Rome, Italy (part 1)

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.

Canoeing and BBQ

Almost a week ago now, I learned that one of my fellow graduates, David Greenslade, had been killed in Afghanistan. I had only talked to him a few times in high school, only ever sharing one or two classes, but it was generally well known that he was well-liked. It is a very sad story indeed.

On Thursday, I finally got my bike from the city, and took my first bike in Europe for a few minutes on the way to school. The rental cost is very cheap at only 6 Euro per month, and it includes everything you’d need including lights, locks, and a helmet (if you want it). I’m almost tempted to take the bike back to Canada with me, since the deposit is only 100 Euro (which I haven’t even paid yet, they’re pretty easy going).

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On Friday, Eric was having a lot of fun with our washing machine. Since you can’t stop the machine once it starts, he had to rush when putting the soap in. He put waaaay too much in.

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On Saturday, me and 9 others walked a long way to a canoe rental place. As you may have guessed, we rented canoes there and went for 2 hours on the river here in Poitiers. I was steering my canoe, and I wasn’t the best at it. Needless to say, my canoe found every tree, posts, log, and even fishing line that was in the river. The fisherman who’s line we went over was not too happy. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of my own because I was afraid of dropping my camera into the river, but here are some that others took.

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We had to walk a ways through the woods before getting there. We walked on a dirt road which was named “Dirt Road” and even labelled as such on the map. Here, we’re standing before a bridge.

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Geting into our canoes. The ride was not as leisurely and relaxing as it should have been. One canoe even had a hole in it that would let water in (but not enough to sink it).

After the canoe ride, we came back to my flat where we had a barbecue with hamburgers and sausages. Our flat was a mess this morning with ashes from the fire everywhere, garbages, and dishes galore.

End of a busy week

This was the busiest week in a while. We did our presentation for Sustainable Development. Our project was to create a mutual fund company, and the professor was quite impressed with our presentation. I didn’t present myself. The professor chose two French students in our group to present. You can imagine how difficult it must be for them to present, with the added struggle of English as a second language.

On Friday, I wrote my exams for Human Resources Management. They were okay, but not amazing since I didn’t do too much studying. (Something about being away on a vacation of sorts, and only having to make a passing grade for university credit.)

I made time a few evenings this week to walk around Poitiers discovering a few new areas simply by following the river.

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The goats in the park near my flat are quite happy and active most of the time. I managed to catch a good shot of this one.

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It’s a good thing this river does not freeze. Many nice walls can be found edging people’s property along the river, a task that is difficult to accomplish in Canada with the yearly winter ice bringing destruction to even the toughest wall developments.

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Some old building thingy in one of the parks along the river. I climbed those narrow stairs and sat on top for a few minutes. Getting down was something I had not considered beforehand, as the steps were quite small and not easy to descend quickly.

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Flowers today in the “Park of Plants”. It felt very much like summer, and looks like it easily everywhere. Everything is very green and colourful already here.

I have posted many new pictures in my various gallery categories, but not too many in any one spot. That would be too simple, of course.

I’m taking it easy this weekend. I’m still waiting to rent a bike from the city, which seemingly gets in short supply this time of year.

Futuroscope

On Monday the 26th, I visited Futuroscope, which is a technology park situation on the edge of Poitiers, with my Tourism class. The day began with most of my class getting off the city bus confused and not sure where to go. We eventually found our way to the administrative entrance for a presentation organized by our professor from the park officials. They talked about how they run the park, and keep visitors coming.

Basically, the park used to be privately run, but it is now owned and operated by the local government. The architecture of the buildings is very cool and futuristic, although the actual attraction themselves have mixed reviews. I can’t complain too much because we got in free, but most parts of the park were just simulations where you sit and watch something. They were typically realistic with your chairs vibrating to match what you see on screen, as if you’re in the movie. One of the simulators even had a character that sneezes on the audience several times, resulting in blasts of water (I HOPE it was just water) being sprayed on your face.

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This is one of the best views within the park, with beautiful water being overlooked by a very unusual building. Our presentation was in that building at the very bottom. The Gyrotower can be seen in the background. I went up to the top of this tower (as one of the park’s few “rides”) where the entire park could be seen. According to the voiceovers, Futuroscope has some of the highest concentration of hotels in Europe with thousands of rooms available. Several technology related companies also make their home on site.

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Strange building with a huge ball on top. Also note the building to the right which also has an unusual shape like all the others.

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Modern art of some type

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The “Dancing with Robots” ride. I went on this and it was quite intense. You’re strapped to the end of a robotic arm which swings you all around. It’s about 2 minutes long, and you’re quite ready to get off at the end!

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That’s water running down the windows of this building (except above the door, thankfully!). Perhaps this is a possible solution that building owners in France could use in the event of a widespread window cleaner strike.

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These buildings must have been very expensive to create. Inside this one, I believe there was a nature film shown on large screens in front of you as well as below the clear glass floor, adding a bit extra sense of realism perhaps.

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An upside-down staircase, perhaps.

Overall, Futuroscope was very interesting. It’s unfair to compare it with Disneyland, simply because it does not try to have any thrill rides, but you can learn a lot, and play a lot with technology here. One attraction, which wasn’t running yet when I saw it, was a robot that can draw your portrait.

In other news, I decided that I did not like my Panasonic Lumix camera too much, so I returned it. It wasn’t bad, but it did lack some features and quality that I missed in my Canon. I bought the minor upgrade to my old camera, the Canon PowerShot S3 IS. It is almost the same as what I had. I plan to use it for the rest of my time in France, and then sell it on eBay before I leave to return to Canada where I can have my other camera repaired. I’m likely only going to live in France once, so I want a camera that I am very comfortable with.