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Category: Places & Points of Interest

Sydney and Melbourne, Australia

Sydney and Melbourne, Australia

In March 2018 I made my first trip to Australia to visit Sydney and Melbourne. It was a beautiful country and I really enjoyed my visit. The only downside was the 14 hour flight to get there from San Francisco. Scroll below to see some of the highlights from the trip as well as links to my photo albums.

Sydney

Sydney is located on the eastern coast of Australia and is the largest city in the country. It is perhaps most famous for landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The city had a West Coast (of North America) feel with its location on the water reminding me of the Pacific Northwest and its beach front neighborhoods reminding me of California.

View from Mrs Macquarie's Chair

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Completed in 1932 the Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of the largest and most well known Through Arch Bridges. Guided walks along the arch of the bridge, secured by a wire lifeline, are offered by BridgeClimb. Although costly this was one of the highlights of my trip. There is also a pedestrian walkway over the bridge which offers free views of the Harbour, Opera House, and the City Centre.

View from the Pylon Lookout

Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Opera House, with its distinct roof ,is among the most famous buildings in the world. It is located in a majestic setting on Bennelong Point, which extends into Sydney Harbour. Tours are available of the inside but you can walk around the perimeter of the building for free. The best views of the Opera House are from nearby Mrs Macquarie's Chair or from ferries departing from Circular Quay.

Hyde Park

Hyde Park is the oldest park in Australia and is named for Hyde Park in London. It offers 40 acres of green space in the otherwise urban Central Sydney. There are a number of monuments in the park including the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) War Memorial and the Archibald Fountain.

Archibald Fountain
Captain Cook Statue
ANZAC War Memorial and Pool of Reflection
Hyde Park Obelisk

Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach, in Sydney's Eastern Suburbs,is among the list of Australia's must see beaches. While there are a number of things to do my favorite was swimming at the neighboring Bondi Icebergs Club. The club includes an Olympic length saltwater pool built into the cliffs south of the beach. Visitors are welcome for a small fee ($7 AUD as of March 2018). Another highlight was the Coastal Walk which is a pathway along the rocky shoreline that leads to neighboring beaches.

Bondi Beach
Bondi Baths
Bondi Baths
Coastal Walk

Manly Beach

Manly beach is another well known beach that is in the Northern Coastal Suburbs. There is a direct 30 minute ferry from the City Centre making it easy to get to. The ferry terminal and the beach are connected by The Corso, a strip lined with shops and restaurants.

Wild Life Sydney Zoo

Wild Life Sydney Zoo is a small zoo located in Darling Harbour. They specialize in animals native to Australia such as Kangaroos, Koalas, and wallabies.

Koalas
Kangaroo
A Crocodile
A Wallaby

Melbourne

Melbourne is the capital and largest city in the state of victoria and second largest city in Australia. It is a cultural hub and is frequently rated among the world's most livable cities.

City Centre

Located on the north bank of the Yarra River, the City Centre of Melbourne is home to some of the cities biggest attractions and a trendy restaurant scene. One of my favorite things to see were the various murals that have been painted along the neighborhood's alleyways. The free City Circle Tram makes it easy to explore the area.

Flinders Street Station
St Pauls Cathedral
City Circle Tram
Melbourne Forum
Block Arcade
Degraves Street
Hosier Lane
AC/DC Lane

Shrine of Remembrance

The Shrine of Remembrance is a memorial built in the classical stye that honors all Australians who have served in war. It is located in the Kings Domain area of Melbourne.

Parliament House

The Parliament House is the seat of the state government of Victoria. Open houses are offered on days the Parliament is not sitting and provide an opportunity to explore the impressive architecture of the interior. The Queen's Hall, Legislative Halls, and Library are among the must see rooms in the building.

Queen's Hall
Legislative Assembly
Parliament Gardens

State Library of Victoria

The State of Victoria's Central Library features a large collection of over 2 million books. The library is worth a visit if for no other reason than to see the spectacular Dome Room.

The Dome reading room
The Dome reading room

Queen Victoria Market

Queen Victoria Market is an open air street market dating back to the 19th century. The central hub of the market is full of vendors selling clothing, electronics, and souvenirs. The Meat and Fish Hall across the street has an assortment of local food.

Central Hub
Meat and Fish Hall

Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road is a stretch of highway along the southwest coast of Victoria. The road was built by soldiers returning from World War I to provide access to previously isolated communities. The 151 mile drive features beach towns, rain-forests, and the dramatic coastline of Port Campbell National Park. The start of the road is within a couple hours of Melbourne and can be seen as a long day trip.

Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch

Twelve Apostles

The Twelve Apostles are a series of limestone stack formations. They are one of the main attractions at Port Campbell National Park.

Loch Arch Gorge

Loch Ard Gorge is a narrow waterway surrounded by steep cliffs inside Port Campbell National Park. The gorge features a beach, which is accessible via stairs.

For anyone interested in seeing more pictures from Australia check out my photo albums on Facebook or Pinterest:

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Hong Kong and Macau

Hong Kong and Macau

In January 2016, as part of a trip to East Asia I visited Hong Kong and Macau which are Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China. Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997 while Macau was a Portuguese colony until 1999. They each maintain political and economic systems that operate separately from mainland China. The combination of Chinese and Western influences make these very unique regions. scroll below to see some of my favorite places as well as links to all of my photos from Hong Kong and Macau.

Victoria Peak

Victoria Peak is a mountain on Hong Kong Island with amazing views of the Central District and Victoria Harbour. The main tourist attraction on the mountain is the Peak Tower, about 500 feet from the top, which has shops, restaurants, and a viewing platform. The Peak Tram provides access from the city centre.

View from the Peak Tower
View from the Peak Tower
Night time view from the top of the Peak Tram
Peak Tram

Central District

The Central District is the economic and political heart of Hong Kong dating back to its history as a British colony. Today it is one of the world's premier financial hubs with an impressive collection of skyscrapers. The surrounding streets are lined with shops, restaurants, and nightlife. The neighborhood is truly cosmopolitan with influences from all over the globe.

Central District Skyline
Gage Street, one of many filled with markets and eateries
Lan Kwai Fong, home to many bars, restaurants, and nightlife
Bank of China Tower
Central-Mid Levels Escalators
St Johns Cathedral
Hong Kong Tramway, known locally as the "Ding Ding"

Victoria Harbour

Victoria Harbour is a deep water port surrounded by the skyscrapers of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. While there are great vantage points from the shoreline, a ferry ride across is a must do. The Star Ferry crosses frequently and costs less than $1 USD (as of May 2018).

Victoria Harbour and the Central District Skyline
Star Ferry
Central Ferry Pier

A Symphony of Lights

"A Symphony of Lights" is a light and sound show that takes place every night at 8:00pm and lasts for about 14 minutes. 47 buildings around Victoria Harbour participate in the show which include lasers, lights, fireworks, and music. Tsim Sha Tsui, across the harbour from the Central District provides a great vantage point.

Ngong Ping

Ngong Ping is a village in the highlands of Lantau Island. The main attraction is the 112 foot tall Tian Tan Buddha. A gondola provides easy access to the Tung Chung Train Station and the rest of Hong Kong.

Historic Center of Macau

The Historic Centre of Macau consists of public spaces, religious buildings and other historic monuments that date back centuries. Named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, the core of the former Portuguese Colony is a melting pot of architecture and culture.

Ruins of St Paul
Senado Square
Dom V Pedro Theatre

Cotai Strip

The Cotai Strip is a section of Macau that is home to a number of large casino resorts. The most notable of these is the Venetian Hotel, which is themed after Venice, Italy and has a sister property in Las Vegas. The Cotai Strip has helped contribute to Macau's title as the "Gambling Capital of the World."

Venetian Macau
Grand Canal Shops, Venetian Macau

For anyone interested in seeing more pictures from Hong Kong and Macau check out my photo albums on Facebook or Pinterest:

Hong Kong

Macau

Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota)

Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota)

While people often think of North Dakota of as being a flat endless prairie, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is anything but that. Protecting the badlands of the state, the park is a scenic expanse of buttes, gullies, rivers, and grasslands. A large amount of wildlife live in the area including prairie dogs and bison.

Theodore Roosevelt made multiple visits to the then Dakota Territory between 1883 and 1896. He credits his experience as being influential to his conservationist policies as a politician. These included creating the Forest Service, the establishment of five National Parks, and the signing of the Antiquities Act which allows the president to protect federal lands.  Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park was established in 1947 to honor Roosevelt. In 1978, it was changed to a National Park.

Visitor Information

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is always open although some facilities are closed during the winter. Effective June 2018 admission is $30 per vehicle and is valid for one week. Camping sites are available for an additional charge. The park is separated into the North Unit and South Unit with admission being good for both. All of the pictures above are of the South Unit.

How to Get There

To get to the more accessible South Unit, take exit 24 (if traveling east) or exit 27 (if traveling west) from Interstate 94 and follow signs for the park. Once inside, a scenic loop road provides access to various points of interest. To get to the North Unit take 42 from Interstate 94 and then travel north on to US Highway 85 for about 50 miles.

Location of the South Unit of Theodore  Roosevelt National Park
Location of the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park

When to Go

Spring and fall are the best times of year to visit. It is cold and snowy during the winter while summer is very hot. Either include as part of a cross country trip along Interstate 94 or as a stop on a road trip of the High Plains.

The Black Hills (South Dakota and Wyoming)

The Black Hills (South Dakota and Wyoming)

The Black Hills are a mountain range in western South Dakota and eastern Wyoming. While it is probably most famous as the site of Mount Rushmore, there are some other remarkable places which I mention below. A trip to this beautiful region is something that everyone should experience at least once.

Mt Rushmore

One of the most iconic places in the United States, Mt Rushmore was carved between 1927 and 1941. The mountain features the faces of four U.S. presidents (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore  Roosevelt, and Abe Lincoln) which were chosen to represent U.S. history up to that point. The initial design called for presidents to be depicted from head to waist (you can see part of George Washington's collar) but funding ran out before that ambitious design could be completed.

side profile of George Washington, Mount Rushmore

Wind Cave National Park

Wind Cave National Park includes one of the longest and most complex cave systems in the world. The caves are particulary know for the boxwork (pictured below) made of thin blades of calcite. Above the surface is a Prime habitat for bison.

boxwork

Badlands National Park

Located about 1 hour east of Mt Rushmore, Badlands National Park contain colorful geologic formations that are rich with fossils. It is a surreal landscape that contrasts greatly with the surrounding prairie.

Devils Tower (Wyoming)

Devils tower is a butte in the Black Hills that rises at least 1200 feet above the surrounding landscape. It was established in 1906 as the very first national monument.

Deadwood

Deadwood is a town in the Black Hills known for it's Gold Rush era architecture that is preserved as a National Historic Landmark District.

Sint Maarten/Saint Martin/Anguilla

Sint Maarten/Saint Martin/Anguilla

I've heard it said before that if you've seen one beach, you have seen them all. From plane watching to people watching, that was not the case on my recent trip to the Caribbean. I went to the Island of St Martin which is split between the southern Dutch side of Sint Maarten and the northern French side of Saint Martin. At just 34 square miles it is the smallest island in the world that is divided between two countries. May is an off peak time of year to visit so I was able to get great deals on both airfare and a room at a beachfront resort.

View from the hotel pool

For getting around, I mostly rode the minibuses, which i would recommend. It only costs $1.50 per ride (as of May 2017) and they travel very frequently between the major areas on the island. Taxis are also available and were convenient to get to places off the bus routes such as Orient Beach.

A Minibus

I also made a day trip to the nearby island of Anguilla, a British territory, which compared to St Martin feels deserted. On top of the amazing beaches on both islands, the food was delicious and the people were friendly. Below are the highlights:

Maho Beach

Maho Beach is world famous for its location on the final approach into Princess Juliana International Airport. It has the white sand and teal water of many other Caribbean beaches, but the low flying aircraft make this a unique experience. Afternoon is the best time to go see larger planes arriving from the United States and Europe. People also line up to feel the jet blast of departing aircraft. This can be dangerous as sand (and other belongings) get blown all over. There are bars on both sides of the beach for anyone that wants to enjoy the view more comfortably.

Philipsburg

Philipsburg is the capital of the Dutch Side of the Island. It was enjoyable just to walk around and see the various shops, restaurants, and historic buildings. There were no cruise ships in port the day I went down there so the town felt somewhat empty and there were less places open.

Orient Beach

Nicknamed the French Riviera of the Caribbean, Orient Beach is one of the most popular beaches on the island and a great spot for people watching. There are restaurants and bars along the beach while chairs/umbrellas are available to rent for $10 (as of May 2017) which also includes 1 free drink and Wifi access.

Marigot/Fort Louis

Marigot is the capital of the French Side of St Martin. It is also the location of the ferry terminal to Anguilla. Overlooking the town is Fort Louis, built in 1789 to defend the harbor warehouses. The Fort is a very short walk from the ferry terminal and offers great views.

Anguilla/Rendezvous Bay 

Anguilla is a British Overseas Territory that is a 20 minute ferry ride from Marigot, Saint Martin. The Island has no flights outside the Caribbean and no cruise ship terminal so it is much less crowded than St Martin. The ferry runs every 45 minutes and costs $20 plus a small departure tax (as of May 2017). The water in between the islands is pretty gentle (I get motion sickness so this was a concern for me).

I went to Rendezvous Bay Beach which was not too far from the ferry terminal. I would consider it tied with Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos as the nicest beach I have ever been to. The sand is smooth with no rocks and the water is calm, shallow, and a comfortable temperature.  There were hardly any people there which made it even more relaxing.

Rendezvous Bay
Street in Anguilla
Ferry between Marigot and Anguilla
Highlights and Recap of London, England

Highlights and Recap of London, England

Following Dublin, the final stop of the trip was London. I would compare London to New York  in the sense that it was a good mix of residents and tourists. It was probably my favorite city on the trip. There are so many sites to see (I've detailed the places I went below) and I really enjoyed the cityscape as I explored. It is very walkable and the Tube makes it easy to get around. Where as with all the other stops on the trip I felt I spent enough time there, I could have stayed in London for at least a couple more days. Instead It was time to go home. Europe was so much fun and I can't wait to go back and see more.

Westminster/Parliament/Buckingham Palace

The City of Westminster, a borough in central London, is home to some of the sites most associated with London. These include Big Ben, the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace. The Palace of Westminster (also known as the Houses of Parliament) was built between 1840 and 1870 and after the original palace was destroyed by fire. While Big Ben is always shows in pictures, I thought the tower on the opposite side of the building (Victoria Tower) was much more impressive.

Big Ben
Palace of Westminster
Victoria Tower (Westminster Palace)
Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace
Westminster Bridge

London Eye

The London Eye is a massive Ferris wheel located on the edge of the Thames River. It was a 45 minute wait to ride (I did not have an advanced ticket) but definitely worth the great views of London.

View of Golden Jubilee Bridges
View of Westminster Palace and Big Ben

Tower Bridge

The Tower Bridge is perhaps the most iconic site in London. It is a drawbridge although that function is not used very often. For years I've wondered what was inside the bridge towers. Well it turns out its mostly stairs. The walk through is pretty cool though. You go in one tower, across the walkways at the top, and then back down on the other side. At the center of the walkway is a glass floor so you can look right down at the bridge and the river.

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View from glass floor

British Museum 

The permanent collection at the British Museum is one of the largest in the world and contains artifacts from every continent. It is free to visit although the line to get through security at the main entrance can be pretty long. There was no line for the North Entrance however which is around the block.

Rosetta Stone
Oxus Treasure
Lion Hunt reliefs
Lewis Chessman

The Monument

The Monument is a 202 foot high column built to commemorate the Great Fire of London (1666). There is a staircase inside for anyone interested in going to the top.

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is home to Olympic Stadium (now used for Premier League football (soccer)) and some of the main primary venues from the 2012 London Olympic Games. Unfortunately they dismantled the Olympic Cauldron after the games were finished but there is a bell displayed outside the stadium which was used in the Opening Ceremony. I'm a fan of visiting sites from previous Olympics such as those in Atlanta (hosted 1996) and Seoul (hosted 1988) so this was very exciting for me. For people less interested in the Olympics, they have made a really nice public space around the area and there is shopping nearby.

Olympic Stadium
Olympic Bell, rung to open the 2012 games
London Aquatics Centre
London Aquatics Centre
ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture
ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture

Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus is a major intersection and popular tourist destination located in the West End of London. There are a number of shops, restaurants and theaters nearby. The building pictured below normally has neon signs but they were undergoing renovation and were covered by advertisements.

Warner Bros Studio Tour/Making of Harry Potter

Warner Brothers Studios, Leavesden (outside of London) is where they filmed all of the Harry Potter movies. The tour included sets and props from the films. I'm a fan of the movies (and the books) so it was all very surreal. I also enjoyed learning some behind the scenes info on the making of the movies. Tours sell out months in advance so be sure to book tickets early.

Model of Hogwarts Castle
Great Hall set
Various props from the films

For anyone interested in seeing more pictures from England go check out my photo albums on Facebook or Pinterest.

Highlights and Recap of Dublin, Ireland

Highlights and Recap of Dublin, Ireland

After leaving Italy, I flew directly to Dublin, Ireland. Ireland has been on my list of places to visit for awhile. I would have liked to have stayed longer so I could see the countryside, but due to time constrains a visit to the capital city would have to do. Compared to some places in Italy, especially Venice, Dublin felt much more like a city people lived in as opposed to being full of tourists. After a week of lines and crowds, it was a nice change of pace. The weather was a little chilly (in the 60s) but still not too bad.

Not to further any stereotypes, but there was no shortage of drinking establishments. My favorites were some of the older pubs in and around the Temple Bar area and of course the Guinness Storehouse. Dublin also had some notable architecture such as the Dublin Castle, Samuel Beckett Bridge and St Patrick's Cathedral (detailed below). It was a very laid back couple of days before heading to London for the conclusion of the trip.

 

St Patrick's Cathedral

St Patrick's Cathedral serves as the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland and is the largest church in the country. The cathedral was built in the Gothic style and completed in 1191. Even though I had an advanced ticket to enter, it would not have been necessary as the line was very short. There were free tours offered which were very informative.

Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle was once the seat of the British Government when Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. Today it is a government complex and tourist attraction. St Patrick's Hall (the large blue room) is used for presidential inaugurations and state dinners. While it is free to view the outside of the castle and grounds, there is a small fee (7 Euros as of April 2017) to tour the State Apartments inside.

St Patrick's Hall
The Portrait Gallery
The Dubhlinn Gardens
The Dubhlinn Gardens

Temple Bar

Temple Bar is a neighborhood in Central Dublin that has a large number of bars and restaurants.

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Guinness Storehouse

Located at the Guinness Brewery, the Guinness Storehouse is a seven story building with exhibits on how the beer is made and a history of the company. There are also optional experiences such as how to pour the perfect pint. At the top is the Gravity Bar where you can get a beer (included with the price of admission) and enjoy the view of Dublin.

View from the Gravity Bar at the top

St Stephen's Green

St Stephen's Green is a rectangular shaped park located near the city center of Dublin. It opened to the public in 1880 and is 22 acres in size.

O'Connell Street/Spire of Dublin

O'Connell Street is the main thoroughfare in Dublin. The wide boulevard is lined with shops and has multiple monuments in the center. One of the these is the 390 foot high Spire of Dublin, completed in 2003 as part of a revival of the area. A committee selected the design after holding an international competition.

River Liffey

The River Liffey is a river that runs right through the heart of the city. Two of the Notable crossings are the Ha'penny Bridge and the Samuel Beckett Bridge which is shaped like a harp (the national symbol of Ireland) lying on it's side.

Ha'penny Bridge
Samuel Beckett Bridge
Samuel Beckett Bridge

To view more pictures from Ireland check out my photo albums on Facebook or Pinterest.

Florence and the Rest of My Time in Italy

Florence and the Rest of My Time in Italy

Following a visit to Rome I took a bullet train on a short hour and a half ride to Florence. From Florence I made side trips to Pisa and the Cinque Terre. The final stop in Italy was Venice. Overall I really enjoyed getting to see Italy. Almost everyone was friendly and I was surprised at how easy it was to get by without knowing any Italian. Now its on to Dublin, Ireland.

Florence

Florence was much smaller than Rome which was a nice change of place. Despite the size, there was no shortage of beautiful art and architecture. Below were my favorite stops:

Ponte Vecchio
Palazzo Vecchio

Art Galleries

Florence is home to some of the finest art galleries in the world. While in town I visited the Uffizi Gallery, the Academia Gallery, and the Palazzo Vecchio. I am not generally one to go to art museums when I travel but I could not pass up the chance to see famous works such as the David statue. As with Rome it was a good decision to get advanced tickets as the standby lines were very long.

Michelangelo's David (at the Academia Gallery)
Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus (at the Uffizi Gallery)
Leonardo da Vinci's Annunciation (at the Uffizi Gallery)
Hall of Five Hundred (at the Palazzo Vecchio)

Florence Cathedral

One of the more popular attractions in Florence is to climb to the top of the dome of Florence Cathedral (also known simply as the Duomo). It is 463 steps to the top and part of the journey goes through tight spaces. The up close view of the dome and the view of the city from the top definitely make it worth the while. I was not able to make online reservations to do this but I made a reservation in person to come back about 48 hours later (that was the earliest opening they had available). A reservation is required to see the dome.

Florence Cathedral
Dome of Florence Cathedral
Steps to get to the top of the dome
View from the top of the dome

Pisa

Pisa was about an hour train ride from Florence. The town itself was pretty nondescript but I really only came to see the Leaning Tower. The Leaning Tower was built as a free standing bell tower to neighboring Pisa Cathedral. I wasn't really sure what to expect since the tower has a reputation as being a tourist trap. There were definitely people there (including plenty doing poses with the tower) but I didn't think it felt overly crowded. The building had an impressive design and the lean of the building was more apparent than I thought it would be. The neighboring cathedral is gorgeous inside and worth a visit if in the area (Pictures were not allowed inside or I would have some to post).

Leaning Tower and neighboring Pisa Cathedral
Leaning Tower
People posing for pictures with the tower

Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre is a series of five villages on the Italian Riviera. It was about an hour journey by train from Pisa to get there and there are stations at each of the five villages. I went to the village of Vernazza and hiked to Monterosso, the next village to the north. The hike takes an hour and half and can be a bit strenuous but offers spectacular views.

Vernazza
Vernazza
Trail connecting Vernazza to Monterosso
Beach in Monterosso

Venice

After visiting Florence, it was a 2 hour bullet train ride to Venice. Honestly my first observation of Venice was how dirty it was. There are some unique sights to see such as St Mark's Basilica and the Grand Canal but I did not think it compared to the other places in Italy that I went. While there is an extremely large tourist population in Venice, it was not too far of a walk to find pleasant walkways and courtyards that were not overly crowded. One experience in Venice that I thought was cool was riding a traghetto. A traghetto is a gondola that goes back and forth across the Grand Canal. Its a short ride but the 2 Euro cost (as of April 2017) is much cheaper than the 80+ Euro cost of a regular gondola ride.

St Mark's Campanile
Rialto Bridge
Grand Canal
Grand Canal from the Traghetto di Santa Sofia
St Mark's Basilica
Doge's Palace

To view more pictures from Italy check out my photo albums on Facebook and Pinterest.

Highlights and Recap of Rome, Italy

Highlights and Recap of Rome, Italy

On April 1st, I left the United States to go to Europe for the first time. Other than a short layover in Amsterdam, the beginning of the trip was Rome, Italy. My biggest observation after spending a couple days there was the large amount beautiful art and architecture. It was honestly overwhelming, not that it is a bad thing. It was very crowded even though early April is far from the height of peak tourist season. I suppose that comes with the territory of going to see world famous attractions though. Luckily having advanced tickets for the Vatican Museum and the Colosseum saved a considerable amount of time. Overall seeing these amazing places , detailed below, was well worth any trouble. The next stop on the trip, named Intro to Europe I, is Florence, Italy. Stay tuned.

Vatican Museum

The Vatican Museum is one of the largest museums in the world and hosts the various art pieces collected by the Popes over the years. Perhaps the most famous part of the Vatican Museum is the Sistine Chapel with its ceiling painted by Michelangelo. Unfortunately photography was not allowed there so I don't have a picture of it.

St Peter's Basilica

The largest Christian church in the world, St Peter's Basilica is the most prominent building in Vatican City. I spoke before about the architecture in Rome being overwhelming and St Peter's may be the best example. I could try to describe it with words but I think the pictures below do a better job. It was free to enter the church however there is a line for security which took about 45 minutes.

Colosseum

Completed in 80 AD, the Colosseum at one point could hold as many as 80,000 spectators. Although partially ruined, the largest travertine structure in the world, gives an idea to the grandeur of ancient Rome.

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Palatine/Roman Forum

Next to the Colosseum is the Roman Forum and the ruins of other ancient government buildings. The Forum was the center of old Rome. One ticket offers entry to both this area and the Colosseum.

Pantheon

Formally a Roman Temple, the Pantheon now serves as a Catholic church. It has been in continuous use since its completion around 128 AD and is one of the best preserved buildings from the time period. Its dome is still the largest non-reinforced concrete dome in the world. It is free to enter and the line to get in only took a few minutes.

Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain was commissioned by the Pope in 1672 and completed in 1762. It was built to replace an existing fountain on the site of one of the oldest water sources in Rome.

Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps were completed in 1725 to connect the Trinità dei Monti church at the top with the Piazza di Spagna at the bottom.

Altare della Patria

Altare della Patria is a national monument built to Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy.

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To view more pictures of Italy check out my photo albums on Facebook and Pinterest.

Fairbanks, Alaska and the Northern Lights

Fairbanks, Alaska and the Northern Lights

In March 2016 I made a trip to Fairbanks, Alaska. Why you might wonder? Well Fairbanks and the surrounding region provide the best opportunity to view the northern lights in the United States. If you stay in Fairbanks for at least 3 days between September and March, the odds are 80%. I decided to go in March because it is the warmest month that the northern lights are visible. It was still 14 degrees outside but on the plus side there was no wind which made a noticeable difference. When I wasn't searching for the northern lights or staying warm inside, I explored some of the sights in and around town. Below are the highlights from my visit.

Fairbanks is located in the interior of Alaska, just south of the Arctic Circle
Fairbanks is located in the interior of Alaska, just south of the Arctic Circle

Northern Lights

The northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, are solar flares that are generally only visible from the most northern places on earth. It is such a spectacular sight that words, or even pictures, cannot do justice.

World Ice Art Championships

Fairbanks is host every March to the World Ice Art Championships, the largest ice sculpting competition in the world. You are able to walk among the completed sculptures as well as those still in progress.

Denali National Park

Denali National Park, located 2 hours from Fairbanks, protects over 6 million acres of Alaskan wilderness. The centerpiece of the park is the mountain of the same name (previously known as Mount McKinley), which is the tallest mountain in North America. Unfortunately for me the park was covered in fog so I was unable to see much. On a plus, the scenery on the drive down was breathtaking.

If you look closely you can see a sled dog (under the care of the National Park Service) napping

North Pole, Alaska

North Pole is small town 15 minutes south of Fairbanks that has holiday decorations up all year long. The Santa Clause House, pictured below, sells Christmas ornaments and gifts.

Other Sights in and Nearby Fairbanks

Chena River
Moose Antler Arch
Golden Heart Plaza
Sign marking "The Official End of the Alaska Highway"
3133 miles home (to San Francisco)
Dog Mushers getting ready for practice
Trans-Alaska Pipeline
Pioneer Park
Restored buildings from the gold rush era in Fairbanks (in Pioneer Park)
Pioneer Air Museum (at Pioneer Park)
Northernmost Denny's in the world