the grounds a bit more, we made our way to the area where the remaining wall still stands. It was amazing to see in person and the original entrance, the Balkerne Gate, was impressive. It is the earliest and most complete Roman gateway in the United Kingdom. It also happens to be connected to a pub - one of the most British things possible!

We stepped into the pub for a bit and had a pint to toast to Dan's graduation, which was the celebratory catalyst for this trip. We spent the afternoon wandering a bit more, chatting with some locals at another pub, and of course grabbing a bite to eat before heading back to London.

All in all, it was a nice trip to kick off our life in the UK, and fanned the flames of our wanderlust even more, which hasn't shown any signs of being extinguished yet!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Roman Birthday

For my 28th (yikes!) birthday, Dan took me to one of the top mainland European destinations on my ever-increasing bucket list...Rome.

Italy is full of everything I adore: history, gelato, pasta, pizza, gelato (oh, did I say that twice?), beautiful architecture, wine, amazing sunsets, and amazing people.

Although we only got to spend 2 days in the Eternal City, we packed it full with memories and a FIRM plan to return.

To start off, we took an extremely early flight from London on my birthday and arrived in Rome around 10 am. We took a bus into the city and walked to our flat. It was right around the corner from the Pantheon, and we inadvertently got to do quite a bit of sightseeing on the walk to our place (not to mention get the first gelato of the trip). Fun story: I've been using the Duolingo App (highly recommend btw) to brush up on my German and learn a bit of Italian, and one of the frequent sentences it has me speak/write/etc. is..."Il gelato non è una colazione" which snark-ily means "Ice Cream is not a breakfast." Thanks, but no thanks, Duolingo. I'd like to see you stop me. Because the first thing I did when arriving in Rome was to eat Gelato - so on my birthday, Ice Cream WAS a breakfast.

Now, I also have to mention that another HUUGE draw to Rome for us was Roman Holiday (you know, Audrey Hepburn's big film debut that was filmed entirely in Rome?!) Well needless to say, Dan and I, among many others who visit Rome, were intent on recreating a few of the iconic scenes. As we walked to our flat and passed through the Pantheon square, I was instantly transported to that scene in the movie where they sat at the sidewalk cafe drinking champagne!

So after getting to our place (which by the way was adorable and in such a great location) and dropping our stuff off, we hit the pavement again.

As we hit the town, we decided to go try another Roman Holiday scene - the eating of gelato on the Spanish Steps...

Next we walked through the city, along the river over the bridge by Castel Sant'Angelo (while looking for dancing on a boat by the river, but alas, there was none in sight), and walked to the Vatican. We knew we wouldn't make it inside because it was almost 4 pm and we knew the lines would be crazy long and that they stop admitting new people after 4 pm. But even from the outside and in the courtyard of Vatican City, it is so impressive and awe-inspriing. We enjoyed walking around and eventually decided to take a quick break for pizza of course with a lovely view of this dome.

After our little break, we resumed the walking festivities. We found ourselves walking along the river and soaking in the afternoon sun, the slow and calming movement of the water and the peace of the day. We walked over to the neighborhood where we had planned to have dinner....which was of course AMAZING homemade pasta. I'm drooling just remembering it! After dinner we stumbled upon a band playing in one of the squares and just sat and listened for a while.

That night we had tickets to Caesar's Forum, which I highly recommend if you ever go to Rome. One of the things on our must-do lists when we return is to experience the other forum tour - Augustus' Forum. It brings history to life through a nighttime stroll of the grounds by recreating (via light projectors) the ruins we see now into buildings that stood tall and pristine when they were first built.

As Caesar's forum is in the centre of the ancient city ruins, we walked over to the Colosseum after the tour and just hung out in front of it and took some pictures. It was so relaxing and we chatted with a few people while there - it seemed to be the place everyone just comes to hang out. On our walk back to the flat, we passed the monument that we had seen earlier in the day, the Altare della Patria, which was built in honor of the first king of a unified Italy. 

The next day, we started with a full italian breakfast - which was right up my alley! It was coffee and croissants. See - the Italians just get me! After breakfast we walked around to check off a few more tourist items. We made a bee-line for the Trevi fountain (Roman Holiday alert!) and promptly tossed our 2 coins each into the pool of water. Now we are guaranteed to come back to Rome! We wouldn't want to have messed with that fate.

The last big item on our list was to tour the Roman Forum. If you only have time for one major 'ruin' in Rome, I highly recommend the Roman Forum! The audio guide was fantastic, we arrived in the morning and almost had the place to ourselves (until about 12 or 1) and you are literally walking where the ancient Romans walked and getting a glimpse into everyday life in ancient Rome. The architecture and what still survives after thousands of years is just so impressive.

After we had examined every inch of the Roman Forum, it was time for us to head back to the bus station to head back to the airport. We of course had to first eat a bit more pizza and pasta (you know, because nutrition)!

Everyone says that you need multiple days in Rome and I couldn't agree more. I will be back, Rome. But this birthday weekend trip was so amazing in so many ways, and it was perfect for a quick getaway.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Paris Holds the Key To Your Heart

I always sing that line from Anastasia! And this time, it really was true.

Happy New Year everyone! I want to catch you all up on our trips from 2016 before jumping into the trips we have planned for 2017!

Paris was a special one for us, because it was such an unexpected wonder. Neither of us speak French, so we were a tad apprehensive overall. However, it turned out to be a delight in every sense, and in order to explain, I'll take you back to Paris in the fall.

The air was crisp, yet the days were still warm. We spent our trip much how we spend our other trips - trying to experience the city as the locals might. As I've mentioned before, our favorite way to experience a city is to eat and drink our way through it. Paris was no exception. I find that we inevitably have the best memories when we have a combination of planned highlights coupled with some space for spontaneity. As I'm generally a very type-A, list-loving, and plan-appreciating gal, I often surprise myself with my laissez-faire attitude toward vacation planning. Don't get me wrong, I CAN and HAVE planned trips with aggressive itineraries, but I also have come to understand our holiday profile. Dan and I recently celebrated 10 years together and in that decade we've travelled all over the world. We've found that balance between 'every minute planned' and 'sleep the whole time' - not that we've ever experienced either of those extremes or anything.....{cough}.

Our trip to Paris was a wonderful insight into French living: a slower paced appreciation of food and wine, meandering through cobbled streets, exploring for the sake of getting lost with no true schedule to abide by. It was exactly how a trip to Paris should be.

We still managed to fit in some culture by taking one of the free Sandeman tours - which we recommend in pretty much every city we've had one in {Prague, Berlin, Edinburgh, and now Paris}. But most importantly, we soaked up all the experiences at our leisure. We admired artists in Montmartre, sat at cafes along the Seine, attempted french in every patisserie {thankfully 'Pain au Chocolat' and 'Macaron' are well known vocabulary to me!}, and enjoyed wine as we cruised down the Seine on a boat tour.

We soaked up the late autumn sun and the colors of fall all over the city with which we now have a budding love-affair.

The City of Lights was one of our favorite trips of 2016 {although Iceland will be forever tough to beat}. In fact, we loved our French immersion so much, that it will be one of our first trips in 2017 coming up in a few weeks! We look forward to the smell of fresh baguettes, walking along the Seine and appreciating Paris in the Winter!

Until then, Au revoir!