We are finally home from an amazing trip. Our last stop on our whirlwind tour of Western Europe was one of my favorite cities, London. I had been a few times before, but this was Adam’s first time and we made sure to cover as much as we could in the few days that we were there.
We felt that the best way to see as much of London’s tourist spots in the quickest amount of time was a walking tour, so we started our first day on a Sandeman’s free walking tour. We went to places like Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, St. James’ Park, Parliament, the Clock Tower (and Big Ben- the name of the clock inside the tower, not the actual tower), Westminster Abbey and St. James’ Palace. Hint: We stopped at St. James’ Palace at 12pm, just in time to see the end of the changing of the guards. This was much easier than having to fight the crowds at Buckingham Palace, so I would definitely recommend this!
After the tour, Adam and I ventured off to explore London ourselves. We walked along the River Thames, enjoying the sights like the London Eye, the Globe Theatre, Millennium Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London, and the Tower Bridge. Along the way, we stopped at one of my favorite restaurants Wagamama (See my face in the picture below if you don’t believe how much I love their chicken katsu curry!).
During the days that we were in London, Adam and I made sure to fulfill our nerdiness by finding locations like the entrance to Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley and the Leaky Caldron in Leadenhall Market, Platform 9 and ¾ at King’s Cross Station, a Tardis at Earl’s Court, Sherlock Holmes’ home at 221b Baker Street, and finally Speedy’s Café where the current Sherlock TV show is filmed.
We both also enjoyed our visit to Camden Market for some eccentricity and shopping, our time in the British Museum (which is free, like most other museums in London!!), a walk across Abbey Road (which is a working road with a lot of oncoming traffic, beware!), and dinner at Nandos (peri peri chicken and French fries= heaven!).
I really love London. There is so much to do and see and appreciate. The city is full of art, history, culture, sports, fashion and a special elegance that you can’t really find in very many other places.
If cities could be spirit animals, I think Vienna would be mine. Our whole time here has been absolute perfection. I feel right at home. It is a city that celebrates culture and I just love that so much!
If names like Mozart, Strauss and Beethoven excite you, or gorgeous architecture and beautiful parks is your thing, or long leisurely lunches or coffee breaks is something you enjoy, or even delicious pastries like apple strudel is what you like, or if you love fashion then Vienna might be the place for you too!
We started today with no plan, but instead, wanting to see what it was like to be Viennese for the day. We started with breakfast at a local bakery and then went (mainly window) shopping! In the process, we managed to try on some traditional Austrian clothing, specifically a dirndl for me and lederhosen for Adam (Both of us actually enjoyed wearing our outfits. Adam said that the lederhosen were surprisingly comfy).
When we were done exploring the shops, we made our way to the Vienna State Opera House where we had been last night and began (you guessed it!) another Rick Steve’s audio walking tour. A definite highlight of our walk around the city was when Adam bought a traditional (and massive) wiener or sausage from a street stand. For him, the highlight was eating it; for me, the highlight was watching his face light up after each bite. Rick took us along the streets of Vienna and to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. In unbelievable timing, we got to the church at 3pm, right as Rick said that the church performs a free organ concert at that time! Naturally, we walked right in and enjoyed listening to the organ play in the church. Next, we walked down the Graben (a famous street in Vienna’s city center) towards and through the Habsburg Palace and into the Volksgarten where we relaxed in the sun and played cards.
The best part of the day came around dinnertime. I had heard the night before that the Opera House was airing tonight’s performance of the Magic Flute live on the outside of the building on a giant screen. Adam and I bought dinner from a local grocery store and sat down outside of the Opera House with hundreds of others to watch. It was a perfect ending to a perfect day.
Our first night in Vienna was one of my favorites from this whole trip so far. We started our night off at dinner at the famous Café Sacher. The interior brought you back in time- waiters in tuxedos, chandeliers, marble tables, and ornate walls. Adam and I indulged in Schnitzel (Adam had traditional Wiener Schnitzel, and I had Chicken Schnitzel), potatoes and the most amazing salad (Seriously, this dressing was so good I almost asked for a straw!). We ended our meal with the famous Sacher Torte (which neither of us liked very much… at least not as much as we LOVED our dinner).
After our great (expensive) meal, we walked to the Vienna State Opera. I love all sorts of art, and that definitely includes ballet. Before our trip, we purchased tickets to see a ballet called Meistersignaturen. It was beautiful and it was so satisfying to be surrounded by people who appreciate art and culture the way that I do. The ballerinas were accompanied by a live orchestra and an unbelievable opera singer, which just made the experience that much richer.
A note to any future goers to the Vienna State Opera: We decided to dress up to keep with the classy theme of our night, but it wasn’t a requirement for attendance. Also, we purchased very cheap seats (read: bad!), but found that the trick (for travelers on a budget) is to go to the center back row of the auditorium and claim a standing only spot. After the intermission we did this and from then on, we could see the entire stage perfectly and enjoyed the performance without anything hindering our view. Another trick, people “reserve” these standing only spots by either tying a scarf around or laying a newspaper over the banister where they want to stand. Does it make you feel fancier knowing this? It does for me!
Our first taste of Austria is the beautiful city of Salzburg. We have spent most of our time in the Old Town. The area is pedestrian only, very clean and not very large (perfect for walking!). It boasts gorgeous architecture, amazing mountain and river views, and a slow paced and quiet demeanor. Today, Adam and I took our time leisurely strolling through its streets as we window-shopped and ate (pretzel baguette, need I say more?).
At the center of town is Residenzplatz (or Residence Square). Here, we enjoyed the beautiful fountain located in the square and listened to the Glockenspiel play (We were there at 6pm to listen, but I think it also plays at 7pm and 11pm). We also visited Mozartplatz (right next to Residenceplatz), which is a square that features a statue of…you guessed it… Mozart!
It was still bright outside, so we decided to listen to a Rick Steve’s walking tour of Salzburg and did that until we were hungry for dinner. We visited beautiful churches and cathedrals, squares, a horse washing station (yes!), a water wheel, and Mozart’s front door. We ended on the Getreidegasse, a charming street filled with shops, passageways and unique signs (Even the McDonald’s has an ornate iron sign outside of its store front!).
Pompeii is amazing, fascinating, incredibly well preserved and definitely a highlight of our entire trip thus far. As usual, we listened to Rick Steve’s audio tour to explore the sights and learn about the history and uses of different places. The Pompeiians were an advanced people with fast food restaurants, special sidewalks so pedestrians didn’t have to get their feet wet from water run-off, food markets, brick ovens, bath houses, and pedestrian only streets. Obviously the brothel is a favorite spot amongst tourists and Adam and I got our share of laughs seeing the concrete beds and the pornographic frescos on the wall. We also enjoyed visiting the amphitheater. The best part- the amphitheater was designed in such a way that a person standing on the center point of the stage can be heard even at the top of the stands without having to shout. I sang a (not so) lovely rendition of the US national anthem to test it out.
Once we had exhausted ourselves walking up and down the city of Pompeii in the hot sun, we decided to take the train to a coastal town called Sorrento to have a late lunch. I didn’t know much about the town; I only had seen photos of it from a travel blog so we just walked around, got lunch at a small restaurant down one of the city’s small streets and enjoyed the gorgeous ocean views. We relaxed for the rest of the afternoon and got some true Napoli pizza for dinner (the best pizza I have ever had!) from a tiny pizza restaurant a few minutes walk from the Naples train station.
Vatican City is famous for the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Pope. On our day in the Vatican, we only managed to see one of those- the Sistine Chapel. Unfortunately for us, there was a massive children’s sports festival going on while we were there, closing the Basilica and making it impossible to explore the city.
Regardless, our time in the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel was great. The museum is filled with interesting art and sculptures and we took advantage of our time in the museum by listening to another Rick Steve’s audio tour. After quite a long walk through the museum, we arrived at the Sistine Chapel and its famous roof depicting creation (of course, we took a banned photograph- we just can’t help it! But be warned, there are guards all around watching for rule breakers and making those caught delete their photos). After the museum, we made our way to the main square, took a picture with the Basilica and left.
Some tips for Vatican City: Buy tickets for the museum ahead of time. Just like most of Italy, Vatican City is heavily populated by tourists, which means that tourist attractions have incredibly long (hours long!) lines that can be easily bypassed by pre-purchasing tickets. Check to see if any festivals are going on that could hinder your experience of the area and if possible, go on a different day.