Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and A Pantheon-Rome, Italy

Waking up bright and early – or as early as we possibly could given we’d been waking up all past few days at about 5am and desired just a teensy bit of a lie in – we headed out with our walking shoes laced up and then down into the Metro to make our way to the first stop of the day, the Spanish Steps.

On that note, depending on where you are staying and/or going, the Rome metro can be either extremely helpful or… not so much. Thankfully we had booked to stay at an Airbnb literally right next to the Colosseum which also meant the metro was just downstairs from our apartment and there was a line that took us almost right to the Spanish Steps.

Once we arrived, we marveled at the beautiful cascading stairs, snapped a couple of pictures for our friends, debated making our way up to the top and then decided that since it wasn’t the best light, we would see about coming back later in the day given how easy it had been to get there. Besides, we were eager to get to our next stop, the famous Trevi Fountain.

Another landmark i’d love to come back to see at night, the fountain was as beautiful as it’s been depicted on film and about as crowded as you’d expect as well. We sat at one of the benches right in front of it and people watched for a while and contemplated getting a gelato from a vendor nearby as so many others who were seated nearby had done. Eventually we decided against the gelato however, as we had one last stop for that mornings excursion, and the one I was the most excited about, The Pantheon. It was just a short walk from the fountain to it and immensely enjoyable as the streets were colorful that day and it felt like walking down one picturesque corner unto a yet another.

Built in 113–125 AD the Pantheon is a former Roman temple that is now a church dedicated to St. Mary and the Martyrs, and even now almost 2,000 years after it was constructed still holds the title of the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome- which I did not know when we visited and now blows my mind even more. There’s a surreal quality to it, the way it still stands there amid all these other more modern day buildings- even with people brushing past you in today’s clothing you can almost imagine yourself centuries in the past.

Inside, that same feeling is even more inescapable. The mixture of ancient Roman temple architecture and the overlay of Christianity makes for an incredibly arresting sight.

(Side note- the hole you see in the dome in the photos below is known as the eye of the Pantheon and it’s open to the skies- we saw a couple of birds perched there and apparently when it rains it comes through as there is nothing to stop it. The floor is built in such a way however, that water doesn’t accumulate where it falls. Probably still a good idea to avoid standing directly underneath the oculus on a rainy day though.)

I could have spent hours in there honestly, both admiring the surroundings and also people watching- but we had an afternoon tour at the Colosseum and the Roman Forum so we had to get going. We wandered back out and into the present day again and then, once more, back out onto the streets towards the Colosseum.

The Walk to the Palazzo Pitti- Florence, Italy

After leaving the Florence Cathedral and having re-energized ourselves with coffee and pastries, we headed on our way to the Uffizi Gallery. Afterwards the plan was to cross the Arno river via the Ponte Vecchio and finish up the day at the Palazzo Pitti.  We were a little worried the weather would turn ugly as we had a couple of stop planned along the way and while we had already endured 3 days straight of rain in Venice with no problem, we didn’t want to do it again in Florence.

Thankfully by the time we reached The Basilica di Santa Croce, the skies had cleared up again to picturesque cloudy fluffs with brilliant blue beneath.

Completed in the 14th Century, Santa Croce is the principle Franciscan church in Florence and is also the largest Franciscan church in the world. While we had been planning the way we would walk to the Uffizi Gallery, we had seen this church as kinda on the way and figured, why not stop by? We didn’t go inside but even just getting a chance to see the beautiful exterior was worth the detour. We sat down on one of the many benches around the square and eventually, only a bit reluctantly, made our way to the next stop on our walking tour, the Palazzo Vecchio.

The town hall of Florence, the Palazzo Vecchio is an immensely interesting building thats bursting with history but this was another place we decided to save for a later visit. One of the reasons for this is we’d seen a couple of interesting historical  residence/art museum type buildings already in Venice and we were sure the Palazzo Pitti would have enough to hold our interest in this regard (spoiler alert: it 100% delivered on that). From what i’ve read, the best way to visit the Palazzo Vecchio is to take a tour as there are many rooms and halls that are only accessible via guided tour so, definetly something we put on the list for a longer return trip.

The exterior is incredible in it’s own right and just next to it is the Loggia dei Lanzi (also known as the Loggia della Signoria as it’s on the corner of the Piazza della Signoria where the Palazzo Vechio is situated)  which is an amazing open-air sculpture gallery. Even if you don’t have the time or inclination to visit the Palazzo Vecchio, I can’t recommend enough to at least pass by the area, especially if you’re headed to the Uffizi Gallery as it’s a straight shot from there.

After leaving the dramatically beautiful statues behind, we made it to the Uffizi Gallery and were confronted by a rather huge line. We had expected this one however and had previously discussed that if the line here was incredibly long, we would head to the Pitti Palace first instead and finish up the day at the Uffizi Gallery when we came back. This was mainly because I was more keen to seen the Boboli Gardens of the Palazzo Pitti than any art held inside the gallery and so, we kept walking on towards the Arno river and crossed the Ponte Vecchio to the other side of Florence.

Taking our time, we made it to the Pitti Palace by around 1pm that afternoon and found no line to get inside- fates way of telling us we had made the right choice by coming here first maybe? Either way we happily headed inside to explore the opulent interiors.

~m

Il Duomo di Firenze and David- Florence, Italy

Our first day in Rome and what do we do? Where do we pick to see, in a city overflowing with a bounty of historically interesting and arrestingly beautiful points of interest?

Why, none of them of course. Instead, we headed off just a little after sunrise via Metro to the train that would take us to Florence.

When we had first started out making plans for this trip, I had asked the bf what cities he wanted to see in Italy and his first question had been, “Which one has Michelangelo’s David?”. And so, we bought a day trip train ticket from Rome to Florence so that we could fulfill one of his bucket list dream items- seeing the statue in person where it’s housed at the Galleria dell’Accademia.

I didn’t have many expectations of Florence and in truth I didn’t think I would find much to catch my interest, but by gods was I proved resoundingly wrong. Starting at the unexpected overwhelming beauty on display at our first stop of the day at the Galleria dell’Accademia and moving out onto the streets of Florence itself to find the Florence Cathedral, I found arresting views and points of marveling interest around almost every corner.

We had gotten skip the line tickets for the Galleria dell’Accademia because every single book or website we had looked through had suggested this (and really I can’t recommend it enough because if we hadn’t gotten skip the line tickets I think we would have been in line to get in for well over an hour) but we hadn’t thought to do the same for Il Duomo di Firenze, mostly because we just didn’t think it would be busy enough to warrant it.

Once again, Florence turned those expectations upside down.

The line for either entrance was massive and we were approached by a friendly tour guide who was still selling tickets for skip the line tours later in the day, which were very tempting. We still had about 3-4 other places we wanted to see though, and at this point I had decided that we would most definetly be coming back to Florence again and for longer then the length of a day trip. With that in mind, we declined to buy tickets and just enjoyed the incredible view of the exterior.

One of the largest churches in the world, the Florence Cathedral- in Italian Il Duomo di Firenze – is also a very prominent landmark of the Florentine skyline and later in the day we would actually get a chance to see it from a much different angle, from across the river while we rested in the Boboli Gardens of the Pallazzo Pitti.

With one last lingering look, we ducked into a nearby coffee shop to fuel up before we made our way towards the next couple of stops on our Florence day trip plans.

~m

 

Under The Ribbed Archways- The National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

After leaving the Scottish National Gallery and getting slightly lost on our way to and back from a market that Rob was keen on visiting (it ended up being much more crowded than the museum we had left and the walk there and back made my very jetlagged body want to call it a day) we made our way back to the area we had begun the day at, to visit the National Museum of Scotland, which, to quote their own website features a stunningly diverse collection that will  “take you on a journey of discovery through the history of Scotland and around the world, taking in the wonders of nature, art, design and fashion and science and technology – all under one roof.”  We again went our separate ways once inside the museum and after a I took a quick sit down to check in with friends and get my slightly tired spirits back up, I happily went off to explore and make my nerdy dreams come true.

The area I spent the most time in was the Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites exhibit, and I can honestly say it was time really well spent. No area of the museum I went to was overly crowded but this part even more so was wonderfully quiet and it was a rare pleasure to get to take as much time as I liked to linger over the exhibits, reading the descriptive placards and just really taking it all in. Every item on display I got the chance to see seemed like it was so lovingly and perfectly curated and you could get the sense of trying to accurately and fairly represent the story of this period in time as honestly as possible.

Eventually I finally finished poring over bank notes and letters (seriously guys, I wish I was cooler than this but i’m a genuine history nerd and I make no apologies for it ), headed on to the rest of museum and then of course, to the gift shop to pick up postcards and other goodies for friends back home before meeting back up with Rob on the first level. We stayed until near closing time (17:00) and then headed back out onto the bustling streets to scout out dinner and then after that it was time for me to head back to the hotel because even though there was a huge part of me that wanted to explore the winding streets of Edinburgh, my body was ready to collapse in bed and melt into the sheets to rest in preparation of the next days adventure.

And what was the next days adventure? Well a very beautiful though slightly ill advised hike around Loch Lomond, of course.

~m

Where Legends Go To Die- the Ghost Town of Rhyolite, Nevada

Rhyolite Ghost Town Train Station, Rhyolite Ghost Town Rhyolite Ghost Town Rhyolite Ghost Town Rhyolite Ghost Town Rhyolite Ghost Town Rhyolite Ghost Town

There’s places you visit where you feel like if you could just reach out and touch the right surface, you might get a true glimpse into the past.

I pick the places I visit based on just one thing- my interest in them. There’s places in Death Valley National Park that are known as “must visit” places that we skipped over (like Zabriskie Point) either because I didn’t feel like battling the crowds to get to them or because there were other places I wanted to see more. No one recommended the ghost town site of Skidoo and yet, it was my most favorite part of the trip.

Rhyolite would be a close second except for the fun fact that technically, it’s not actually part of Death Valley NP. It lies just outside the boundaries of the park, on the way to the town of Beatty and U.S. Route 95 (which will take you back to Las Vegas). If you’re heading out of the park in that direction or you happen to be taking the difficult way into Titus Canyon, which IS in the parks boundaries, then I highly recommend taking a small detour to check this place out. Or you can go like I did, aiming full on ready just for this ghost town and nothing else.

There were only a few people walking around when we got here, and as the sun crept lower and lower, the eeriness of the town grew. I really enjoy visiting and exploring abandoned areas and structures- there’s just something about places that time has passed on by that just tugs at something deep within me- and Rhyolite is so far the best of these places i’ve visited. If you’re at all interested in places like this and your in the area (or even if your not) I couldn’t recommend making a trip out here more than I already have.

For more info on this town and it’s history,here’s a good primer.

~m