The Vatican , as it is referred to, is a principality inside the city of Rome.
As the heart of the Roman Catholic Church, many make the pilgrimage here to pay honour to the home of the Pope and one of the strongest religions world wide.
Inside the grounds of the Vatican are the Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Church (St. Peter’s Basilica) , St Peter’s Square and many museums.
This historical and religiously significant venue is best seen before ALL the crowds arrive. It is one of the most visited places in the world… with millions streaming through ever year.
The good news is the Sistine Chapel and church open really early in summer – usually 7-730am. I would suggest setting an alarm clock and being one of the first in queue. If you don’t want to leg it alone, definitely do a tour as you can jump the queues and this is well worth it otherwise you may spend an hour or two(!) in a line up which is plain exhausting.
The police of the Vatican are the Swiss Army and are a step back into medieval times with their kit and custom. They are friendly and don’t mind a photo but are on duty so don’t be a pest.
St Peter’s square is massive and surrounding the periphery are significant people from the Roman Empire. If the pope is in town and giving a sermon, it will be in this square.
Roma as it is affectionately known to Europe is an incredible place and will require at least 3-4 full days of sightseeing and exploring… Longer if you have the time and really want to enjoy the Roman lifestyle, of sleeping in, lazying around a piazza for lunch, exploring side streets and relishing in feasts.
I have been to Roma a few times but this time felt different.
Maybe because I wasn’t doing a one day stop over with a contiki crowd, or not with 18 month old daughter so could really savour it from a relaxed grown up perspective.
There is so much to see and do and while I understand people liking maps, I really think half the fun of Roma is following your heart. Not your mind.
See where the streets take you, discover Roma…. you can always ask for directions for the main sites and everyone will be able to guide you in the right direction.
Here are my top 5 things to see and do in Roma
Visit the Colosseum
One of my favourite buildings in the whole world, is the Colosseum.
The sheers size of it is incredible. You can do a tour during the day but can I recommend going at night? It is special. The illumination, the stories, the ambiance, give you insight to a very real world that existed over 2000 years ago.
The Colosseum was a big stadium which had trap doors, floors that could flood and a myriad of corridors beneath it’s surface.
The walls whisper great tales while you are there and it is impossible not to imagine the morbid entertainment, the deaths and massacres that would have taken place hundreds of years ago.
A making of an Empire that would span hundreds of years and travel throughout Europe and parts of Africa, didn’t just pop up.
It has strong roots in Rome and the heart of the Roman Empire is the The Forum.
Here you can see some incredible structures still standing in their majestic beauty and still symbolising strength, precision and beauty.
The architectural genius is second to none. The fact many structures still stand 2000 years on is testimony to its design.
Definitely worth a meander and wander through it’s wonderful gardens and paths.
The religious home of the catholic church and a country in its own right, the Vatican is fascinating.
One of the most visited tourist sites in the world.
Thousands visit each day and just being part of such a pilgrimage is incredible.
If you wish to see the Sistine Chapel, get there early. It opens at 7am. Although check in winter, as this could change.
St Peter’s Basilica is grand and breath taking and worth setting aside an hour just to soak it all in and bath in it’s glory.
The walls around St Peter’s Square are also grandeuse and on a clear day, there is nothing more crisp than seeing the walls silhouetted against the Roman blue sky.
The Swiss Guards still to this day (some 500 years on from being appointed by Pope Julius II) guard the sacred land. There uniforms are bright, distinguished but slight impractical.
There are many amazing piazzas in rome. Which really are large areas, almost like court yards, where multiple roads and back streets meet.
They bring together people and are the basis of modern day villages. Around the periphery are shops and particularly in Roma, restaurants and cafes.
The social hub is fantastic and one of the best is Piazza Navona.
I visit at night time but any time is good, and later in the day, you can sit and have a local favorite, called an Aperol Spritza. Aperol is a palate cleanser and apertif which primes your stomach for food. I find them very bitter – which they are intended to be. Some people love them. Either way, they are very Roman and appropriate to do in Rome!
Anyone who is not impressed by the Trevi Fountain is going to be hard to please.
With it’s huge sculptured works, carvings and at night, illuminosity, the fountain is more than a water feature. It is a living art piece that draws in hundreds of eager tourists, all with a selfie stick, after that “postcard perfect photo.”
I visit the Trevi Fountain most days when in Rome because of its sheer beauty and for some reason it makes me smile! Becareful of pick-pockets in this area who work the surrounding area stealthly.
Not to be over shadowed by all the other incredible buildings in Rome, the Pantheon, in my humble opinion is the most magnificent.
It’s understated persona doesn’t prelude what is inside her magic walls.
Inside is a captivating, perfect sunlight opening.
To me the hole says, “precision” and also shows what a deep understanding of design and maths that the Romans natural have.
You can walk around the inside of the Pantheon and it is free to do so.
The piazza around The Pantheon is fun and lively.
Something not many people do, is come back late at night and lie on her huge stone tiles. I did this a few times, to marvel at the history and size of this amazing building.
Other wonderful things to see are the Spanish Steps, the BIG house, Circus Maximus and the pyramid….
Last year I stumbled across the Puri Sunia twenty minutes outside of Ubud.
It is a new resort that is very beautifully designed and connected to greenery in a very Bali way.
I stay in a deluxe room and it is deluxe. Much better than some of the other similar rated resorts in this region.
The spa area is good and everyone is welcomed with a complimentary foot spa massage. It really does work – massage is relaxing.
You could simply whittle time away at the resort starting with early morning yoga and stretching. If you want to slide in and out of the pool like I did, you can order excellent pool side dining.
I think you should venture into town for a few “must experience” in Ubud.
Great restaurants, music and bars and funky art shops, Ubud is a well known in-land town higher than the better known beachside town of Kuta near Denpasar.
I love Ubud for it’s organic cafes, it’s colour, it’s history, and clothing shops. A friend of mine has her own female clothing range called Goddess on the Go and she has the material made out of wood! Great fabric, nice and cool and easy to wash. Say I said hi if you make it to her shop.
Five days beforehand I was lying in my beautiful comfortable warm bed on the Gold Coast with Nepal a distant dream and another world away. I had traveled here before but no two trips are ever the same and this was to be true of this adventure.
Sometimes I think I am a little crazy but behind Everest, and the proud face of Nepal, is a country in recovery and I want to see if I can help out.
The helicopter trip to the remote hillside village, seemed like a thrill ride. It was fascinating and exhilarating traveling over terraced fields high into the Nepalese mountains. The mountains are steep, not gradual and not subtle. How on earth homes have been built on the rugged terrain is beyond me.
The twenty minute chopper ride is the best way to get to Fulkharka (or Phulkharka as it can be spelt) and is far superior to the road trip. While it is only 150km north west of Kathmandu the roads are far from straight and flat and traveling on them is like being in a washing machine. A jeep could make the drive in 6-8 hours, or a bus 8-12 hours, needless to say for me, this time the helicopter WON OUT big time.
I am only here for a few days to help rebuild the school that was mostly destroyed in the earth quake.
This is a clip I took on the way to Lumbini and is indicative of road travel in Nepal. I am very grateful for my Italian fore-father Leonardo Di Vinci for inventing the helicopter (after the road tips I vow never to drive over flying here ever again)!
Last year, a 7.8 earth quake hit Nepal on Saturday 25th April. It shook the area around Kathmandu. 8000 people died, only two in this village, but many more were wounded.
Getting aid to the affected was a logistic nightmare, as the roads are treacherous at best. Post quake, many roads were impassable with fallen rocks and pit holes. Many people perished in the fields from injuries and cold.
For days after the earthquake the villagers were too scared to re-inter buildings as they were unstable and still collapsing. Smart move in this case as a second earth quake was to hit on 12th May.
It’s not surprising then , as we fly in , that we receive a royal welcome. The whole school comes out to greet us.
The school had 33 buildings and in the earthquake lost 22 buildings.
It’s an inspiring sight and I just wish it had been 9 months earlier and I was there after the quake to provide much needed goods, like blankets, emergency relief and food.
I feel mildly embarrassed by our welcome but soon realise the intrigue is pure gratitude.
In this village, Fulkharka, like many surrounding villages, there is no electricity, no cars and no social service benefit.
People race to greet us as they are truly grateful for us coming to help them. It’s only a small contribution in their road to recovery but our show of faith goes along way.
This is my friend Pravin’s home.
Like many homes in the village, it was three stories high, but now reduced to unsafe rubble, many are trying to rebuild.
The scars from the earthquake are still evident and over night I experience my first real life earthquake!
I wake to the ground groaning, mumbling and shaking.
Rapidly working out in my dreamy mind that I am not dreaming, this is not Jurassic Park and I am indeed in the middle of an earthquake. I wake instantly. What can I do? What does one do? I had never dress-rehearsed this before.
I felt a little naive – entering earthquake territory and all, Mt Everest, the surrounding cousins and the angry earth plates obviously rule the nest here and I was innocently camping on their soil.
Please be kind to me, I remember thinking.
Fortunately Mother Nature is kind to me this time and my little A frame tent stays upright.. and no boulders roll in to greet me.
Morning comes and I rise collaborating the night’s event’s with others… “was it really an earth quake?”
Yes a 4.5.
I can’t image the fear the people must have felt last year as the earth shook up and down and side to side. Apparently items were jumping in the air and people were knocked to the ground on their knees. It must have been horrific. Normally seismic activity occurs either laterally or vertically, but last year’s Nepal quake did both at the same time.
They must have felt the end of the world was nigh.
I spend a couple of days helping to concrete over the earth bagged walls.
Progress is slow with earth bagging but the concreting part seems to make an impressionable difference. People have been chipping in and coming here over the last few months to help out.
Notably a French guy, Thomas who is leading the project, a guy from Kansas City called John and volunteers with OURWORLDEXITS. I am here with my friend’s NGO called Journey Nepal. I only chip in for a few days but could stay and would love to stay and do more.
Earth bagging is labour intensive but perfect for locations where excavators, cement pumping and other modern techniques are limited. It is also environmentally aligned not that I am an expert. I like the concept, enjoy the process and love seeing it unfold.
When our day’s work is done we can hang out with the locals.
The children are really receptive and open to outsiders.
I am invited to give an impromptu English class and even have photos on my camera of Australian marsupials. The kids love it (I love it)!
My friend’s sister works in the local post office where mail is still delivered on foot and with a smile. I am sure everyone knows everyone’s business here but there is nothing to hide and family is number one. I love it. Very reminiscent of yesteryear and it appeals to my romantic mind.
I teach the children French cricket -which they pick up very quickly – and tuffs of tumble weed and broken wood is all we need for equipment.
My friend’s family also treat us to an incredible feast. The local dish is Dhal Bat and as a real treat they cull a chicken.
We cook inside on the wood fired oven and it smells out of this world!
The herbs and spices are amazing: fresh and local grown chilli, garlic, coriander, tomatoes and more. It is a chef’s (and nutritionist’s) heaven. I could write an entire blog about the herbs and food! Truly inspiring.
I was a little nervous eating the freshly prepared chicken but there was no need to be. Turns out chicken beaks, chicken meat and the sinew are tasty and really good in a curry. Nothing is wasted and I can see why there are few nutritional deficiencies around here.
The Nepalese are a resilient race. Strong in adversity yet humble and happy. I haven’t come across any other race as beautiful and well rounded.
Animals are still used to plough the land, and are respected for their produce and spirits. Most Nepalese are hindi so the cow is all sacred and all animals are treated humanly. Apparently the buffalo get marijuana from the fields for it’s medicinal benefits – makes so much sense to me!
I want to go back and help more.
The experience in these hills are life changing and will remain with me forever.
I was made to feel at home, as one and taken in with love.
I look forward to seeing my new friends again and encourage others to experience what I have before electricity gets to the hills and spoils some of their innocence.
It had been 3 nights in the himalayan hills and I was covered with dirt. BIG amounts of dirt. NO shower for 3 days, working with soil and concrete, sleeping in a tent and even experiencing my first earth quake! Fortunately only a 4.5 and no damage.
Fast forward an 8 hour very bumpy 4 WD trip into Pokhara and I feel like I have landed in an oasis.
Checking in to the hotel Temple Tree, feels like a surreal dream and then I spot my bath in my room. Squeals of delight and I didn’t realise how much I was missing the luxuries of home…hot water, big fluffy bed and free wifi!
My appreciation for life’s luxuries sky rocket.
This town is pretty awesome. It oozes with natural beauty and is a hub for action & adventure. The Annapurna range can be seen first thing in the morning – they don’t go anywhere but a fog consumes them as the day goes on.
I am craving a day off though and spend Sunday checking out Devi’s Waterfalls and caves. Remarkable and worth a visit if you are in town.
After that, back to base, a few mo-mos to tie me over for a lazy lunch at Mike’s Restaurant which is on the lake. The food is awesome and it ticks a few boxes… great margaritas, views, good food and a chance to do some painting which I have been missing.
Lakeside Pokhara – Mikes restaurant and doing some art
A late afternoon visit to Tal Barahi Temple, to make a blessing, then off to a bar lakeside for Sheisha and a Chillian sav blanc. The Busy Bee Cafe captures my attention and is a great meeting place for travellers. It’s here I learn about walking up to the Peace Pagoda and score a live band playing Cold Play Nepalese style.
After a big sleep I fulfil an urge which is to parachute, but this time is paragliding. After a panic attack some 16 years ago, I have been too scared to do parachuting but this seemed safer – or something. Anyway we go, and it is a hoot. Everything you would expect gliding like a bird through the Himalayas.
Slightly motion sick at the bottom, I am determined not to let it mess my day.
I am determined to climb up to see the pagoda and hire a kayak (costs 800 rupee) for the afternoon. It’s very dodgy but somehow I don’t capsize and find my way to the other side!
The trek to the top doesn’t take 2-3 hours only 30 minutes up and another 30 mins back down. It’s a great walk and just what I needed. The pagoda is ok… it’s closed today but the views are worth going for.
Everything else is accessible from here – white water rafting, trekking, ultra light flying, jungle experiences and more. I love the lake side vibe, the diverse food and great bars and am definitely coming back again.
My friend runs a tour company in Kathmandu and can help you arrange your flights and adventures and is good to go through as he gets great rates. His name is Shree and this is his company.