A Travellerspoint blog

A Visit to the Vatican

Rome 2019 - Vatican City

sunny 36 °C
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Our next holiday this year was to Rome, my second time in the city after having previously visited after New Year in 2015. This time however it would be much hotter - by about 30˚C.

My cousin and aunt from New Zealand were also going to be in Rome at the same time, so after checking our plans we decided to head out on the same flight as my aunt, to be there at same time.

After working on Friday morning, we headed up to the airport and met up with my aunt just before security. Heading through and into the departure lounge we had a catch up after having not seen each other for three years.

The weather at home during this weekend was abysmal, and after sitting down in one of the restaurants, where we were joined by my sister who works up the airport and was on her break, we could see (or rather not see) the sheer level of rain hitting the roof window from outside. It was so heavy for so long that eventually one of the seals broke and the water started gushing in like an indoor waterfall. The people sat by the window themselves had to run to escape, leaving their belongings to get soaked, including one woman's entire dinner.

Flooded Airport

Flooded Airport

As we moved away due to the floor flooding, my sister called security to advise them, but they weren't interested - turns out this was by far the only place that had flooded and the whole airport was full of water. Not long after the water had broken through, the rainstorm had ended and the sun was shining again- however the sheer level of water that had entered meant it was going to take a long time to clean up. We could now see just how much rain there had been, as our view that had previously been blocked by water was now clear to see a plane at one of the gates surrounded by fire engines as it's cockpit was on fire! What an experience today!

By the time we were boarding the rain had ended and there were no problems, we took off as planned and arrived in Rome's airport a few hours later after having had a nice catch up on the journey over. Using the EU queue at immigration for what might be our last time, we headed for the train station to make our way to our hotel. Saying goodbye to my aunt until the following day in the city we finally arrived at our hotel just before midnight and after quickly settling in, headed to sleep before our next four days in the city.

Our first full day was spent at the Vatican. After breakfast we made our way to the Vatican Museums, waiting outside for my aunt and my cousin to join us. We spent the trip around the museum catching up with my cousin, who is travelling around Europe and who I hadn't seen since 2016.

Vatican Gardens

Vatican Gardens

Starting with the view of the dome and gardens we eventually made it to the highlight of the trip, the Sistine Chapel. After viewing the famous painting by Michelangelo, we headed through the secret entrance for tour groups only, luckily not being stopped and made our way directly to St. Peter's Basilica, saving us 2 hours and a wait in the hot midday sun.

Before entering the cathedral itself we made a trip up to the roof and dome. Getting the lift up, we entered around the inside rim of the dome looking down over the altar.

Inside the Dome

Inside the Dome


Walking up the dome

Walking up the dome

We then climbed up the dome itself, which at times felt like a fairground ride with slanted walls. Little did we realise at the time this is the tallest dome in the world and still meant another 231 steps after taking the lift! Nevertheless at the top the views were stunning and absolutely worth it.

Views from the top of the dome

Views from the top of the dome

After taking in the views, we headed back down to the roof before taking the lift down into the cathedral itself to explore.

Inside the Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral

We then made our way out of the cathedral and into St. Peter's Square crossing the border back into Italy.

St. Peter's Square

St. Peter's Square

By now it was early afternoon so we headed to a nearby restaurant for some food, which we followed afterwards with gelato. Having now seen the Vatican, and with three more days to explore the city, we left my aunt and cousin and headed back to the hotel via the supermarket to chill for the rest of the day.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 08:30 Archived in Vatican City Tagged rain church airport city cathedral plane border christianity Comments (4)

Completing Cornwall

Cornwall - Land's End, St. Ives & St. Austell

semi-overcast 21 °C
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Managing to get some sleep the previous night, we awoke for the second full day of our trip. After a busy first two days we decided to try and take today a bit easier, and after a lie in made our way to the Eden Project near St. Austell.

Although it didn't seem far on the map, it still took us an hour to get there. Upon arrival at this former quarry pit that has been converted into an ecological attraction, we made our way down the slopes and after entering gained view of the two biomes and surrounding landscaped gardens.

Eden Project

Eden Project

We started by exploring the gardens, which contain plants from the local area and the country as a whole, before making our way to the Tropical Biome. In here, there are an array of tropical plants, and a few animals that live in a tropical climate, kept at 28˚C and at the correct level of humidity.

Inside the Tropical Biome

Inside the Tropical Biome

After viewing the interesting alternate climate, we crossed the bridge and entered the Mediterranean biome. Less interesting as we had seen this climate for real many times, it was still clever how the plants can survive outside their natural area and it was very well kept.

Eventually we headed back to the car to continue our journey for the day. Our next stop was not far away - the small fishing village of Mevagissey, around 20 minutes on the other side of St. Austell.

Mevagissey

Mevagissey

We didn't stop long here, but enough time to wander around and get a feel for a real Cornish fishing village. Our next stop was Falmouth, which still took almost an hour to reach. Here we would stop at the Pendennis Castle, with views over the estuary where many small boats are moored.

By this time it was getting late so after driving back through Falmouth, through some of the streets that felt like they belonged on the other side of the English Channel, we headed back to our hotel.

Streets in Falmouth

Streets in Falmouth

After having dinner at the restaurant next door we chilled for the evening when a sore throat started to come on! The following morning after a nice rest the sore throat was still there but nevertheless we progressed with our final full day in Cornwall.

We first started at St. Michael's Mount, a tidal island located off the coast near Penzance. Wanting to be able to walk along the causeway we checked the tidal times and thus went there first thing.

St. Michael's Mount

St. Michael's Mount

After parking we walked along the beautiful causeway and walked into the port where the shops were beginning to open. It was a very small quaint place and after buying some souvenirs we continued with today's trip by heading down to Land's End.

Although it didn't seem far on the map, again it took much longer than expected. After about 40 minutes we arrived at the very commercialised attraction, bought some souvenirs, and took in views of the last point on Great Britain.

Land's End

Land's End

The next place on our list was the Minack Theatre, located just around the corner. This theatre is built into the cliff face and has beautiful views of the sea and nearby beaches. At the time we were there, rehearsals for the next play were taking place so we got to witness a performance without having to pay for it!

Minack Theatre

Minack Theatre

After this we headed down to Lizard Point, the southernmost point on Great Britain, and the only bit located below 50˚N. Unlike Land's End this was not as commercialised, but still had stunning cliffs.

Lizard Point

Lizard Point

On our way back from Lizard Point we stopped off at Loe Bar, a tombolo which has created a lake in a former estuary.

Loe Bar

Loe Bar

After walking along the Cornish coast we had just one more place to visit whilst down here, and that was the town of St. Ives. By this time however I was fed up of the other tourists, from being downright inconsiderate to the worst of what England can offer. It's almost as if all the manners that English people have suddenly disappears the moment they are on holiday. Everytime we saw some nice people, they turned out to be foreign!

Upon arriving in St. Ives it was a mess. Car parks were located all around the town, which was completely incapable with coping. It has small winding extremely hilly streets which end up on the main promenade, full of people who couldn't care less if they were about to be ran over. And yet there is no way around it, as there is a one way loop. When you eventually end up where you need to be it turns out the car park is full anyway. What the town needs is a large car park outside that can cope with all visitors, with a bus/footpath into the town. All roads beyond this point being pedestrianised and for locals only. The amount of money that the council make from car parking could easily fund this but simple disorganisation and mismanagement prevents it.

To make matters worse, when we finally found a car park with spaces, the machines went down preventing anyone from buying a ticket. However as the town did look beautiful we went out of our way in order to pay it a visit.

We didn't stay overly long, with the skanky tourists, the harassing seagulls starting to grate, as well as the time getting on, so after a walk around the town and relax on the beach we headed back to the hotel for dinner and a chilled evening.

St. Ives

St. Ives

After breakfast the following morning, we got the rest of our bits together and headed on our way back home. Again this would take hours, so we made a few stops en route.

After an hour we still hadn't reached where we left the main road to the Eden Project, but the further we got out of Cornwall the better the roads tended to get. We branched off as we got to the Cornwall/Devon border and headed into Dartmoor. Again many winding roads, but as we drove through the moorland we did see lots of scenery and wild animals.

Cow on Dartmoor

Cow on Dartmoor

After a brief stop at the visitor centre we continued the long drive through the winding roads of Devon, before eventually making it towards Exeter, and onwards home. Managing to dodge an 90 minute traffic jam by whizzing around the local roads near Salisbury we eventually made it home just before rush hour!

850 miles in the last five days, but we had managed to see such beautiful scenery. Had the other tourists not lost their manners it would have been more enjoyable but it was still a nice trip away.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 03:15 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged animals nature beach scenery island cornwall Comments (0)

Beyond Britain

Cornwall - Salisbury, Shaftesbury, Camborne, Penzance & Isles of Scilly

semi-overcast 19 °C
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Just ten days after getting back from Lithuania, our next holiday was upon us. We were going to take a road trip down to Cornwall, similar to the one we took back in 2016 to the Bristol area, although this time it would be longer.

Avoiding the upcoming school holidays, which would add even more travel time to this already long enough journey, we travelled down on Thursday morning after rush hour with plans to stop off and break up the journey en route. After around 2 hours we reached the first stopping point - Salisbury.

Salisbury is an old traditional city in Wiltshire, and has a couple of sights. The first we planned to stop at was Old Sarum - the old hilltop where the city was previously located. However when we arrived we changed our minds about entering - it seemed very overpriced and we weren't going to stop for long, so instead we got back in the car and headed to the centre of the city.

We then stopped at Salisbury Cathedral, one of the most impressive cathedrals in the UK, and also took a look at one of the surviving copies of the Magna Carta which is on display here.

Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral

Dodging any traces of Novichok after walking past the Zizzi's restaurant, we had a look around the city centre before heading back to the car to drive across Cranborne Chase, to our next stop in Shaftesbury.

Shaftesbury is a very small town in north Dorset, which we stopped at due to the beautiful Gold Hill, a steep cobbled street made famous by the Hovis bread advert.

Gold Hill

Gold Hill

After a short stop viewing the hill, we then carried on with our long drive, stopping off at the odd service station before finally entering Cornwall. Not long later we made it to Bodmin Moor, where we stopped off at the Jamaica Inn, a traditional coaching inn with a history of smuggling.

Jamaica Inn

Jamaica Inn

Eventually after spending all day driving down to Cornwall we arrived in Camborne, where we would be staying for the next four nights. However we still needed to grab dinner and food for the weekend, so we quickly headed back out to grab a quick meal. Whilst there we stopped by a local tin mine that had been converted into an attraction, before stopping by the local supermarket to buy supplies and fill up with petrol.

Mine

Mine

The time driving between home and Exeter and that of Exeter and western Cornwall was almost the same, despite the latter being a much shorter distance. Although the roads in Cornwall were not as bad as I had been expecting, they were certainly substandard with many bottlenecks, even on the major arterial roads. By the time we had arrived I had already taken the view that we should see everything now so we didn't need to come back and visit for another 25 years!

Having been a long day today, and with an early start the following morning, we took an early night. Annoyingly though I couldn't sleep, and in the end I must have got less than two hours all night - not ideal!

Nevertheless as the morning progressed I didn't feel quite so bad, so we continued with our plan to visit the Isles of Scilly - there would still be time to turn back, but ultimately this was unnecessary, even though I did start to develop gum/toothache.

Penzance Harbour

Penzance Harbour

We had arrived nice and early ready to board the boat for our 2hr45m journey from Penzance into the Atlantic. Having napped during the boat trip, eventually arriving at midday we had four hours to wander around Hugh Town, the largest town on St. Mary's - the largest island in the archipelago.

Hugh Town

Hugh Town

The sea around the islands is a luscious blue, and there are an array of more tropical plants growing naturally than can be seen on Great Britain. It had a mix of a Mediterranean feel, mixed with traditional English buildings. We started by taking a walk up the hill to the west of the town, before walking around the town itself.

Beach

Beach

After having lunch at a local restaurant we headed towards the west end of the town, sitting by the beach as well as waking up the hill.

Views over Hugh Town

Views over Hugh Town

By now it was almost time to head home, we boarded the boat and found it much busier than the outward bound trip this morning. Being a Friday afternoon there were lots of returning school children headed back to the mainland. Unfortunately we got stuck amongst them, and one group (with their ringleader 'Ella') proceed on shouting "Merry Christmas" to every passing peer. After three hours this became quite tiresome, especially as she was dressed like a slut parading around with tiny shorts and a massive hoodie.

Finally we arrived back in Penzance, and after squeezing past all the parents waiting for their annoying children, we made it back to the car and headed back to the hotel, where hopefully I could get some sleep tonight!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 03:38 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged islands boat beach summer cathedral cornwall Comments (0)

Castles & Towers

Lithuania & Belarus - Trakai & Vilnius

semi-overcast 27 °C
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After a busy day in Belarus, and with a flight home in the evening, we had the day to explore Vilnius properly, as well as the local area. One place I had missed on my first visit to Lithuania was Trakai, and this time I definitely wanted to visit the small town.

Still having stomach discomfort I ended up skipping most of the breakfast but was definitely on the mend a lot quicker. By the time we had checked out and headed to the bus station, I was already starting to feel a bit better and the half hour bus ride was fine.

Trakai Castle

Trakai Castle

Trakai is located just outside Vilnius, and is a small town located on a thin strip of land between two lakes. At the northern end of the town on a small island just into the lake is a large castle. This castle has now become one of the icons of Lithuania and the whole area is surrounded by gift shops, cafés and boats for hire.

Little shops on the waterfront

Little shops on the waterfront


Castle Walls

Castle Walls

We weren't bothered about visiting the insides of the castle, but we did take a walk around the island outside the walls, and edge of the lake. If we had more time this would have been a nice place to spend the day. Having taken the mini tourist bus up there from the bus station, we walked back through the pretty village on foot, and caught the next bus back to Vilnius.

We had taken a short walk around the southern part of the city centre when we had arrived on Saturday, and today we went to explore the northern part, walking back past the Town Square, before the Presidential Palace and arriving at the Cathedral Square.

Cathedral Square

Cathedral Square

After sitting and enjoying the summer sunshine in this beautiful square, we then headed towards the Gediminas Tower, and luckily found the funicular was working, saving our already aching feet from a steep walk up the hillside.

Gediminas Tower

Gediminas Tower

At the top, a lot of the castle hill was undergoing renovation which meant we couldn't see the views of the south side of the city, but the views from the north and the tower were still nice.

We then headed back down, and walked passed the St. Anne's Church and through the bohemian Užupis area before finally heading back to our hotel to collect our luggage

St. Anne's Church

St. Anne's Church

Eventually after a busy trip we made it to the airport and without any delays headed home. Unfortunately due to our long delay on the way out it meant the holiday was a little more rushed than we would have liked, but nevertheless it was still an enjoyable trip.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 10:13 Archived in Lithuania Tagged tower church lake city island hill castle lithuaniabelarus Comments (2)

Off to see the Wrestling

Lithuania & Belarus - Vilnius & Minsk

semi-overcast 27 °C
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After 8 months without any foreign trips, it was finally time for this year's to begin. The first being a trip to Lithuania and Belarus.

We began with an early start to get to Luton Airport for our flight just before 8. Annoyingly however as we waited to board our flight, our aircraft was given to the delayed Warsaw passengers and instead we had to wait two hours for a new aircraft to be flown over to us. This wasn't helped by the fact every morning I'd had terrible stomach pains from a virus I still wasn't over.

Two failed boardings later we eventually made it onto the aircraft. As with my previous flight to Vilnius, I was once again delayed and ended up having to change plans for the day.

Vilnius Town Hall

Vilnius Town Hall

We no longer had all afternoon to explore Vilnius, and instead only a few hours for a quick wander. It also meant that we didn't get chance to visit the KGB museum as this would be closed on our only other opportunity this weekend. A real pity.

Gates of Dawn

Gates of Dawn

The following day - our only full one on this short weekend trip - we made our way to Belarus to watch the wrestling!
I had wanted to visit Belarus for some time, with it being a blank on my map. However normally visas are required (unless flying in and out of Minsk Airport, which has no cheap flights). Meanwhile there are tonnes of convenient cheap flights to Vilnius, just across the border.

Back in 2014 Belarus had temporarily removed their visa requirements for the World Ice Hockey Championships. But as this was right at the time I got my new job I therefore didn't know whether I'd have the time or money to go, and so had missed the opportunity.

This time things were different. Belarus were hosting the European Games, and by purchasing a ticket for £4.60, the whole visa process was unnecessary. We were free and could have a cheap and easy holiday. Looking at the dates we could go and the events that were on so that it would look convincing, the best option was to visit Belarus on Sunday 30th, when the finals of the Wrestling were on for just two hours during the middle of the day. Did I know anything or care about wrestling? No. But it could be fun anyway!

After going through passport control we boarded our train with our breakfast in tow, ready for our two and a half hour train ride to Minsk. After around 45 minutes we reached the border, and Belorussian military-looking border officials boarded inspecting everyone's passports. We gave them our European Games tickets which they inspected, and accepted and not long after we were back on our way through the Belorussian countryside.

Eventually after a slightly rough train ride (which didn't help my stomach) we made it to sunny Minsk. We had several hours to explore the city before the Wrestling began - which we decided we should watch just in case we were checked on the way home.

After changing €40 into Belorussian Roubles, we headed into the city - beginning at the Gates of Minsk opposite the station, two Stalinist towers marking the entrance to the centre of Minsk.

Gates of Minsk

Gates of Minsk

[We then headed over towards Independence Square, home of the parliament and the city's iconic Roman Catholic church, where there were lots of flags and banners for both the European Games and the upcoming 30th anniversary of Belorussian independence.

Independence Square

Independence Square


Victory Square

Victory Square

After then taking the metro across the city towards Victory Square, dedicated to Minsk's time through the Second World War, we then headed down Independence Avenue towards the Palace of the Republic.

Having seen much of the city's Stalinist architecture, we were now headed into the old part of the city, which had more of a feel of Poland and Lithuania.

The Orthodox Cathedral

The Orthodox Cathedral

Stopping off for souvenirs by the town hall, we then walked past the city's Orthodox Cathedral, towards the Opera and Ballet Theatre.

Opera Theatre

Opera Theatre


Trinity District

Trinity District

Beside the beautifully meandering river, with it's parkland banks is the oldest part of the city, the Trinity District, with small old winding streets and houses that have mostly been converted into shops and restaurants. On the opposite side of the river is the Sports Palace where we were headed to for the Wrestling, as well as an open air fan zone with local entertainment, food, souvenirs and photoshoots with the Fox mascot - Lesik.

Local Entertainment

Local Entertainment

By now we were on track and the event was starting in just half an hour, so we entered the Arena and found our seats watching the build up before the event itself started. I had no idea what was going on, but nevertheless the chance to enjoy an international event, and mix up the long day in the city was actually pretty enjoyable.

Inside the Wrestling

Inside the Wrestling

Thomas Bach awarding the medalists

Thomas Bach awarding the medalists

After the event ended, we walked past Thomas Bach, head of the Olympics, who was attneding the event also, and headed out of the city towards Victory Park, where there is a more modern and grand monument to the city following it's awarding as "Hero City" following it's occupation during the Second World War.

Victory Park

Victory Park

The parkland beside the river was a pleasant place to spend time cooling down from the heat of the summer sunshine, and we walked further north towards the Palace of Independence, Expo Centre and Flag Square.

Palace of Independence

Palace of Independence

After a lot of walking we decided to take the bus back into the city. However despite my best efforts we still could not work out how to buy a ticket! Apparently we could buy one from the driver, but as he was in the front compartment we didn't pass him to buy one. After then abandoning the first bus ride we hovered around thinking whether to walk (but ruled out as being too far and too hot), or ride illegally (it was only 4 stops). Maybe we could just hop on and off the next few stops so we wouldn't be arrested! I mean we had the money anyway - maybe could we play at being stupid foreigners?

And then we saw it, a different bus passed by, and someone reached into the hatch and bought tickets from the driver! So there we were, let's take the next bus and ride properly. However when we got on it was packed and we couldn't reach the driver. Debating whether to get off at the next stop and board a quieter bus or push our way through, we arrived at the next stop when a local woman boarded and pushed her way through. We followed her and then managed to buy our own tickets! What a stressful experience!

Not long later we arrived back in the city centre. After buying some souvenirs we then headed back towards the station to grab some snacks and have dinner. After a long hot day of sightseeing we were ready to go home. Changing our money back and getting €35 returned, we waited for the train to turn up and board back to Lithuania. Three hours later we were finally back from our busy, but interesting day trip to Belarus.

It was a surprising experience, I had few visions of this generally forgotten part of Europe, and had expected it to be a tragic dump, but actually it was very beautiful, clean and green, and I would really recommend it to anyone who can be bothered to go through the process of getting a visa!

Posted by kmmk17 03:58 Archived in Belarus Tagged park airport river sport city old plane border sickness lithuaniabelarus Comments (2)

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