With Backpack

One World in One Lifetime

The Mad King’s Last Castle

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 25, 2018

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

In June when Mark and I were in Bali, I spent an afternoon with the Karma Group. Karma is a hotel time-share company, but they do not like the term “time share”. I forget what term they do like, but do not call them a time-share company to their face.

They didn’t get us to sign up back in June, but in the end I still won 7 days of accommodations at a Karma hotel somewhere in the world. We kept having to pick different dates or different hotels, but then finally in late September we had confirmation that we could spend 7 nights in their Bavarian hotel.

Schliersee Lake, after which the town is named

The hotel was in the town of Schliersee which is an hour south of Munich. The place is beautiful and the hotel was very nice. The staff was very friendly and no one pressured us to join the Karma Group. We were supposed to sit through a one hour presentation, but it was cancelled. Instead, we attended Karma functions like, Trivia Night, where I won a bottle of champagne, and Bingo Night, where I won a €50 gift certificate to the hotel restaurant. Overall it was a very enjoyable stay and it didn’t cost us anything.

The niceness and free-ness of the hotel, plus the fact that I kept winning stuff, did make up for the fact that it was so hard to get anywhere in Bavaria from Schliersee. No matter where we wanted to go, it always started with a 1 hour train ride into Munich… even when we ultimately wanted to go south… like to Neuschwanstein Castle.

To get to Neuschwanstein Castle from Schliersee one could drive west southwest for about 2 hours or take a 1 hour train to Munich then a 2 hour train to Füssen. There might be an hour wait in Munich for the Füssen train, if you haven’t caught the 8:35 train to Munich. So, it could take from 3 to 4 hours of train travel to get there.

We got the combo ticket to see both the castle that Ludwig II grew up in, Hohenschwangau Castle,  and the last castle he built, Neuschwanstein Castle. We got there early enough that we could see both before closing time. Since it was so much trouble to get here, we tried to get as much as we could out of it.

After seeing the first castle, Hohenschwangau, I was very disappointed. There were so many rules. We were not allowed to take photos inside. We could not explore the castle on our own. We had to stay with a tour guide. Because of all this, I was expecting to see something extraordinary.

The tour group was too big for the rooms of the castle. Sometimes it was hard to hear the guide. At times he talked about something on the other side of the room that I could not see. There were too many people standing in the room and they could not move out of the way, though many tried.

The whole tour lasted 30 minutes and it felt rushed. I didn’t get to see everything since we spent so little time in each room and the tour was so big. It was frustrating. And overall, the castle was nice, but not worth the 7 hours of train riding I would end up having to live through that day.

I walked up the hill to Neuschwanstein Castle thinking I would get more of the same. Again, we had to stay with a guide and we were not allowed to take photos. We had come all this way and had already paid for everything, so there was no backing out. We waited for our tour number to be called and once again there was a huge crowd. This time it was even bigger.

We could take photos from inside looking out.

This tour was a little different. Instead of straining our ears to hear one tour guide speak, we were all given audio guides. Now everyone could clearly hear the information in their preferred language. We still couldn’t always see the items being talked about, but more time was given to explore the crowded rooms.

The biggest difference is that Ludwig’s castle was way better than his father’s. It is such a shame that no photos are allowed. That place is SPECTACULAR. Ludwig may have been mad, but he was a castle building genius! The walls are amazing. The ceilings are fantastic. My favorite was his throne room. The guide had to plead with many on the tour to move on from this room, it was so wonderful.

As we were walking through the castle I saw a lady vacuuming the carpet in one of the rooms. I was, and still am, so jealous of that woman. She gets to spend so much time in Ludwig’s castle everyday. I told Mark that if I had her job, I would show up to work early and just look at the rooms alone. Then I was slowly vacuum each room as I inspected every square inch of the place. That woman and her coworkers are the luckiest custodians in the world.


Germany

How to get there:

Phone:

  • 112 – emergency, ambulance, and fire
  • 110 – police

Downloads:

Website:

Data:

Videos:

Books: 

Notes:

  • Be careful when riding the train outside the city.
    • Sometimes the train splits, meaning you are on the right train, but the wrong car.
    • At some point in time the train will split up and each car will go to a different destination.
  • Don’t walk in the bike lane.
    • There is usually a bike lane and it will be where you end up walking if you’re not constantly vigilant.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • 13€
  • Neuschwanstein Castle & Hohenschwangau Castle combo – 25€

Hours:

  • April-15 October: 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
  • 16 Oct.-March: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
  • Closed on:
    • 1 January
    • 24, 25 and 31 December.

Video:

  • Rick says that the castles are a 15 minute hike away from each other. It is not!
  • It takes about 40~45 minutes if you are walking.

Books:

Notes:

  • You are not allowed to take photo inside the castle.
    • It’s still very much worth it to visit!
    • You go through the castle with a tour group while listening to an audio guide in your language.
      • Bring earbuds.
  • Try to get there as early as you can.
    • Everything is closed by 16:30. So if you are on a tour that starts after 15:00, don’t expect to relax in the cafe after the tour.
  • If you are going to visit both this castle and Hohenschwangau Castle, visit this one last, because it’s so much better than the other castle.
  • You should reserve your tickets online.
    • Before you go to the castle, you will need to pay for and pick up your tickets.
    • You can change the time of your tickets to a later time, if there are tickets available. But, you cannot change to an earlier time.
  • I hear this place in insanely crowded in the summer. I went in November and it was still crowded, but not so much that tickets were sold out.
  • Getting to the Castle:
    1. Go to the Füssen train station.
    2. Take bus #73 or #78 (Everyone from your train will get on the bus with you.) 2.20€
    3. Follow the crowd up the hill to the ticket office.
    4. Now you have 3 options to get to the castle.
      • Walk the whole way up the hill.
        • It’s a 40-minute walk up hill, but it’s not too bad unless you are not used to any type of walking at all.
      • Take the shuttle bus. (Uphill: € 1,80 Downhill: € 1,00 Round trip: € 2,60)
        • The bus only takes you up 3/4 the way. You will still have to walk for about 15 minutes up hill.
        • The bus is very, very crowded.
        • But, the bus drops you off near the Marienbrücke bridge.
      • Take a horse and carriage. (Uphill: €6   Downhill: €3)
        • You will still have to walk for about 15 minutes up hill.
        • The bus and the horse take 2 different paths up the hill. If you walk up, you will take the same path as the horses.

Hohenschwangau Castle

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  •  € 13

Hours:

  • 16 October 2017 to 23 March 2018 – every day from 9:00 to 15:00

  • 24th March to 15th October 2018 – every day from 8am to 5pm

Video:

  • Rick says that the castles are a 15 minute hike away from each other. It is not!
  • It takes about 40~45 minutes.

Notes:

  • You are not allowed to take photo inside the castle.
    • You go through the castle with a tour group while listening to an audio guide in your language.
      • Bring earbuds.
      • Unless you speak English. In that case you will get an English speaking tour guide.
  • Try to get there as early as you can.
    • Everything is closed by 16:30. So if you are on a tour that starts after 14:30, don’t expect to relax in the cafe after the tour.
  • If you are going to visit both castles, visit this one first, because it’s not as good as Neuschwanstein castle.
  • You should reserve your tickets online.
    • Before you go to the castle, you will need to pay for and pick up your tickets.
    • You can change the time of your tickets to a later time, if there are tickets available. But, you cannot change to an earlier time.
  • I hear this place in insanely crowded in the summer. I went in November and it was still crowded, but not so much that tickets were sold out.
  • Getting to the Castle:
    1. Go to the Füssen train station.
    2. Take bus #73 or #78 (Everyone from your train will get on the bus with you.) 2.20€
    3. Follow the crowd up the hill to the ticket office.
    4. Walk a little further up the hill and then up the stairs.

Don’t Miss:

  • Marienbrücke Bridge
    • Basic Information
    • This is a great place to take photos of Neuschwanstein Castle.
    • You will pass this bridge if you are taking the hiking trail to the castle. Otherwise, go to where the bus drops off tourists to the castle and follow the signs.

Map:

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Travel Tips Italy

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 20, 2018

2017

You have to bring:

  • Just your prescription medication and a doctor’s note.
  • Everything else can be bought here.

Things you can buy here or bring with you:

  1. Luggage:
    • You can use a suitcase or a backpack. A Backpack gives you a little more mobility, but it’s not a must-have here.
    • But, dragging your suit case on the cobbled stones will get irritating.
  2. Clothes:
    • You can buy anything here.
      • If you like leather, this is the country for you to shop.
  3. Towel:
    • Bring your towel if you are staying in a hostel.
  4. Shampoo, conditioner, and body wash:
    • All hotels provided guests with shampoo and body wash.
    • You are never given conditioner.
    • You should bring your own toiletries if you are staying at a hostel.
      • You can buy shampoo, conditioner, and body wash at any convenience store or grocery store.
      • Grocery stores: Carrefour  is nice, Conad is okay
        • Smaller grocery stores in Italy tend to be oddly shaped. (I just find that weird.)
  5. Deodorant/ Antiperspirant:
    • You can find this here.
  6. Sunscreen:
    • No problem; you can find it here.
  7. Over the counter medicine:
    • There are lots of pharmacies where you can buy cold medicine and pain killers like aspirin.
    • It’s best if you know the generic or chemical name of the drugs you need.
      • Instead of asking for Bufferine, ask for ibuprofen.
    • I would still bring some medications for basic illnesses like diarrhea, fever, and constipation.
      • Don’t run out of these.
      • It’s always tough to look for medication when you’re already sick.
      • It’s easy to find what you want if you have a label of the drug you are looking for.
  8. Other things you should bring:
    • Hat
    • Sunglasses
    • Flip-flips
    • Smartphone
    • comfortable shoes. (There are lots of cobbled stone roads and sidewalks.)

General Tips:

Clothes:

  • Wear the right clothes to enter churches.
    • No shorts or sleeveless shirts.
    • It’s best to have the right clothes with you all the time. You never know when you might want to check out some church on your walk back to the hotel.
    • When you enter a church, take off you hat and shades.

Food:

  • Never pick a non-fast food restaurant at random.
    • Look online first.
    • Check the reviews.
    • Look for a menu with prices online.
  • Watch out for seating fees and service charges.
    • Seating fees  = €3~6 per person
    • Service charges = 10 ~ 20% of the bill
      • If your total is €20 with 10% service charge and €5 seating fee for 2 people. Your bill is now €32. You just paid €12 for simply showing up.
    • Not all nice restaurants charge these, but the ones that do will say that they do on the menu.
    • ALWAYS look at the menu before you enter the restaurant.
      • Either look at the menu online or at the front door of the restaurant.
  • Cook for yourself as much as you can.
    • Eat out only a few times.
    • If you cannot cook for yourself, then look for cheap restaurants or simple sandwich shops.
  • How to find a cheap restaurant:
    • Never go into a restaurant close to where many tourists are.
    • Walk a few blocks away from any tourist attractions.
    • Go down an alley.
    • Kebab shops are usually pretty cheap and they serve good pizza.
  • When eating in a restaurant, or even a kebab shop, never order drinks.
    • Buy your drinks at a grocery store and drink after you leave the restaurant.
      • Iced tea at a grocery store = €0.45~0.65
      • Iced tea at a kebab shop = €2~2.50
      • Iced tea at a restaurant = €3.50~4.50
    • Don’t even ask for water unless you know for sure it’s complimentary.
      • Sparkling water is usually just as expensive as a regular drink.

Transportation:

  • ALWAYS keep your ticket.
    • DO NOT throw away the ticket until after you have gotten to your destination (for the bus) or left the station (for the train).
  • Never not pay for the bus or train.
    • They might not check every time. But, they do random checks and fine people without tickets.
    • If you have a ticket that needs validation, make sure to get it validated.
    • Even if the bus is crowded. Ask someone for help getting your ticket stamped from the machines placed at the front, middle, and back of the bus. People help each other all the time on the crowded bus by stamping other people’s cards in the machines.

Tickets:

  • To make sure you get to see the thing you came all the way to Italy to see, you should buy your ticket ahead of time.
    • But there is a bit of a gamble. Unlike the UK or France where it’s either cheaper or the same price to buy tickets online ahead of time, in Italy it will always cost about €4 more.
    • If the line isn’t too long, I say save your money and wait the 30 minutes.
    • When it comes to Vatican City, ALWAYS buy your ticket ahead of time.
  • Do not lose your ticket or throw it away until you have left the building. You might be stopped and asked to show your ticket.
  • You will spend a lot of time in Italy in line, even when you buy your tickets ahead of time.
    • Bring e-books, audio books, paper books, movies, games, water, and a snack.

Money:

  • Get cash from ATMs.
  • Don’t tip.

Scams:

  • I’ve seen the:
    • Survey Scam
    • Free Bracelet Scam
    • If someone approaches you on the street asking, “Where are you from?” It’s a scam!
      • Honestly, it may feel like you are being very rude, but the best way to deal with most scam artists is to just ignore them. Pretend you don’t hear them or you don’t speak whatever language they are talking to you in.
    • Here are some other scams


Italy

How to get there:

You can enter this country by land, water, or air.

Phone:

  • 113 – police
  • 115 – fire
  • 118 – first aid

Website:

Data:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books: 

Notes:

  • Many of the streets and walkways are paved in cobblestones making it harder to walk on with the wrong type of shoes.
  • Apparently, you can drink from any of the water fountains you see.
  • Watch out for pick-pockets.
  • Get your tickets ahead of time when going to see popular things.
  • You never know when you might what to check out a basilica. So, make sure to dress properly, or you won’t be let in.
    • Not shorts. Make sure that at least your knees are covered.
    • No sleeveless shirts.

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Milan

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 15, 2018

November 3rd, 2017

We were not too sure what to do in Milan. Milan is known for fashion. Mark and I don’t “fashion”. So, when you’re in a new city and you don’t know what to do, go to the biggest museum or church. We headed to the Milan Duomo.

I thought we would just pop in and be out in an hour or two. But, Mark got us combo tickets, so we saw everything that the ticket would allow us to see. We ended up spending the whole day here with a short break for lunch.

First we went inside the Duomo. Of course, it had a lot of saintly corpses on display. I don’t remember how many this church had, but it had more glass coffins than I have ever seen in one place. Most of the men had some information about their lives, though now I can’t remember if the biographies was on a plaque or in the Duomo’s guide app I downloaded.

The Milan Duomo also had many of these wonderful sculptures. I think they were all paid for by very rich people who didn’t want to be forgotten. They commissioned artists to make these elaborate works of art in hopes that people generations to come would pray on their behalf. I guess it worked.

We went down to, what they called “the archaeological area”. It really wasn’t that interesting. But what was fun was looking for the dinosaur on the front of the duomo. It wasn’t hard to find at all. (I’m not sure if it really is a dino though.)

After lunch, we climbed the stairs (to save €4 each on the elevator fee) to the top of the church. We walked around on the level in the photo above then took another set of steps to the very top of the roof. There was a nice view of the city, but I am afraid of heights, so I didn’t look out or down for too long.

I could look down at Milan, or I could read about the view from the Duomo’s Tour Guide app.

Our tour could have stopped here, but we went down and entered the museum because it was part of our ticket. The museum was not interesting at all. It’s just filled with all the stuff that fell off the church. Statues that have been replaced are put in the museum along with gargoyles, tiles, and rocks. Then they capped that all off with some miniature replicas of the church. But I had already spend almost an entire day at the church, so the scaled versions weren’t very interesting.

But we did see this guy playing a theremin. That was fun, interesting, and very unusual. I bet you’ve never heard a theremin played on the street.


Italy

How to get there:

You can enter this country by land, water, or air.

Phone:

  • 113 – police
  • 115 – fire
  • 118 – first aid

Website:

Data:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books: 

Notes:

  • Many of the streets and walkways are paved in cobblestones making it harder to walk on with the wrong type of shoes.
  • Apparently, you can drink from any of the water fountains you see.
  • Watch out for pick-pockets.
  • Get your tickets ahead of time when going to see popular things.
  • You never know when you might what to check out a basilica. So, make sure to dress properly, or you won’t be let in.
    • Not shorts. Make sure that at least your knees are covered.
    • No sleeveless shirts.

Duomo di Milano Italy

Basic Information

Website:

Downloads:

  • Guide App
  • The app is free, if you just want to read the information.
  • If you want the audio and video guide, you will have to pay about €5

Cost:

  • Duomo Pass A – € 16.00
  • Duomo Pass B – € 12.00
    • Both passes include the same thing, but pass A includes an elevator ride to the top of the Duomo. With pass B you will have to climb the stairs.
    • CATHEDRAL & TERRACES
    • DUOMO MUSEUM
    • ARCHAEOLOGICAL AREA
    • SAN GOTTARDO CHURCH
  • Cathedral – € 3
    • Includes the Crypt of St. Charles, the Duomo Museum and San Gottardo in Corte Church
  • Terraces – € 9 or € 13
  • Archaeological Area – € 7
    • This is inside the church, so you will need to buy a ticket for that.

Hours:

  • Cathedral 8:00 – 19:00
    • Inside the Cathedral
    • The Crypt of St. Charles
      • Monday – Friday: 11.00 am – 5.30 pm
      • Saturday: 11.00 am – 5.00 pm
      • Sunday: 1.30 pm – 3.30  pm
    • Archaeological Area
      • 9.00 am -7.00 pm
    • The Terrace
      • 9.00 am -7.00 pm
  • The Duomo Museum – 10.00 am – 6.00 pm
    • Inside the Museum
      • 10.00 am – 6.00 pm

Video

Notes:

  • Don’t Miss: (In the Duomo)
  • The Dino
  • Buy your tickets online.
  • You can also buy your tickets at the museum, but the line is long, disorganized, confusing, and very crowded.
    • The fastest thing to do is to get in line for the ticket machine when you can.
    • Some machines only use credit cards, but one or two take cash.

Don’t Miss:

Map:

Posted in Italy, Milan | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Let’s Talk About Money

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 10, 2018

Tuesday, October 31st – November 1st, 2017

When we got to the train station at Venice, we checked google maps to see our options for getting to our accommodations. They were a 1 hour walk or a 15 minute boat ride. We looked to see the cost of the 15-minute boat ride. It was 8€ per person, so 16€ for the both of us. It only cost us 20€ (about 10€ each) to get to Venice from Bologna, a ride that took about 2 hours. We walked.

As we were walking, we saw a sign explaining the prices for gondola rides. It cost 80€ for a 1 hour ride which could be split between up to 6 people. The ride would cost 100€ if you wanted the gondolier to sing. I told Mark that we were probably the only tourists in Venice who would never set foot on any type of boat.

Mark and I aren’t rich people. We’re far from poor, but we aren’t rich. We don’t actually have a budget. But we do have a good sense of what we are willing to buy and how much we are willing to pay for it.

Even before this trip, we refused to pay for things that weren’t important to us. For example, we had pay-as-you-go phones. Neither Mark or I are phone people. I feel more comfortable communicating by text or email. But, because we had jobs, we needed phones. For the longest time we actually shared a phone, buying a second phone only when that became too inconvenient.

Our pre-paid phones were used mainly for people (our bosses) to call us. We would go months without putting money on the phone since incoming calls are free. We would only add minutes to our phones if we were planning to call several people for some reason. And, even then either Mark’s phone had minutes or mine did; never both.

On the other hand, we had the fastest internet we could find. To us the internet is very important. If the car needed a new widget for safety reasons, we would get the best widget. We’re not cheap, we just don’t like needlessly wasting money on things that we don’t care about.

Gummies are very important to me.

What we do on this trip depends on the balance of cost and convenience on one side and how important the thing is to us on the other. It was important for us to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, so we went there. When we got there, there was a long line for the 18€ tickets to climb the steps to the top. Since we could see the tower for free, we stopped at that. The long line, the climb to the top, the high cost of tickets… none of that seemed worth it to us.

Many tourists might refuse to eat pizza at kebab shops in Italy. They might feel it’s not authentic enough. I don’t think that’s quite true. The pizza is authentic enough for the many Italians who eat there… Also, “authentic” restaurants that cater to travelers are a rip off. You can end up paying a lot in seating fees, service fees, and inflated prices for drinks and in the end your meal is not that much better than the food you get at a kebab shop.

Of course, Mark and I try out some of the nicer restaurants. But we do our research first. We find places without all the extra fees. Then we only eat in these types of places once in a while. We mostly try to cook at the apartment we’ve rented, buy from sandwich or kebab shops, or buy ready to eat meals from grocery stores. No, it’s not glamorous, but I do get tired of eating in restaurants and being taken advantaged of by people who prey on naive tourists.

We do a lot of walking. Sometimes, it’s because we want to save on transportation. But mostly, it’s an easy and cheap form of entertainment that helps you find things to make your trip better. That candy store a few photos above, we found it because we were walking to the basilica. The kebab shop (that had many types of interesting pizza toppings like pickled artichokes and brie) we found on a walk to a grocery store. We’ve found interesting parks, shops, restaurants, and museums all because we walked to a place instead of taking a bus. Also, it’s way easier to take photos on a walk than it is to get a bus driver to stop the bus and wait for you to snap some pictures.

We will stay almost anywhere so long as it is clean and convenient. I would rather stay in a nice clean hostel than a shabby hotel. (I prefer to rent an apartment, but that is only practical if we are in town for at least a week.) I know many people look down on sharing a room with strangers, but I don’t think it’s so bad. What I hate is staying in a dirty place with a moldy bathroom. Hosteling International usually have good accommodations. Mark and I try to stay at a hostel in the HI group whenever possible.

Most of what we save money on for this trip is long distance transportation. We mostly fly Ryan Air, Air Asia, and other discount airlines. It’s actually cheaper than taking a train or a bus. There are just a few rules to getting away with paying the least amount possible.

  1. Pack light.
    • Never have check-in luggage.
    • Make your carry-on as small as possible.
  2. Do the online self check-in.
    • Print out your own boarding pass or have it on your phone.
      • Each airport has its own rules. Some require you to have a printed pass others will allow you to just have it on your phone.
  3. Eat before your flight or bring your own food.
    • Buying food on the plane is expensive.
    • Some airlines like Air Asia say they do not allow you to bring your own food, but everyone does. I’ve never seen them do anything about it.
  4. Stop caring about where you sit.
    • Some discount airlines will seat you wherever and make you pay more to sit next to your friends or in a better seat.
    • Make yourself as comfortable as you can with snacks and movies on your phone and sit wherever they put you.
  5. Stop caring about when you fly
    • If you use google.com/flights/ you can look at the flight grid and pick the cheapest day to fly.
    • It might be cheaper to fly earlier in the day or on another day.
  6. Stop caring about where you fly
    • This one might be harder for people who aren’t traveling for a year.
    • Sometimes there are deals for certain destinations for reasons.


Italy

How to get there:

You can enter this country by land, water, or air.

Phone:

  • 113 – police
  • 115 – fire
  • 118 – first aid

Website:

Data:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books: 

Notes:

  • Many of the streets and walkways are paved in cobblestones making it harder to walk on with the wrong type of shoes.
  • Apparently, you can drink from any of the water fountains you see.
  • Watch out for pick-pockets.
  • Get your tickets ahead of time when going to see popular things.
  • You never know when you might what to check out a basilica. So, make sure to dress properly, or you won’t be let in.
    • Not shorts. Make sure that at least your knees are covered.
    • No sleeveless shirts.

Saint Mark’s Basilica

Basic Information

Website

Downloads:

Cost:

  • 5 € – Basilica
  • 8 € – Bell Tower

Hours:

    • 9:30 – 17:00

Video

Notes:


Basilica dei Frari

Basic Information

Website

Downloads:

Cost:

  • 3 €

Hours:

  • Su 13.00 – 18.00
  • M – Sa 9.00 – 18.00

Video

Notes:


Don’t Miss:

Map:

Posted in Italy, Venice | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Conspiracy

Posted by Heliocentrism on May 5, 2018

Sunday, October 29th – 31st, 2017

Bologna is a place that isn’t so much for sightseeing, but for eating. There are many dishes that are either famously from Bologna, like Bolognese sauce or baloney, or Bologna has made their special version of the recipe, as in the green lasagna or the tortellini in broth. I was fully expecting to eat my way through the city when, after a few meals, I realized that I just didn’t like Bolognese food. In fact, I hate it.

Don’t worry, I didn’t starve while I was in Bologna. There were many restaurants that served the Rome style versions of things, like carbonara pasta or carbonara tortellini. Mark, on the other hand, loved the Bolognese food. I would eat like a Roman and he would eat like a Bolognese.

But the food wasn’t the only let down in Bologna. We went there to hunt down a conspiracy theory which turned out to be pretty much… well not solved, but miss directed.

On June 27, 1980 Itavia Flight 870 going from Bologna to Palermo crashed into the Tyrrhenian Sea. There were no survivors. 81 people died.

Traffic control in Rome said that the plane just disappeared. It took several hours to find where the plane hit the water and many, many years to retrieve some portions of the plane.

Right off the bat, there was a mysterious phone call from an “insider” claiming lies were being told. It didn’t take long for people to not believe what the Italian government said. Many thought that a missile brought down the plane.

There were accusations thrown at the French military. Some thought Libya had something to do with it. Other’s said the UN was acting a bit shady. Some even thought that the Italian government had something to do with it. At one point, France was sued for misconduct but that suit went nowhere.

There was an investigation and it was concluded that an Italian missile took the plane down. The investigators stood by their report for a couple of days then retracted it when it was pointed out that there was no way to reach this or any conclusion with only the small percentage of the plane they had retrieved.

Years passed and the conspiracy festered. The family of the passengers who had died wanted answers. Another investigative team was assembled. This time, no one from the Italian government would be involved.

The new team started by looking for more of the plane. After finding that, they came to the conclusion that a bomb in a bathroom near the tail was what caused the plane crash. No French, UN, or Italian missile was to blame. But, few people believe this.

To recap, the conspiracy theory is that some government or government agency caused this. But I want to know why no one is wondering who put a bomb on this plane. Why was this plane blown up?


Italy

How to get there:

You can enter this country by land, water, or air.

Phone:

  • 113 – police
  • 115 – fire
  • 118 – first aid

Website:

Data:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books: 

Notes:

  • Many of the streets and walkways are paved in cobblestones making it harder to walk on with the wrong type of shoes.
  • Apparently, you can drink from any of the water fountains you see.
  • Watch out for pick-pockets.
  • Get your tickets ahead of time when going to see popular things.
  • You never know when you might what to check out a basilica. So, make sure to dress properly, or you won’t be let in.
    • Not shorts. Make sure that at least your knees are covered.
    • No sleeveless shirts.

Museum for the Memory of Ustica

Basic Information

Websites:

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • Tu, W, Th 15:00 – 18:00
  • Sa – Su 10:00 – 18:00
  • Closed Mondays

Videos:

Notes:

  • There is a pamphlet in English. Other than that, everything else is in Italian.

Archiginnasio of Bologna

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • 3 euros

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 19:00

Video

Notes:

  • Don’t Miss:
    • Anatomical Theatre
    • Stabat Mater Lecture hall
      • Eisenstein once gave a lecture on Relativity here.

Don’t Miss:

Map:

Posted in Bologna, Italy | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Galileo’s Middle Finger… and some other fingers and a tooth

Posted by Heliocentrism on April 30, 2018

Friday, October 27th – 28th, 2017

Florence was all about museums. We visited 3 museums in this town, The Museo Galileo, The Galeria Academiei, and the Uffizi Gallery. Most of the things you go to Florence to see are in one of these 3 museums. There are a few more Florentine museums, but we didn’t have time to see any more.

Galileo Galilei

The first was the Museo Galileo. There, we went to see Galileo’s telescopes and instruments, all the stuff that belonged to the Medici family, and of course Galileo’s middle finger. This museum came with a free Audio Guide app which you could download using their free wi-fi. On the app there was audio information on the more popular things, written information on everything, and videos that explained the science behind many of the instruments.

I don’t know how interesting the audio guide is, objectively. I was already keen on seeing most of the stuff on display, so I was willing to wade through facts and figures and I thought the audio guide was great. I’m not sure how I would have liked it if I just didn’t care so much about Galileo, his instruments, and pioneers of science. But, overall I thought the audio guide and the hands-on section did a good job keeping my interest.

The one thing I just could not turn away from for a long time was Santucci’s armillary sphere. It’s basically like that scaled version of the solar system you did as a project for science class in elementary school. Except, this one puts the earth at the center, instead of the sun. This makes the whole thing really, really complicated. It took 10 years to make and I’m not sure how long it took before it stopped functioning.

If it were heliocentric, the math would have been so much easier and Santucci could have whipped one up in a few weeks. But, he might have been arrested like Galileo was, so maybe this was better.

Next we visited the Galeria Academiei. We went just to see the David. I mean, if the David weren’t there, we would have never stepped foot in this museum. But, since we paid for tickets, we wanted to experience everything there was to see. So, we rented an audio guide for two and it quickly made us moan out of share boredom.

The audio guide was very informative, but it was dry. It never told us why we should care about the pieces we were looking at. What was the artist trying to convey? What was he or she living through? What was I meant to feel? I know nothing about art and I really need the audio guide to help me understand what is going on.

However, I did have the free audio guide I downloaded from Rick Steves’ website. It was not very long. It only covered the David, the prisoners, and some of the instruments. It was a vastly different experience. I went from feeling burdened that I had to walk through a museum to being delighted to see pieces of history with stories to tell.

When you’re at an art museum and see that the price of the audio guide is almost as much as the entrance tickets.

Last we went to the Uffizi. Honestly, we almost didn’t go there. We knew it was the place to be when travelling in Florence. But I think of myself as an art barbarian and didn’t want to waste money on this museum if the audio guide didn’t have good reviews. I couldn’t find reviews for the audio guide, since no one really does that sort of thing. But, in my search I found another Rick Steves’ audio guide for the Uffizi.

Steves doesn’t cover many of the things in the Uffizi, but he covers enough that I feel I got my money’s worth of enjoyment out of the museum. Steves does a great job at getting me to care about the works on display. While listening to his guide I understand why a work is important and sometimes, I even like the art.

Everyone has an audio guide, whether rented or downloaded.

Overall, the audio guide makes or breaks the museum. If the audio guide is bad, the museum will be boring and I will learn nothing. I think this is why I love the museums in London so much. They seem to understand this and put extra effort into making good audio guides. (So much so, that they tend to run out and people queue to get the next returned guide.)

That face you make when you learn what’s really going on in the painting, thanks to your audio guide.


Italy

How to get there:

You can enter this country by land, water, or air.

Phone:

  • 113 – police
  • 115 – fire
  • 118 – first aid

Website:

Data:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books: 

Notes:

  • Many of the streets and walkways are paved in cobblestones making it harder to walk on with the wrong type of shoes.
  • Apparently, you can drink from any of the water fountains you see.
  • Watch out for pick-pockets.
  • Get your tickets ahead of time when going to see popular things.
  • You never know when you might what to check out a basilica. So, make sure to dress properly, or you won’t be let in.
    • Not shorts. Make sure that at least your knees are covered.
    • No sleeveless shirts.

Museo Galileo

Basic Information

Website

Downloads:

Cost:

  • € 9.00

Hours:

  • 9:30 – 18:00

Videos:

Books:

Notes:


Galeria Academiei

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  •  € 8,00
  •  € 6,00 – Audioguide
    • The Audio guide is very informative, but extraordinarily boring
    • Use the Rick Steve’s Audio guide instead.
      • It’s doesn’t have as much information, but it’s way more interesting.

Hours:

  • 8:15 – 18:20
  • Closed Mondays

Video

Notes:

  • The audio guide for this museum is great if you really want to know as much information as you can get. Unfortunately, it’s really boring. So, if you aren’t overly excited about the art presented here, you will find everything rather dull.
  • So, if you want all the information you can get, rent the audio guide. If not, download the free Rick Steve’s audio guide.
  • You can pay more to skip the line, but it is only worth it if the line is very very long.
    • When I went, it was around noon and the wait in line was about 30 minutes. We bought sandwiches and ate them while we waited in line.
  • Don’t Miss:
    • Michelangelo’s David

Uffizi Gallery

Basic Information

Website

Downloads:

Cost:

  • € 12.50

Hours:

  • 8:15 – 18:50

Video

Notes:


Don’t Miss:

Map:

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Pisa

Posted by Heliocentrism on April 25, 2018

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

So many people wanting a hi-5

Pisa is a pleasant little town with not much to do. Everything you will go to Pisa to see is set in a little square you can circumnavigate on foot in about 20 minutes. Also in the square are all the touts trying to get you to buy their non-sense. Right outside the square are many souvenir shops, cafes, and restaurants.

When we got to Pisa, I had the beginnings of a cold. A slight fever and a scratchy throat wasn’t bad enough to make me stay home, but I was glad to be in Pisa where there wasn’t a lot to do. We walked around taking photos of the leaning tower. Then we started taking photos of people doing weird poses next to the leaning tower.

We didn’t climb up the steps of the tower. This wasn’t because I was feeling under the whether. We just didn’t want to. It might sound strange to go all the way to Pisa, Italy and not climb the tower. But, we just did not want to. It seemed like a lot of work for very little pay off. Plus it cost €18. Maybe if we had a burning desire to be at the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, if the cost weren’t so high, if there was an elevator, or if I weren’t sick we might have done it. Instead we sat in the shade on ground level and stared up.

We did go into the cathedral. It was very nice inside. There was a €2 audio guide box that we listened to before walking around. It told us what to look for and explained the history of the church.

For lunch we found a grocery store and ordered a sandwich. We got some drinks, fruit, and snacks. We went back to the square and ate near the tower as we people-watched. It was a very relaxing day.


Italy

How to get there:

You can enter this country by land, water, or air.

Phone:

  • 113 – police
  • 115 – fire
  • 118 – first aid

Website:

Data:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books: 

Notes:

  • Many of the streets and walkways are paved in cobblestones making it harder to walk on with the wrong type of shoes.
  • Apparently, you can drink from any of the water fountains you see.
  • Watch out for pick-pockets.
  • Get your tickets ahead of time when going to see popular things.
  • You never know when you might what to check out a basilica. So, make sure to dress properly, or you won’t be let in.
    • Not shorts. Make sure that at least your knees are covered.
    • No sleeveless shirts.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Basic Information

Website

 

Cost:

  • €15 + (booking fee if you buy it ahead of time)
  • You can buy various combo tickets of all the building and museums around the tower.

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 19:00
  • Closed Mondays

Video

Notes:

Map:

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Vatican City

Posted by Heliocentrism on April 20, 2018

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

We made a rookie mistake our first day in Rome. We thought we would just go to the Vatican City and stand in line for tickets to the museum. We were prepared to stand in a long line having put a few movies on our phones along with some podcasts and audio books.

But when we got there, the line was so long we weren’t completely sure what the line was for. We looked for the start of the line and got lost. The line was so long it wrapped around the entire country. (I feel like that should have been the punch line of a joke.)

These are just the people who have tickets for a tour starting around 9:30

So, we went home, or rather back to the apartment we were renting, and looked for tickets online. We found some for a tour of the Vatican Crypt and Gardens. That was perfect since they included tickets for the Vatican Museum and we would get to skip the line. We reserved the tickets and then our credit cards got denied. All our cards. Not wanting to lose these tickets, as we could see there were only a few left, we threw credit card after credit card at the website. All denied.

We called one of our banks. Even though we had warned our banks and credit card companies that we would be traveling in Italy at this time, every now and then while shopping in Italy they would deny payment for something they deem suspicious. Mark called his bank and they said that they would allow the payment. He just had to try again. Still the card kept getting denied.

Mark and me in front of Athena, who has been “baptized” as the Virgin Mary.

Mark called again. They weren’t sure why it didn’t work. It must be a default mode for credit-cards used in Italy. “There are a lot of fraud cases coming from that area, you know,” the lady on the phone told him. Mark tried several more times, but the card kept getting denied. Eventually, all the tickets for the Crypt and Garden tour were sold out.

Mark went to the website again, this time with a representative from his bank on the phone to make sure the next payment would go through. A tour of the Vatican Crypt was no longer possible, but we could still see the Gardens. Finally, the card worked and we got some tickets. Three days after making reservations, we headed back to Vatican City.

Pope Benedict’s apartment

The Gardens were lovely. We walked past fountains and replicas of various Virgin Maries. We were told the history of several parts of the garden. We even stood outside the apartment of Pope Benedict, the retired pope. Mark waved at his windows, but there was no papal return wave.

Everything was going well with our tour until the end of the bathroom break one hour in. Our guide did a head count and came up 2 short. Two people were missing. She asked around to see if anyone knew who the missing couple was. No one had 2 missing friends. Nobody could remember who the missing people were. In my head, I went down the list of people I remembered meeting on the tour, the lady with the big camera, the two older ladies who didn’t want to walk too much, the lady with the baby, the couple who kept making out in front of Mary statues, the older guy by himself, the guy with the laugh, they were all here.

“Do you want to make out while we wait?”

Our guide called a security guard. He called someone on his walkie-talkie. A car came by and the man inside talked with our guide before driving off. I assumed to look for the AWAL tourists. It was exciting. Somewhere in the gardens of the Vatican were two people who were not where they were supposed to be. Why? Were they absentminded lookie-loos? Or were their motives more sinister?

I never found out. We continued the tour and they didn’t reappear. I just assumed they are now somewhere in the Vatican crypt feeling truly remorseful for not sticking with their group.


Vatican City

How to get there:

First you have to go to Italy. Once there, you can just walk right in. No passport needed.

  • visa information (for Italy)
  • Most of the information below is for Rome, which incorporates Vatican City.

Phone:

  • 113 – police
  • 115 – fire
  • 118 – first aid

Website:

Data:

Videos:

Books: 

Notes:

  • Get your tickets online and ahead of time.
    • If you don’t make sure to bring a book or put some movies on your phone, because you will be standing in line for about 3 hours.
    • There are lines for EVERYTHING!
    • If you think, “I’ll just go there really early in the morning and be the first in line,” then stop being so foolish.
      • Everyone thinks that. (It only works for the first 50 people.)
  • If you find a bathroom with a short line, use it whether you need to or not. Those are unicorns!
  • Watch out for pick-pockets.
  • Get the free Rick Steves Audio Guides.
  • Make sure to dress properly, or you won’t be let in.
    • Not shorts. Make sure that at least your knees are covered.
    • No sleeveless shirts.

Vatican Gardens &
Vatican Museums

Basic Information:

  • Entrance (if you’ve already bought your ticket)

Websites:

Downloads:

Cost:

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 16:00

 

Notes:


Don’t Miss:

Map:

 

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The Things You Find in Churches

Posted by Heliocentrism on April 15, 2018

October 18th – 24th, 2017

The Pantheon

When we walked through the museums of Athens, I felt like Mark and I were going through dead people’s things. But in Rome, we passed that and just rummaged through the dead people themselves. There were many churches that had corpses of nuns on display or skeletons clutching prayer books. We didn’t go to all of them for a lack of time. But, that didn’t mean we didn’t see some interesting things.

The Mouth of Truth

We went to see the Mouth of Truth at the Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin. This disc was made famous by some movie I’ve never heard of. I know of the Mouth of Truth, but not of the movie that made it famous.

To get to the point where you can stick your hand into the mouth, which may have been some sort of drain cover in the 2nd century, Mark and I had to stand in line for about half an hour. Closer to the end of the line is a donation box so confident that you will add to the collection, that it thanks you for your contribution before you even check your pockets for change.

St. Valentine’s skull

After you’ve snapped your photo you are led into the church. Right away you are presented with relics. One of them is St. Valentine’s skull.

We came to stick our hands into a pagan disc’s mouth and we were shown the skull of a saint. But wait; there’s more! For another donation, we could see the crypt of some pope name Hadrian or Adrian. His name kept changing on the information board for his crypt. Oh yes, we donated and took the creepy stairs down to the cold and dark crypt.

Hadrian

I was disappointed. I thought we were going to see Hadrian, the emperor who couldn’t stop building things. We visited his mausoleum earlier that day, only to find that he was no longer there. Well, he wasn’t here either, because this Hadrian was a pope not an emperor.

At San Pietro in Vincoli we saw a sculpture done by Michelangelo. It is of Moses with horns. The horns come about from someone’s mistranslation of a verse in the bible.

Also in the same church are some chains welded by St. Peter. I don’t completely understand how he welded the chains, since the joining happened long after Peter’s death… But, whatever.

At the Pantheon, which is now a Catholic church, we found the crypt of Raphael and the women for whom many think the Margherita pizza is named. Her crypt is behind the big purple one of her husband’s. He was some sort of king of Italy. Who remember’s now? He was some guy married to a woman for whom a famous pizza was named.


Italy

How to get there:

You can enter this country by land, water, or air.

Phone:

  • 113 – police
  • 115 – fire
  • 118 – first aid

Website:

Data:

Downloads:

Videos:

Books: 

Notes:

  • Many of the streets and walkways are paved in cobblestones making it harder to walk on with the wrong type of shoes.
  • Apparently, you can drink from any of the water fountains you see.
  • Watch out for pick-pockets.
  • Get your tickets ahead of time when going to see popular things.
  • You never know when you might what to check out a basilica. So, make sure to dress properly, or you won’t be let in.
    • Not shorts. Make sure that at least your knees are covered.
    • No sleeveless shirts.

Transportation

  • To use the bus, tram, or metro, you will need to buy a ticket.
    • For the metro you can buy the pass at the metro station.
    • For the bus or train, you will need to buy the pass at a shop that sells bus tickets. They are usually the same place where you can buy cigarettes or lotto tickets.
    • The metro pass and the bus pass are the same thing.
      • The pass lasts for 100 minutes from the time they are activated.
      • They are activated when you scan them to get into the metro or on the bus.
      • They allow only one scan into the metro, but unlimited bus rides for the 100 minutes.
        • e.g., You can do a round-trip by bus, but not by metro (if it’s done within 100 minutes).

Colosseum

Basic Information

Website

Downloads:

Cost:

Hours:

  • 8:30 – 19:00

Videos:

Books:

Notes:


Capitoline Museums

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  •  € 15,00
  • Included in the Roma Pass
    • € 9,50
  • Video Guide – € 6.00

Hours:

  • 9:30 – 19:30

Notes:


Castel Sant’Angelo

Basic Information

Website

Downloads:

Cost:

  •  € 14,00
  • Included in the Roma Pass
    • Concession – € 7.00

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 19:30

Notes:

  • You can use their wifi to download the audio guide, but it’s faster to just use your data.
  • The audio guide’s script is written on all the walls, with no extra information.

Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentini

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  •  € 12,00
  • Included in the Roma Pass
    • Concession – € 8.00

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 18:30

Notes:

  • This can only be seen with a guided tour, which must be book ahead of time.
    • You can book online, or just drop by if you’re in the area.
    • If you book online there is an extra €1.50 fee per ticket.
  • I highly recommend doing this tour.
    • The tours is of one ancient Roman house and a room in an adjacent home.
    • There is a lot of walking and standing.
  • They use lasers to recreate rooms of a house as it would have looked in Roman times.
  • The tour lasts for about 1.5 hours.
  • You cannot take photos inside.
  • You are not allowed to bring big bags on the tour, but there is a locker you can use.

Trajan’s Market

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • € 11,50
  • Included in the Roma Pass
    • Concession – € 9.50
  • Audio guide – € 6,00.

Hours:

  • 9:30 – 19:30

Notes:

  • Unless you get an audio guide, the information is mostly in Italian.

National Roman Museum

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

Hours:

  • 9:00 – 18:00
  • Closed Mondays

Notes:

  • These are 4 museums for the price of one.

Villa Torlonia

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

Hours:

  • 9.00 – 19.00
  • Closed Mondays

Video

Notes:

  • This was Mussolini’s bunker.
  • Sometimes the bunker is not available for viewing.

Dont’t Miss:

Map:

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Travel Tips for Greece

Posted by Heliocentrism on April 10, 2018

2017

You have to bring:

  • Just your prescription medication and a doctor’s note.
  • Everything else can be bought here.

Things you can buy here or bring with you:

  1. Luggage:
    • You can use a suitcase or a backpack. A Backpack gives you a little more mobility, but it’s not a must-have here.
  2. Clothes:
    • You can buy anything here.
  3. Towel:
    • Bring your towel if you are staying in a hostel.
  4. Shampoo, conditioner, and body wash:
    • All hotels provided guests with shampoo and body wash.
    • You are sometimes given conditioner.
    • You should bring your own toiletries if you are staying at a hostel.
      • You can buy shampoo, conditioner, and body wash at any convenience store or grocery store.
  5. Deodorant/ Antiperspirant:
    • You can find this here.
  6. Sunscreen:
    • No problem; you can find it here.
  7. Over the counter medicine:
    • There are lots of pharmacies where you can buy cold medicine and pain killers like aspirin.
    • It’s best if you know the generic or chemical name of the drugs you need.
      • Instead of asking for Bufferine, ask for ibuprofen.
    • I would still bring some medications for basic illnesses like diarrhea, fever, and constipation.
      • Don’t run out of these.
      • It’s always tough to look for medication when you’re already sick.
      • It’s easy to find what you want if you have a label of the drug you are looking for.
  8. Other things you should bring:
    • Hat
    • Sunglasses
    • Flip-flips
    • Smartphone
    • Comfortable shoes preferably hiking shoes
      • Sometimes the streets are literally stones stuck together. It can be hard to walk on with the wrong type of shoes.

the road in Rhodes

General Tips:

Toilet:

  • Don’t flush the toilet paper.
    • You’re suppose to throw it in the bin.
    • A free toilet can be hard to come by. Use the WC at museums and restaurants before you leave.
      • Assuming you are a customer.
    • You will find many paid toilets, but those tend to be not so clean.

Food:

  • Grocery Stores:
    • Sklavenitis (ΣΚΛΑΒΕΝΙΤΗΣ) is cheap, but AB is so much nicer.
    • There is also Carrefour.
  • Try gyros
  • Try bakklava
  • Try all the pastries, sweet and savory…
  • Try the cheeses


Combo Tickets:

  • Combo tickets in Greece (at least Athens and Rhodes) are a good idea.
  • They save you money even if you don’t see all the things.
  • They save you time by letting you bypass all but one ticket buying line.
    • Make sure to buy your combo ticket at one of the less popular attractions that will have a shorter line.
    • Then you can walk past the long lines at the more popular attractions by just waving your ticket at the officials.

Money:

  • Get cash from ATMs.
  • Remember “Euro”.

Scams:

  • I’ve seen the:
    • Survey Scam
    • Free Bracelet Scam
    • Cheap food item scam:
      • You go to a restaurant offering cheap gyros (these are really never too expensive).
      • Once inside, there is either no menu or they try to make you order without looking at the menu.
      • You order whatever you like, thinking since the gyros are cheap, the prices of other stuff can’t be that bad.
      • Everything else on the menu is OVERPRICED, but you don’t realize it until you get the bill.
    • Here are some other scams

Greece

How to get there:

You can enter this country air, land, or sea.

Phone:

  • 112 – Emergency
  • 166 – Ambulane
  • 199 – Fire
  • 100 – Police
  • 171 – Tourist Police

Website:

Videos:

Notes:

  • Don’t flush toilet paper.
    • Supposedly, it’s bad for the pipes.
    • You’re supposed to throw it in the trash can in the bathroom.
  • Although Greece is relatively inexpensive, you can go through all your money traveling to all the various islands.

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