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Birthday in Rome - Expat Adventures

Birthday in Rome - Expat Adventures

Rome had always been one of those places I've longed to see. The history and the Romance of the city is something I've wanted to experience first hand since I first learned about the ancient structures in school. So for my first birthday living abroad, it was an easy choice for a place to visit. So Dani and I spent four days there in this past July. In retrospect, I would advice against going in the middle of summer. It was HOT. I think most days we saw highs in the upper 30s.

It's funny when you go to a place like Rome. You have all these ideas in your head what it would be like. And then when you get there, it's pretty much not anything like you pictured in your mind.  Don't get me wrong, it's a wonderful place to visit.  But I wasn't fully expected the levels of congestion and really for how dirty the city was. I think maybe I'm a bit spoiled living in Amsterdam where the city keeps things very tidy and takes care of its homeless.

We saw a bunch of cool stuff during our time there, so I'll share some pictures I took as we toured around the city.

Pantheon and Piazza della Rotonda

One of the most famous buildings in Rome (I think). We visited the Pantheon on our first day. It's very well preserved as it contains the church of St. Mary and the Martyrs. We learned that the reason why some of the ancient buildings are still around and others are not, is because the ones that are still standing were converted to churches.

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Fontana di Trevi

One of the most beautiful monuments in Rome. It's mobbed with people... from early morning till late at night, so it's not great for those with crowd anxiety. Still worth a visit though, especially after sun down.

Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli

We sort of just happened upon this basilica and I'm so glad we did. Turns out that it houses Michelangelo’s "Illumination of Moses" sculpture which houses the tomb of Pope Julius II and the relic of Saint Peter's chains from when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem. Also, that skeleton reaper angel sculpture is super interesting as well.

Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

This church was around the corner from our hotel. We stopped by on our last day before heading to the airport. I'm glad we did. The frescos in this church are breathtaking.

Colosseum (Flavian Amphitheatre)

We took an amazing tour of the Colosseum that took us down below the floor as well as around the normal bits. It's truly an amazing thing to see. It still makes me sad that over time the different civilizations scavenged it for materials. So you can only imagine what it would have been like when it was whole.

Arco di Costantino

Just outside the colosseum. Covered in beautiful sculpture.

Palatine Hill

It's a huge area chocked full of layers of history, including the area where Marc Antony gave his famous speech about Julius Ceasar.

The Vatican and Vatican Museum

Other Sights Around the City

There's literally history and art all over the city.

Liverpool! - Expat Adventures

Liverpool! - Expat Adventures

Something new I've discovered I quite enjoy, is going to a destination that you know very little to nothing about.  When Dani signed up for the Rock 'n' Roll half marathon in Liverpool, I said "sure, sounds fun! I've never been to England.". I think at that point all I knew about the city was that it was in England and it's where the Beatles came from. Turns out, it's a really awesome place to visit.

We already had Whit Monday as a holiday, so we took Friday off and made it into a long weekend. It's a super short hop from Amsterdam to Liverpool. I think the flight was only a little over an hour. We stayed at Jurys Inn, right on the wharf, and right next to all the race things (expo, start lines, party, etc).  It's a great location as you are next door to the Albert Dock, near the Mersey river (obviously), and walking distance to most things in the city center.

Mersey Waterfront / Albert Dock / Ferry

There's a lot going on along the waterfront in Liverpool. You've got the events and arena complex, the Ferris Wheel, Albert Dock, Museum of Liverpool, the "three graces" and the ferry terminal for starters.  Since we stayed in this area, we saw quite a bit, including from the ferry and the top of the Wheel of Liverpool.

Albert Dock is the largest collection of Grade 1 listed buildings in England

The water front is full of statues, memorials and so much character.

The museum of Liverpool is beautiful inside and out. In addition to a brand new John and Yoko exhibit, they had a fascinating look at lgbt history in Liverpool and England.

And of course some shots of the three Graces and obligatory pictures from the top of the Wheel of Liverpool.

City Center

There's so much in the city center area. Thee's lots of fantastic buildings, monuments, cathedrals, and historic sites. For starters, there's Matthew street, where the Beatles played while they were getting their start playing in the Cavern Club.

Then there's the Anglican cathedral that was designed by a protestant and the Protestant cathedral that was designed by an anglican.  Both absolutely gorgeous buildings. We also saw the bombed out cathedral from WW1, the Queen Victoria monument (a bit naughty from a certain angle), and St George's hall (where a lot of movies have been shot),

On the recommendation of a lady at the race expo, we took a look inside the library and the attached Liverpool world museum. The library, especially the reading room, was incredible. And the museum was quite impressive as well.  They had a terracotta warriors exhibit happening, but that was an extra charge, so we stuck to the rest of the museum. That was fine, expecially since they had a really amazing mummy exhibit.

Beatles Magical Mystery Tour

You can't go to Liverpool without seeing some amazing Beatles history. We bought tickets to the "Magical Mystery Tour" on our last day there. It's a two hour bus tour around to many different sites of significance to the band. It included places like Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, birth homes and other houses where members of the band grew up. All along the way we got stories of how the band got together and became the phenomenon that they did.

The Races

The races were decently organised for an international Rock 'n' Roll event. The expo and bib pickup was a bit understaffed, so there was some waiting.  Dani seemed to enjoy all three races and was happy with her times. I was my usual supporter / photographer role.

If you find yourself in England and looking for a fun city to visit, definitely give Liverpool a shot. Just know that although the people are very friendly, that Scouse accent is a real bugga' to understand.

Je t'aime Disneyland Paris

Je t'aime Disneyland Paris

Dani and I have been talking about going to Disneyland Paris for what seems like forever.  Well, certainly since they first announced the Run Disney event there.  When we talked about going, the idea of us living a few hours away wasn't even conceivable.  Well folks, sometimes life takes you unexpected places.  But given that we are living in Europe now, visiting Disneyland Paris was anything, but, unexpected for us.

Our original plan was to take the train from Amsterdam Centrum to the Gare de Marne-la-Vallée station just outside the park. However, due to the train strikes in France falling on our departure date, we had to scramble and make arrangements to fly.

So we booked and flew Transavia for the first time.  There's not much to say about the airline other than it's cheap and not-bad.  It's super no-frills, so don't expect anything like "priority" lines, early boarding, free drinks, etc.  The good news is, it's quick. Only about and hour and twenty minutes gate to gate. The downside is that we then had to pay for a bus shuttle to take us the remaining 50 minus from Orly Airport to the parks area. And we had to spend time in Orly, which is a shit airport, on the way back.

We stayed at the Sequoia Lodge resort. It was an okay hotel, but definitely felt dated, even though I understand it was renovated not that long ago.  The amenities were nice (lounge, shop, restaurants, etc.).  We didn't get a change to check out the pool, but it looked quite nice as well. And the grounds were spectacular.  It's also nice in that it's a 15 minute walk to the park entrances through Disney Village. There's a spectacular lagoon along the way as well.

We spent most of the rest of Friday and the weekend in the parks. The castle here is spectacular. It's even got it's own dragon underneath. And the parks are just gorgeous in general. Space Mountain (Hyperspace temporarily) at this park is the best one, hands down. The coaster is awesome, and the Star Wars overlay works perfectly. My favourite thing there. The Ratatouille ride is also super good. It's a fun mix of practical and projected 3D effects that brings you down to the size of a rat in a kitchen.

Because of social media and friends, we were able to meet up with a new friend, Giona, who is a cast member with Disneyland. He was super kind and spent much of his weekend playing in the parks with us and showing us around.  And the best part is, now we have a new friend in Paris! 

"It's a Small World" isn't my favourite attraction, but it has grown on me in recent years. I was really surprised how nice and fresh the Paris one felt.  Plus it was fun to see how the States and Canada are portrayed in a non-US based attraction.  It... did not disapoint.

And of course, we had to book at least one character dining experience.  When we booked our package, we took the option of a Crystal Palace breakfast.  Breakfast itself was quite good. I appreciated the variety of fresh foods. French staples like croissants and crepes were all very good. We had some great characters too. Mickey, of course, and Daisy.  But then Scrooge McDuck came out and we were pumped! He's one of those characters you rarely see.

So it's safe to say the wife and I had a great time this trip (despite me getting sick half way through).  We loved it so much we decided to take the plunge and purchase annual passes.  Since the park is close enough for us to make the trip pretty easily, it made sense. I already can't wait to go back!

Keukenhof Gardens - Expat Adventures

Keukenhof Gardens - Expat Adventures

This is the first of what I'm going to call my Expat Adventures posts.

After a couple months of living in Amsterdam, Dani and I finally took our first touristy trip out of the city.  We visited the Kuekenhof Gardens in the town of Lisse. The gardens are only open for a couple months in the spring each year.  They are 32 hectares of beautiful gardens, with eateries, art, a playground, a petting zoo, windmill and a hedge maze.

We took a Tours and Tickets bus from the Amsterdam City center, which dropped us off right at the gardens gate.  They gave us a little over three hours before we had to board the bus and get back, which is plenty of time to tour the entire place.

The grounds are split into different areas and include several large buildings. The buildings had different setups including a display history of tulips, an amazing building full of orchids, and one with a series of different intricate displays. In the large center building there were beds and beds of flowers on display from different growers in the Netherlands. Who knew there were so many different types of tulips?  Not me!

After a few hours, we boarded the bus and headed back to the city. All in all, it was a very fun and fragrant afternoon. It's one of those places, that if you find yourself in the Netherlands in April/March, you should definitely check it out! In the mean time, check out a few of the photos I took below.  Tot later!

Next weekend, we are visiting Disneyland Paris for the first time!