Before the Storm - Split, Croatia

Although Frances and I were traveling alone for the last couple weeks, we were happy to join some familiar faces from Calgary.  This time, we arrived in the gorgeous country of Croatia where we planned to spend the next 7 days sailing the Adriatic Sea.  The two of us were looking forward to a more relaxing pace compared to the busy tourist traps of London, Paris, and Rome.  Plus it helps the wallet when the Canadian Dollar goes a little further on Croatian Kuna compared to the Euro.

We met up with our friends Kyle, Adrienne, Elisa, & JP in the town of Split.  The four of them have been planning this yacht trip for almost a year and the timing worked out perfectly to fit this into our Honeymoon. For our accommodations, Adrienne found a cozy apartment, perfectly located in the heart of town.

Split is known for being one of Croatia's central transportation hubs, not only for flying in, but also the starting point for those famous sailing tours.  Another notable highlight of Split is that it's the home to Diocletian's Palace, a Roman castle built in the center of town and one of many filming location for those Game of Throne fans.

As it was the calm before the storm, we made the most of our first two days exploring the city streets, markets, and of course we couldn't resist soaking up some sun at the local beach.  One place to recommend for eats would be Bokeria Kitchen & Wine, one of the local faves serving a great selection of Croatian tapas. Definitely a place to check out, even though there was a mix up with our reservation, but the hostess did make it up with a an apology note.

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The Vatican

With our last day in Rome, we couldn’t leave without visiting Vatican City. With it’s remarkable past, collection of art, and housing the famous Sistine Chapel & St. Peter’s Basilica, we thought the best way to cram all that history in would be a guided tour of the city.   We bought our tickets online through the Vatican’s website and purchased the “Open tour of the Museums and Sistine Chapel”.  The Vatican is well known for its long waits in line, so we didn’t hesitate to attend the first tour of the day at 8:30am.

Having bought our tickets months in advance, we didn't realize that the Pope himself held an outdoor mass every Wednesday morning.  Luckily this worked out to our advantage.  At the same time the majority of the locals and tourists were trying to attend mass, we were beginning our tour of the Museum with smaller than usual attendance.  Our tour guide even mentioned how lucky we all were as normally the halls would be packed like a sardines.

The tour takes you through the Vatican Museum, going through an educational history lesson. By the end, the tour takes you to the Sistine Chapel where you get to admire the famous ceiling painted by Michelangelo, unfortunately we weren't able to take photos inside, but it's definitely a site to see. Once you're done admiring the art, you can make your way to St. Peter's Basilica to admire more of the renaissance architecture and the rest of St. Peter's Square.

With the whole morning behind us, it was about time to grab some grub.  We found a place near the Vatican called La Zanzara. A hidden gem and a perfect place for a couple drink, eats, and a unique atmosphere.  The restaurant looks like a New York bar with a French twist.

For our last night in Rome, we wanted to head back to Trastevere. We were a little more curious to explore more of the charming neighbourhood and the night festival (Lungo Il Tevere).  Our last meal in Rome had us seated next to the river on a patio restaurant called Sora Lina Trattoria, with wine and pasta of course.

Where Gladiators Are Born

Day 3 in Rome kicked off with a tour of the Colosseum.  This amphitheater is one of Rome's more iconic attractions standing out among Rome's buildings.  Walking through the arena, it's easy to appreciate the architecture and history behind the Colosseum.  Included with your ticket is a free entrance to the Roman Forum just steps away showcasing the ruins and what was the center of Rome.

Another landmark worth seeing is the Pyramid of Cestius.  There’s a lot of Egyptian influence in Rome such as the obelisks, but this is the only standing Egyptian Pyramid in Europe.

On a recommendation from another tourist, we decided to check out the neighborhood of Trastevere.  An area known for its lively nightlife, with bars and restaurants flooding the streets and alleyways.  So there’s no shortage of places to go for a drink or a bite to eat.  Instead of pizza or pasta, we opted for something different.  We found a place called the Fish Market, which the name suggests, served fresh seafood.  This restaurant is a bit hidden so the patio area was a bit more private, which we didn’t mind.  

Along the Tiber River, the neighborhood also hosted a summer long night festival (Lungo Il Tevere) full of local vendors stalls, outdoor theaters, and patios to quench your thirst.

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Ancient Rome At It's Best

Today was sure to be a busy, so we definitely needed some pick me up to survive the day.  A few travel blogs recommended a coffee bar called La Casa Del Caffè Tazza D'oro, which we had to try.  Seriously, one of the best coffee's we've tasted in Europe thus far, so we couldn't help purchasing a couple espresso beans for souvenirs.

The day tour started off at the Pantheon. This building is still an architectural wonder and the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome.  It also serves as a church and a tomb for the former King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II.   We also stumbled to Piazza Navona, one of the busiest public squares in Rome, it's filled with restaurant patios, street artists, and of course contemporary fountain sculptures.  If you're ever hungry while in the neighborhood, I definitely recommend Bernini Ristorante.  This family owned joint was worth every penny. Frances and I ordered the pasta and terra mousse, but there were definitely more great options as well.  They even served complimentary limoncello after dinner, a chilled lemon liqueur to help digest those full stomachs.

Other stops along the way were Campo De' Fiori square which hosted a daily produce market. This is a great souvenir stop as there were a lot of vendors selling olive oil, dried pasta, and of course frest produce.  Frances even got to enjoy a fresh fruit cup.  Another neat historical place we saw were the ruins of Largo di Torre Argentina, the site is still persevered and it was where Julius Caesar was assassinated.  We then made our way down to the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II.  The museum nicknamed "Altare della Patria" (translated to Alter of the Father) was built to honor the king of Italy who unified the country.

At night, we got to check out the Vatican and the Colosseum.  Normally these placed are packed with tourists, but with the venues closed for the day, it was definitely a little quieter than usual.

La Casa Del Caffè Tazza D'oro

Pantheon

Piazza Navona

Campo De' Fiori - Produce Market

Bernini Ristorante

Largo di Torre Argentina

"Altare della Patria" - National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II

Vatican - St. Peter's Basilica

Coliseum at Night

Piazza Della Repubblica

When in Rome

After a week and a half of cloudy wet weather in the UK and France, the weather Gods finally gave us a break with clear skies and +30°C in Rome.  Much like Paris, Rome’s streets are filled with tourists, market vendors, and of course delicious restaurants.   Since our stop in Italy would last 4 days, we decided to take our time today to explore the streets.

After checking into our AirBnB room, we couldn’t resist the temptation of fresh pasta and pitchers of wine. Thanks to the power of Google and Yelp, we settled on Aquila Nera (near the Termini Railway Station) which didn’t disappoint, plus it had a on-street patio for ppl watching and soaking the rays.

With our stomachs full, we decided to burn off the carbs and walk the streets to the famous Trevi Fountain. Like all the tourist spots, this place was extremely packed, but we still managed to litter the fountain with coins and wishes.

The next tourist trap on the list was the Spanish Steps which linked the Spanish Embassy and Trinità dei Monti church.  Unfortunately I forgot to read the memo that is was closed for restoration.  But on the bright side, I got a tourist-free photo of the steps, #Winning!

Take Me to Church

With the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, and Arc de Triumph checked off, the only thing left to visit was the illustrious Notre Dame. Similar to the Louvre, we decided to hit the famous cathedral bright and early to avoid the mass crowds, we were even lucky enough to attend a private mass just by talking to the one of the organizers. It was a highlight since it's such a famous church. Once we took in the interior architecture and it's long history, there was still much to explore on the outside with a courtyard in the back and a few cafe's along the street for a break

Blocks away from Notre Dame was Paris' version of the Pantheon.  Although not an exact replica, the building is modeled after the original from Rome. However we opted not to go inside since we were pretty much museum'd out from earlier.  There was a lot of activity in front though, we even saw the tail end of a wedding ceremony. 

Down the street was the Luxembourg Palace and Gardens, home of the French Senate.  Similar to the other gardens in Paris, it's another public area for tourists to explore and enjoy the scenery. As you walk through the garden, it's a perfect place for a picnic or even like every other place in the city, to people watch and admire the scenery.

For the modern architects, we also checked out the Pompidou Centre which houses the public library, the National Musuem of Modern Art, and the Music Centre.  The building is usually known for it's "exposed skeleton" design.

To end off the day (and the trip), we were able to finally taste some classic French desserts at a local patisserie called Gerard Mulot.  This place came highly recommended from a few other Travel Blogs so we couldn't leave Paris without eating a few authentic Parisian macrons.  They even had a Euro Cup flavor to celebrate the festivities!

Le Panthéon National

Luxembourg Gardens

Pompidou Centre

Gerard Mulot Patisserie

This Is What You Came For

One of the most iconic symbols of Paris, the Eiffel Tower, certainly stood tall in the middle of Champ de Mars.   With the Euro Cup "Fan Zones" occupying most of the park, we weren't able to take a leisurely stroll along the green space but we were able to see the "Iron Lady" up-close.  It was also neat to see a giant soccer ball hanging from the tower in honor of Euro Cup.  For those wanting to see a scenic view of the tower from a distance, another great place would be from the balcony of Palais de Chaillot which is directly across the street.  This museum overlooks the tower and a perfect place to take those Facebook or Instagram shots.

After admiring Paris' famous tower, we walked along the Seine River, where we happen to cross one of the numerous footbridges, the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor.  Here, we got to immortalize our initials on a pad lock.  Paris apparently has two other "love-lock" bridges, Pont des Arts and the Pont de l'Archevêché bridge, so it was neat to take part in one of these tourist traditions.

The last monument of the day was the Arc de Triomphe, which honours those soldiers who fought during the French Revolution.  There's also an observation deck on top if you're willing to walk up 200+ steps, but from what I hear, the view from the top is definitely worth it.

Eiffel Tower

Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor Bridge

Arc de Triomphe

Bonjour Paris

Frances and I were looking forward to visiting Paris, not only because France was hosting the Euro Cup, but for the museums, gardens, and especially the wine and food!

Since we had a couple of days in Paris, we decide to just sit back and relax on the first night.  Our Airbnb apartment was situated at the perfect spot along the street of Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis which is a vibrant multicultural area filled with many shops, markets, cafes, and restaurants.  Scanning one end of the street to the other, we ended up at a place called Au Faubourg for some eats.  Luckily it was happy hour, so we couldn't resist ordering a bottle of wine and a charcuterie board.

The following day wasn't as relaxing though, we started the day bright and early at the Louvre Museum to avoid the huge crowds.  Having bought our tickets online and ahead of time, we didn't have to wait in line at all. You could literally spend the entire day walking around this place, unfortunately, we didn't have that luxury but we did learn much of Europe's history roaming around these halls.  We even got to see the famous Mona Lisa.  It was a little underwhelming as we were more impressed by the giant painting across the room, but definitely neat to see it in person. 

Next to the Louvre were the Tuileries Garden, a great public place to relax and enjoy the fresh air.   On the edge of the park is a Ferris Wheel (The Big Wheel) and a great view of the Eiffel Tower.  We would have loved to stay longer, but at this point, our stomachs were crying out for food.

A coworker had suggested a place called Bar du Central near the Eiffel Tower where they recommended to try another French delicacy, escargot.  Of course we had to and had no regrets.  The food was definitely top notch!

Au Faubourg

  Planche fromage du charcuterie

Planche fromage du charcuterie

Musée du Louvre

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Tuileries Garden

Bar du Central

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The People Make Glasgow

Our next stop on the map was up north to Glasgow, Scotland.  We wanted to visit our friends Jen and Tina, who we last saw when they came to visit us in Calgary 6 years ago.  Times have definitely changed since our early 20’s and partying it up at the Calgary Stampede. These days, Jen is engaged and Tina’s happily married with a beautiful daughter.  

We had caught up with the two lovely ladies at the Ingram Wynd, a traditional Scottish restaurant where we got to try a few dishes like haggis. Haggis seems to get a bad rap, but we sure enjoyed it.  Having finished our meals, we stopped for cocktails over at Merchant Square to end our first night.  Merchant Square, is a great place to hang out, it’s a casual indoor courtyard filled with restaurants and lounges.

The next morning, we began exploring the Glasgow Cathedral.  It is one of the oldest cathedrals in the city and it was built in the late 12th century.  It was neat to walk through and experience the Scottish Gothic architecture of the church.  Across from the cathedral is Provan’s Lordship, it is believed to be the oldest house in Glasgow and was once the home of the "Lord of Provan."

One of the touristy things to check out was George Square which is at the center of Glasgow.  The plaza honours 12 notable figures linked to the city’s history, along with a war memorial (The Cenotpah), and Glasgow’s City Chambers overlooking the square.

A few steps away is The Lighthouse, Scotland's Center for Design and Architecture.  It's a unique museum to experience even if you’re not into modern art or architecture.  If you head to the 3rd floor, a modern helical staircase allows visitors to climb up the rooftop for a scenic view of downtown.  Another unique attraction is the Viewing Platform on the 6th Floor where we were greeted by a talented performer playing on a piano for guests to enjoy.  It’s quite the hidden gem in the museum since we had the whole room to ourselves.   

Later we got a chance to meet up with Jen and Tina for lunch, we even got to meet Tina’s little girl, Ariana, who is amazingly adorable.  We ate lunch at The Bothy, a modern/traditional restaurant hidden behind one of Hillhead’s alleys.  After having a fantastic meal with the ladies, we walked up the streets to the University of Glasgow.  Jen was excited to show us her old stomping grounds as the architecture of the buildings where amazing to see and walk through.  It was literally like you were going to school at Hogwarts.  In addition, this was going to be special place for her since she’ll be saying her “I do’s” within these walls.

After our tour of "Hogwarts", we ended up at The Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum which is another one of the free-to-enter museums that we got to visit. A great place to learn about Glasgow’s history.

Our time in Glasgow was definitely too short though.  However, we got to catch up with old friends and meet new ones.  The city is so charming, definitely one that will not be forgotten.

 

 Catching up over the last 6 years

Catching up over the last 6 years

 Glasgow Cathedral

Glasgow Cathedral

 George Square

George Square

 Tower Staircase @ The Lighthouse Modern Museum

Tower Staircase @ The Lighthouse Modern Museum

  The Lighthouse Modern Museum

The Lighthouse Modern Museum

 Bathroom Anyone? 

Bathroom Anyone? 

 The Lighthouse Viewing Platform

The Lighthouse Viewing Platform

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 University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel

University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel

 University of Glasgow - West Quadrangle/Gilbert Scott Building

University of Glasgow - West Quadrangle/Gilbert Scott Building

 Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

  Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum - " Spitfire LA198"

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum - "Spitfire LA198"

 Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum - "Hall of Faces"

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum - "Hall of Faces"

 Drinks @ Merchant Square

Drinks @ Merchant Square

Pip Pip Cheerio

With it being our last full day in London, we decide to hit up all the major stops.  It was definitely a busy day and a lot of walking, but we couldn't leave London without checking them out...

London Eye

One of our friends recommended grabbing tickets ahead of time. Depending on the time of day, you could be waiting in line for hours.  It's a good thing we took that piece of advise, the 'non-ticket' line was definitely long.  If you plan on going, they can be bought from the website for as little as £21.  And for those who have the cash, you can actually have a private capsule to yourself with dinner and some bubbly for £380.00.  Maybe next time.

 London Eye

London Eye

Riding the Eye

Appreciating the view

Palace of Westminster

How could you not visit London without a picture of the famous clock tower? The clock tower's official name is actually The Elizabeth Tower, and the main bell is actually named "Big Ben".  And all this time I've been calling it Big Ben.  Wikipedia is definitely a powerful tool.

 Elizabeth Tower

Elizabeth Tower

 Westminster Abbey Church

Westminster Abbey Church

Buckingham Palace

Among the other things on our list, we had to pay a visit to the most iconic royal building in the UK. Home of Her Majesty The Queen, this place was also packed with tourists.  We were just in time to catch the changing of the guard, plus it was also neat seeing Canada's Coat of Arms displayed promptly on the outer gates among the rest of the commonwealth Countries

 Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

 Selfie Time

Selfie Time

Tower Bridge

This is one of the most iconic bridges in London.  Instead of reading another Google article, Frances and I decided to go up the famous tower learn a little more of it's history first hand.  Not only do you walk around the tower and read about it's history, there's a glass floor along the walkway and you also get to walk into the bridge's original engine room hidden on the bottom of the bridge.

 Tower Bridge - Shot on an iPhone

Tower Bridge - Shot on an iPhone

 Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

 As an Engineer, you have to appreciate this 

As an Engineer, you have to appreciate this 

 Shad Thames Street

Shad Thames Street

Tate Modern Museum

Britain's national gallery of international modern art.  Here's something that will catch your eye.  Admission is FREE.  Actually many London's museums are free and unlike Museums in Calgary, you can actually take photos within the museum. 

London Millennium Footbridge

The suspension bridge is attached to Tate Modern making it a convenient walk to St. Peter's Cathedral.  Unfortunately by the time we got to St. Peter's, it was closed.  A neat thing about this bridge is if you look down, you may catch a few miniature graffiti art along the walkway.

 Millennium Bridge

Millennium Bridge

It's Just Those Rainy Dayz

Our second day in London was just as rainy as the first. Regardless of the weather, we still got to enjoy a few of the sights thanks to our friends, Steve and Lisa. They graciously took us around east London for a 'non-touristy' experience of the city. The fact that it was a Sunday also worked out well in our favour since it felt like we had the place to ourselves.  

 Just hanging around under the umbrellas. 

Just hanging around under the umbrellas. 

The tour began with a walk through downtown where we got see some infamous street art along the way. This led us to the Columbia Road Flower Market.  Despite the heavy rain, the area was packed with locals buying some beautiful flowers.  From there, we walked to Dennis Severs' House, inside we got to experience a recreation of what a 18th Century home would look like.  Unfortunately we couldn't take any photos inside, but it was a great way to experience a piece of London's past.  After the history lesson, we strolled through London's core, walking past some iconic buildings such as The Gherkin, The "Cheesegrater" (yes it looks like cheese grater), and the Lloyd's of London.  Of course Julian couldn't resist capturing all the buildings from every angle.

 The Gherkin

The Gherkin

 The Gherkin and St. Andrew Undershaft

The Gherkin and St. Andrew Undershaft

 Willis Tower and Lloyd's of London

Willis Tower and Lloyd's of London

 Leadenhall Building (The Cheesegrater)

Leadenhall Building (The Cheesegrater)

Just around the corner was Leadenhall Market, a market which dates back to the 14 century.  For those Harry Potter fans, the area became the The Leaky Cauldron and Daigon Alley for the first film.  You would have use to your imagination if you saw it in person or maybe a lot of CGI in this case.  

From the hall, we navigated London's alleys where we got to see the Royal Exchange Building/Bank of England, a street market, and Brick Lane which is known for being a vibrant art and fashion area of London, which you could definitely tell by the beautiful art and graffiti covering the building walls.

 Leadenhall Market

Leadenhall Market

Royal Exchange Building

 Street market at Sandy's Row

Street market at Sandy's Row

With all that sightseeing, our stomachs were beginning to rumble and since it's a Sunday, we got to experience a traditional British Sunday roast.  What is a Sunday roast you ask? As the name suggests, it's a delicious meal served on Sundays consisting of roast beef, potatoes Yorkshire pudding, veggies and gravy. 

 Our very first Sunday roast at The Princess of Wales Restaurant

Our very first Sunday roast at The Princess of Wales Restaurant

 Primrose Hill with a panoramic view of London

Primrose Hill with a panoramic view of London

The final stop with our local guides was Primrose Hill where we were rewarded with a spectacular view of the city.  After saying our goodbyes with Stephen and Lisa, we took some time to explore King's Cross Station, home of the infamous Platform 9 3/4 which any Harry Potter fan can appreciate.  To finish off the night, we decided to checkout the Udderbelly Festival, a unique venue on the southbank of London known for having it's theater shaped as upside down purple cow.  Pretty clever eh?

St. Pancras

King's Cross Station

 The concentration on Julian's face.

The concentration on Julian's face.

 Udderbelly Festival

Udderbelly Festival

 Golden Jubilee Bridge at night. 

Golden Jubilee Bridge at night. 

 Night time views

Night time views

London

With our wedding day in the books, the next part of married life would be the illustrious "Honeymoon".  So we packed our bags and left on a jet plane. The plan: travel abroad, stopping in London, Glasgow, Paris, Rome, Split, and Amsterdam for the next month. Jolly old England was our first stop.

 Euro Trip Carry-on Essentials

Euro Trip Carry-on Essentials

 Sunset

Sunset

So after a delayed connecting flight and a longggg wait through custom, Frances and I finally arrived in London.  Even after paying over $25 each for our tiny in-flight meals, the first thing on our minds were food! But not just any type of food, we were both craving good ol' authentic British "fish & chips".  After some extensive Google research, I came across a place called Gigs Fish & Chips which came highly recommended by a few travel blogs, so we had to try it out.  Coincidentally, our friend Cecilia was also in London that same day and was happy to join us. Even though we live in the same city and haven't seen her since our Coachella days in 2013, but hey, better late than never right?  Anyhow, Gigs did not disappoint! 

 You Gotta Eat Here

You Gotta Eat Here

Coachella 2013 Reunion

After our late lunch, we followed Cecilia to Oxford St. were the streets were packed with tourists, brand name shops, and no shortage of H&M's at every block. Who knew they were that popular in the UK?

From Oxford St., we explored the alleys of Soho then made our way to Piccadilly Circus which is similar to New York's Time Square, so there were no shortage of advertisements.

 Much needed coffee break to beat the jet lag

Much needed coffee break to beat the jet lag

 Shot on an iPhone

Shot on an iPhone

 Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus

 Oxford Street

Oxford Street

After all that walking and sightseeing, day 1 was in the books. Not a bad way to start off the honeymoon.