The Vatican City (part 3 of Rome, Italy)

My second last day in Rome was the last Sunday of the month, so I set out for the famous Vatican museum which is free on that day. The line was too long, so I decided not to wait. But I did wander through St. Peter’s Square.

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It was a bright sunny morning. It seemed as though mass was in progress somewhere inside, with video screens outside in the square. The music and the sound of the Pope’s voice were nice to listen to. Here you can see one of the beautiful fountains in St. Peter’s Square with the Basilica in the background.

The day after, I returned to the Vatican, hoping to get a tour with the same company that took me through the Coliseum. Unfortunately, the morning tour reservation was canceled which meant that I would not be able to skip the line when returning for the afternoon tour. I had no choice though because it was my last day.

I arrived the tour, where we began to wait in line for the Vatican Museum for about 1.5 hours. The tour company buys tickets on our behalf, so the whole group has to stay together. A lady got real mad when part of our group fell behind and moved up again. She followed us the whole way to the entrance, shouting at our tour guide. We made it into the museum just in time before closure, leaving hundreds of people behind us who would have waited hours for nothing. We got in okay, but I had to check my laptop with security and they wouldn’t let me take it through.

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The famous statue. After getting in, we knew the place would close within just 1 hour, so everyone was rushing to get through everything. The rooms were packed wall to wall, so it was not very enjoyable. It was impossible to just stand and properly observe everything.

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A funny looking statue. He has a big mouth.

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A big fancy box of some sort.

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This is the “Gallery of Maps”. As you can see, it’s literally wall to wall people. It would have taken a lot of effort to make the ceiling though. It’d be even worse to keep it clean.

Shortly after this, we proceeded into the Sistine Chapel. Signs warned that silence is expected and photography is prohibited. It was very crowded though, and security couldn’t stop people from taking photos. It was too dark, so I didn’t try to take any myself. Just seconds after getting in, there was an announcement that the Sistine Chapel (and the Vatican Museum) was closing, so everyone had to exit at that point.

Next was St. Peter’s Basillica.

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Everything inside was beautifully decorated, perhaps like many of the ancient ruins once were.

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Light shines into the Basilica. This place wasn’t quite as crowded. Our tour guide was struggling to give us explanation of everything, because security told her a few times she was not allowed to talk. She just kept doing it anyway. After all, she had paying customers to show around.

I mentioned that I had to check my laptop. Since the museum had closed by the time I was through, I could no longer return to the check-in point to retrieve it. I was worried for quite a while, until I was told I could get it back from the Gendarmie (Swiss Guard, Customs).

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These were the guys I had to talk to first. I had to first catch their attention, and then tell them what I was looking for. It was a bit of an awkward process, but they let me through and sent me out back. There, I had to talk to another guard who made me wait with others for about 10 minutes, who were looking for items like umbrellas. After a while, he sent us further out back, past the Vatican gas station, into a secure building where another guard gave our stuff back. The other guards had a good sense of humour.

On the way out, the front guards had the gates open like above and they saluted me as I exited the secured area. There were many tourists all around with cameras who must have thought I was some VIP. Exiting the Vatican entirely was a major relief, because I finally had my laptop back, and I was tired of all the standing in lines.

This concludes my blog posting about my trip to Rome. Check out my gallery for the rest of my photos!

Picnic in St. Benoit

On Sunday, we set out to go canoing again at the same place that we went to before in St. Benoit (about an hour’s walk away). The canoe place turned out to be closed, so we had a picnic instead since it was a nice spot.

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Beautiful along the river, eh?

After getting there, we ate our sandwiches that we bought from a Patisserie down the street from my house. After they were gone, Ben, Leanne, Brian and I got bored. So we walked around the area a bit. We saw this bridge and a path leading up it. There was some signs along the pathway that said “Danger”, but the rest was in French, so we assumed they only apply to French citizens. We proceed upwards along an old staircase in the woods with burned out candles along the way.

We reached the top just before the entrance to the bridge, which must have been for the railroad or something at some point. There were more of the signs blocking the way to the bridge. How annoying.

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The fence beside the signs was just the right height for climbing, as demonstrated here.

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We reached the other side safely. Danger must mean something different in French. The sign says “Danger – For safety reasons, viaduct access is prohibited to everyone”. Since there was two of these signs with two fences, I assumed it was just a joke.

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We crossed the Danger bridge safely. It was still in good shape for the most part, and we stuck to walking along the rivets and holding onto the railings. Suddenly, in the centre of the bridge, we heard a train coming. We all kinda freaked out a bit, until we noticed there was no longer any train tracks on the bridge, and you know, two fences blocking the way.

We got out of the restricted area safely. Just before we came out, we encountered a local person approaching the bridge to cross it with a fishing rod, doing the same thing as we did. There was also houses under parts of the bridges (yes, there was actually two “dangerous” bridges closed off), so they must been in good enough condition to keep standing. We returned to the picnic area by the river.

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Lazing by the river playing cards and catching sun.

After a few hours, we walked the long way back to Poitiers, returning to my house for spaghetti dinner. Check out my gallery for more photos, including various photos taken by Brian, Katy and others playing with the zoom on my camera.

Rome, Italy (part 2)

My first full day was when I saw the Coliseum. I had planned to see the other places nearby on the same day, but got lost when walking back from lunch and got lost near the Vatican.

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While walking away, I came across a “Cat Sanctuary”. It was some type of ruins in one of the city’s squares. Hundreds of Roman cats live there now. I sat down to relax this place, taking my umbrella out of my bag. I left it there without realizing it. I wandered back within an hour, still not realizing I had lost it. I found it there, still right there where I was sitting.

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People walking and cars often share the same space. Romans don’t like it if you make them wait for more than, say, 5 seconds either. They will honk their horns and start coming towards you, even on narrow passageways like this. Little motorcycles are also very commonplace, and you see groups of them parked outside things because they can skip car lines.

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This is Trevi’s Fountain, one of the must-see places in Rome. It is hard to get a real good picture here though because it is over-run with tourists 24/7. Overall, Rome is a city plastered with fountains everywhere. There are also taps running constantly all over the city that you can use to get drinking water. This is useful because it is difficult to find restrooms in Rome, and buying lots of bottled water gets expensive.

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A nice shot of an ancient castle beside the river, not far from the Vatican.

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One of the squares in the city, getting close to sunset. Rome has very colourful architecture using lots of yellows, reds, and oranges in its buildings.

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The entrance to the Pantheon, which has not changed much over the centuries. Directly behind me is a McDonald’s location.

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All the light inside the main room of this church is provided by one hole in the ceiling shown above.

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The history must have been too much for someone. The paramedics attend to someone just outside the Coliseum. The ambulance sirens are very loud and annoying in Rome. It must be quite frustrating for them to navigate the large city.

In my next post, the Vatican!

Rome, Italy (part 1)


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After 3 days in London, my next step was in Rome, Italy on the 25th. I arrived at my hostel in the evening, which was not too expensive coming from the airport. A free shuttle bus running every half hour was provided by the hostel from the metro station to the hostel itself.

My first destination in the ancient city was the famous Coliseum.

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This building was the site of gladiator battles and other public spectacles. The majority of the original structure is gone, but enough of it is left to make it one of the better preserved buildings, and one of Rome’s most popular tourist destinations.

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The inside is heavily ruined, with all of the original wooden floor gone. They have reconstructed part of it at the back.

I took a morning tour with a company called Tourus Maximus which allowed me to skip the line, saving lots of time. It seems to be a small company run by a guy named Max, but he is very friendly and funny. I met another tourist in the Coliseum who has actually been to Saint John. He had traveled there and stayed there one night, even seeing the Reversing Falls among other sites.

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The Coliseum itself is a tad over-rated, but my admission included 2 other free tours to Palantine Hill and the Roman Forum. The archway behind me in this photo leads through to these sites.

The walkways were a bit coarse to walk on, because the stones are mostly original and have deteriorated over time. During ancient times though, the stones would have been perfectly tight and aligned with each other. My tour guide said that the emperor would never tolerate a bumpy ride, and anyone subjecting him to such an experience would be thrown to the lions, no problem at all.

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This photo of the Roman Forum ruins gives little justice to what was once the centre of everything in Rome, as the sight of it in person was much more profound. It was hard to imagine that I was standing in such a centre of ancient power. To the left, you see pieces of white stone from the Temple of Saturn, and another large arch to the right. To the far right is a barely visible building which housed the senate, which was very popular and worked well for the Roman Empire for a long time. As the empire was ending, the senate wasn’t so popular and would sometimes be trapped inside as protesters would be waiting for them outside for whatever reason.

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Mostly everything in the Forum has been ruined over time, but some remains have stood the test of time from a very different era in history. The door shown above is something like 2000 years old, and has never needed restoration at all, hanging exactly as it always did, complete with a Roman lock that still works. The only change over the centuries is the colour of the door, but not much else.

Next to the Forum is Palantine Hill, the location of many important palaces over the years.

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This room was a dining area in one of the palaces. Parts of the original floor are still visible, as are one set of stairs which would have once been restricted only to very important people. As palaces, these rooms would have of course been very lavishly decorated complete with a majestic roof of some sort. All of this is gone now. My tour guide explained a lot of what used to be there for some rooms, although not much information is known about most of the palaces. Additionally, large parts are still unexcavated having been filled in with dirt and garden development over the centuries.

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Another part of the palace, overlooking Circus Maximus to the left, which itself has lost most of its original appearance. Originally there was a major stadium that could hold thousands and thousands of people. There is records of a few incidents in which thousands of people died due to collapses of the stadiums, leading historians to believe they were constructed of wood. If the Romans would have used stone and concrete for everything, we’d have it all better preserved today! I make that statement in today’s electronic age where we store much of our important information is now stored in mediums that are designed to decay over time.

That’s all for now. More Rome in my next post!

London, UK (part 3)

I saw Westminster including the Clock Tower which contains Big Ben and the Parliament buildings. These highly recognizable sites are very accessible just outside a subway station. I was unable to make time for Westminster Abbey.

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The famous clock commands attention in the London skyline.

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The parliament buildings are visible in one of my few night shots from my trip. By the time night falls, I am typically too tired from walking around to take anymore photos unfortunately.

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Cameras are everywhere in London and all over the UK I believe, making the country well deserving of its reputation as the most watched by police. The cameras everywhere seem to make the place feel safer, though.

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These instructions at crosswalks probably save thousands of tourist lives each year! It was a bit difficult to remember where to look at first at crosswalks without the writing. It gets even worse with one way streets.

After already seeing the DVD in French and English before leaving for France, I saw the Chicago musical in Londonâ??s famed West End. It was enjoyable and I got a decent deal on my tickets online. Since the musical is imported, it is probably better in New Yorkâ??s Broadway. Dozens of theatre productions run daily in London, compared to Saint John which has maybe only a couple dozen running one weekend per year.I had planned to visit St. Paulâ??s Cathedral which has a spectacular exterior. It cost nearly 10 pounds to get in though, which I decided was too much for just a church, so I just took pictures outside.

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There was a beautiful park surrounding part of the church, with lots of nice tall trees.

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The famous phone booths.

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A pigeon perches itself atop one of the church park walls.

In the shopping arena, I bought a few new shirts as well as a pair of shorts on Oxford Street from Marks & Spencer. I also visited Harrodâ??s, which seems to be a very stuffy and expensive store.

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They make you carry all backpacks in your hand, which gets tiring after about 3 seconds (hence why they are designed to be worn on the back!).

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Expensive luxury is king at Harrod’s.

The London Eye, which I went up in, allows you to see the whole city from high up. Taking photos from within the eye is difficult because of the glass, and it was also getting dark when I went up. The city was starting to light up though, so that was interesting.

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In the end, I saw plenty in London during my three days there. This concludes my blogging of the London part of my trip. You can now visit my gallery to see all of the photos I deemed worthy of posting. In my next post, I will discuss my travels in the ancient city of Rome!

London, UK (part 2)

On my first full day in London, I entertained myself by taking a bus tour around the city, since I was not sure what to see first. I canâ??t say I would really recommend the bus tour to anyone because the bus drives too fast past things to take decent pictures, and it was a bit expensive. Still, it gave me an idea of a few things to see later.

Walking around, I found Buckingham Palace. There was a marathon occurring on the same day, so many streets were blocked off. My first visit to Westminster was actually interrupted because of this, since there were just too many people around to take decent photos or see anything.

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The building itself did not seem too spectacular too me, although the gates and fountain out front (not shown above) do indicate that it is somehow special.

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There are guards and policemen out front, though I think their purpose is mainly to put on a good show for tourists than defend the palace from anything. The biggest threat to the Queen nowadays must certainly be anything that would affect her favourite tea brand, such as corporate mergers, etc.

The streets of London are quite rewarding with lots of tall office buildings everywhere. Businessmen running through the streets complete the picture of a bustling centre of finance and other white collar work.

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In the downtown core, skyscrapers line every street.

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Signage has a very clean and professional look to it. This sign here shows you how to get some of the city’s attractions, including London Bridge. It’s the 4th London bridge or so, as the other ones have fallen down, burned, or whatever they seem to do to it.

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This is a very stylish building. Note the old car approaching in the bottom centre.

The Tower of London was one of the major tourist attractions.

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Historically, it has served as a prison, site of hangings within the royal family, area of defense for the city of London, among other purposes.

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The Queen is still connected with it, and the chapel on site is still officially a religious place of worship.

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Inside the various buildings that make up the site, you could see the crowns of past kings and queens, tools used to torture people, and weapons. Photography wasnâ??t allowed everywhere though, so I didnâ??t get any pictures of the crowns or inside the chapel where many important people are buried. The best visuals anyways were outside.

In my next post, my last part about London!

London, UK (part 1)

Upon arriving in Central London, this is the first neighbourhood I saw, because my hostel was located here.

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It was a nice neighbourhood. This street must have been one way, although it was not unusual to see cars parked in the wrong direction on a side of the street (you could see two cars parked facing each other, implying that one must be wrong).

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The entrance to my hostel. It wasn’t too bad.

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A normal two way street in the residential area.

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Another neighbourhood shot.

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Sidewalk of the busy street, not far from the Underground station. There is a McDonald’s visible at the centre of this photograph, where I ate once on my first night, and a Burger King next door. These American chains are everywhere in London, which is unfortunate I think, because I would have preferred to see British chains instead, like I can see French chains in France that are more popular than the American ones.

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This sign is identical to the ones used in Europe. Combined with some French store chains on a few streets and plenty of people speaking French everywhere, I had to wonder for a second if I had really left French. I knew I was indeed in the UK after being surprised by cars and double decker buses pulling up from the left side of the road.

That’s all for now. In my next post, more London and eventually Rome. It is taking me some time to process my photos, and also make time to write up descriptions to go with them.

Arrived safely in London

I am writing right now from my hostel in London. My trip, including my first Ryanair flight, went OK. Despite what people say, I was actually impressed with the quality of Ryanair. The tacky interior did not bother me. I was just impressed that my large book bag filled up fit no problem into the overhead compartment.

France does have a dirty secret though. Their airport security in Poitiers was worse than what I expected in Saint John and Montreal. They confiscated my combination lock because it was a dangerous item, containing too much metal. What was I going to do with it, honestly?! Throw it at someone, knock them out, and then lock them up (without giving the combination)? Certainly a week-old French baguette (which would be allowed on board) is more dangerous, since those things get hard as rock, and become quite the weapon (the only useful purpose after a week, since they’re not a joy to eat anymore).

London, what little I have seen so far, is interesting and expensive. I dined tonight at McDonald’s since I arrived too late for dinner at the hostel. It is weird seeing cars drive on the wrong side of the road, as it is for many tourists, since all crosswalks in central London are labeled with a “Look left” or “Look right” message. It is also interesting that they don’t use the words “trash” or “garbage”. Instead, you put your weekly admail, homework assignments, etc. “rubbish” into a “rubbish bin”. That’s pretty much where my combination lock of many years has ended up.

I have no pictures yet. I’ll hopefully have plenty tomorrow in my first day around the motherland of the Commonwealth.