Tips for Visiting the Roman Colosseum

Apr 20

Tips for Visiting the Roman Colosseum

The Roman Colosseum, or also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, is the largest amphitheatre in the Roman world. It stands nearly 50 metres and is as impressive in person as it is in photographs. It could hold 50,000 people. It made my top 10 attractions in Rome and it should be on everyone’s travel bucket list if you haven’t seen it yet.

The Flavian Amphitheatre started construction under Emperor Vespasian (of the Flavius family) in 72 AD and completed by Titus a decade later. It was built on the site of Nero’s Palace and the aim was to dissociate himself from the tyrant and to gain popularity by staging events such as gladiator battles and the massacre of animals.

Roman Colosseum

Roman Colosseum

The Roman Colosseum remained in use for 450 years but sustained damage in a lightning fire in 217 AD and an earthquake in 443 AD. Not long after, it ceased to be used for gladiator battles or animal hunts, possibly due to the rise of Christianity. The amphitheater soon was used for a multitude of things: a small church, a cemetery, housing, workshops and a castle during the next few centuries. In 1349, another earthquake caused great damage to the Roman Colosseum causing the outer south side to collapse. Stone and marble were pillaged from the Roman Colosseum for centuries and after the earthquake, much of it was used to build churches and other buildings in Rome. Even the bronze clamps were hacked out of the walls, leaving holes that you can still see today.

Avoid the Lines

There are several ways to avoid waiting in a LONG line. First, buy a guided tour so you can skip the lines and you’ll get extra information from your tour guide; I’ve always used Viator whenever I buy a skip the line tour.

Second, buy your ticket in advance from Palatine Hill located in Via San Gregorio No. 30 and Piazza Santa Maria Nova No. 53 (200 metres from the Colosseum). You will gain entrance to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum as well. This joint ticket is absolutely the way to go if you do not select a tour. You may also buy a ticket near the Colosseum entrance but that line will always be long. Skip it and get it in advance or via Palatine Hill.

Third, you can use your Roma Pass to visit the Roman Colosseum along with many other sites.

Fourth, buy your ticket online if the other three options are not appealing.

Colosseum, Rome, Italy

Colosseum, Rome, Italy – right around the corner from my hotel

Arrive before 8:30 am

The Colosseum opens its doors at 8:30 am so be in line a good ten minutes early and you will zoom through the queue. If you wish to visit Palatine Hill first, sure that works as well but I would recommend visiting the Colosseum first as it will get crazy busy as the day goes by. You will get some great pictures with little or no other tourists wrecking your photos. 🙂

Return at Night

As you can see from my above photo, the beauty of the Roman Colosseum must be seen at night. If nothing else, you must at least visit the Colosseum at night.

Metro

I would recommend staying near the Colosseum or the historic centre of Rome. It is a fantastic place; I was lucky enough to get a room in a small B&B around the corner from the Colosseum. There is nothing better than walking two minutes to see the Colosseum multiple times a day.

Rome’s metro system is quite good; you can walk from Termini station which takes 15 minutes (go straight down Cavour) or hop on the Line B and get off at Colosseo station which is right outside the colossal Roman Colosseum.

Inside the Roman Colosseum

Inside the Roman Colosseum

Other Information

Price for entry is 12 euros for entry to the Roman Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum. I would recommend getting the Roma Pass if you plan to be in Rome for a few days; it covers many museums and other sites.  You get free admission to your first two archeological sites (so pick the most expensive) or one if you select the 48 hour pass; free admission to many museums; free use of the metro system; and discounts on numerous other exhibitions.

Restoration has finally started on the Colosseum so be prepared to see scaffolding. The Colosseum will still be open (they say 85% will be open and viewable). Work is expected to take over two years (it started in October 2013 so early 2015 maybe).

Keep an eye on your wallet in this area: lots of tourists plus many street vendors trying to sell crap. They have a hard time taking NO for an answer. Be prepared to be annoyed; be firm and say no. They may still not leave you alone so keep walking and DO NOT STOP!

Wear good footwear; the entire area is very ancient and many of the paths inside and out are uneven.

Water – drinks lots of water. Bring a bottle with you if you are touring the area during the hot summer months. It gets super hot in Rome! I visited in October and it was still blistering! Bring your own bottle to save money: lots of places to fill it up.

So have you been to the Roman Colosseum or are you planning to go soon?

You might also be interested in:

Ancient Pompeii

Surviving Overseas Flights

Top 10 Rome Attractions

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Tips for Visiting Versailles

Apr 15

Tips for Visiting Versailles (Chateau du Versailles)

If you happen to visit Paris, do not forget about visiting Versailles. The Palace and its gardens are spectacular and cannot be ignored. The Chateau was the home of the Kings and Queens of France from Louis XIV in 1662 to the French Revolution and Louis XVI in 1789. Louis XIII loved the area so much that he had a hunting cabin built and his successor turned the cabin into a Palace and every King thereafter would add to it.

Palace of Versailles

Palace of Versailles via Wikipedia

1. The easiest way to visit Versailles – book your ticket online, print it off and beat the long queue to purchase at the Palace. Of course you will still have to wait in line to enter and that line can get quite long especially during the summer months. You may book a skip the line tour – yes you skip the line and go straight to the front. Or you may wish to visit in the spring or fall. Unfortunately I was in London (Top 10 London Sights) for the Olympics and popped over to Paris (Things to do in Paris) to visit so I could only visit during the summer.

2. If you take a tour, they will provide transportation. Otherwise, you will take the train (C train) from Paris to Versailles-Rive Gauche station which takes under an hour. It is a short walk from the train station to the Palace of Versailles.

Hall of Mirrors, Palace of Versailles

Hall of Mirrors, Palace of Versailles via Wikipedia

3. Arrive at Versailles as soon as it opens at 9 am (or get in the queue before 9 am). The crowds are long almost any time of day but best if you can arrive first thing; otherwise wait until mid-afternoon, or visit the gardens first. Once again, the other option is a skip the line tour. You can a full or half day tour; include the gardens or a view of the fountain at night. There are many options through Viator. Or use a Paris museum pass to help cut the cost.

See the picture above of the Hall of Mirrors? Add five hundred people to it and you’ll understand my experience of visiting Versailles. I LOVED it but I also HATED it. You will encounter so many other tourists who won’t move their ass out-of-the-way. They linger and take up space. You will be tempted to freak out. Take a deep breath and relax. Enjoy the beauty and ignore the idiots surrounding you. They are probably thinking the same about you. Of course they are wrong. 🙂

Visiting Versailles in 2011

Visiting Versailles in 2011 – hot and busy day in July

4. Allow enough time for the gardens; they are extensive. I was only there for half a day so I would love to go back and spend more time wandering through the gardens. Also remember to visit the Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s estate if you have time. You can take a mini-train but it does not run often.

Palace of Versailles' Gardens

Palace of Versailles’ Gardens

Other tips for visiting Versailles:

  1. Versailles is closed on Monday
  2. Buy the passport which covers everything at Versailles including the gardens, Marie Antoinette’s hamlet and Trianon Palaces: 18 euros
  3. Free admission for the following: visitors under 18; European Union residents under 26; teachers in French schools (proof required); disabled people and person accompanying them; French job seekers (upon proof). Here is the complete list!
  4. Click here for information on entry to the gardens; it is occasionally free depending on time of year and if there are no musical events
  5. Entry is free on the first Sunday of every month from November to March
  6. Arrive at 9 am or wait until later in the day (10-3 is highest volume especially on weekends)
  7. Hours: 9:00 am to 5:30 pm (6:30 pm in high season) for the Palace of Versailles. Trianon and Hamlet are noon to 5:30 (6:30 high); French Gardens are 8:00 am to 6:00 pm (8:30 pm high); park is open 8:00 am to 6:00 pm (7:00 am to 8:30 high season)
  8. Lastly, give yourself LOTS of time to wander through the Palace of Versailles. Visiting Versailles requires patience as you wander through the crowds. The apartments within the Palace are worth the wait.

Have you visited Versailles yet?

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Speed Demons: Alpine Skiing Sochi 2014

Apr 08

Speed Demons: Alpine Skiing Sochi 2014

I could not snag a ticket to any of the alpine events in Vancouver 2010 so I made sure to make getting a ticket (details on my Planning your Olympic adventure article) a priority (after hockey of course) for Alpine Skiing Sochi 2014. I was lucky enough to get tickets for both the Men’s Downhill and Super G races. Canada had not medaled in alpine skiing in twenty years; we also had a couple contenders for the podium so the races would be more exciting.

Men's Downhill (and later the men's Super G) on the left, Alpine Skiing Sochi 2014

Men’s Downhill (and later the men’s Super G) on the left, Alpine Skiing Sochi 2014

First I started the LONG trek from my cruise ship hotel (more on that another day). I had to take a shuttle from the port to the train station, train up to Krasnaya Polyana, bus further up the mountain, a looong ride on a scary gondola, and finally a few stairs (just 200-300) to get to my seat. The process took about two and a half hours; yes I was exhausted by the time I sat in my seat. Badly done Sochi!!

Gondola ride, Krasnaya Polyana, Alpine Skiing Sochi 2014

Gondola ride, Krasnaya Polyana, Alpine Skiing Sochi 2014

I made it up the mountain and had a great time. For the Men’s Downhill, I wore all my winter gear. Coat, boots, mitts, scarf – it was way too warm for any winter gear as you can see below. I was boiling! I rectified that for the Super G. The weather was heating up and for the Men’s Super G, so were our Canadian men! Alpine Skiing Sochi 2014 – bring it on!!

Men's Downhill, Krasnaya Polyana, Sochi 2014

Men’s Downhill, Krasnaya Polyana, Sochi 201

The Men’s Downhill was a good race; although many of the contenders did not medal including our Canadian Erik Guay. He won races leading up to and the week after Sochi 2014. However, I had fun sitting near a whole bunch of Canadians and we cheered loudly for everyone! Austrian Matthias Mayer won, surprisingly, with Christof Innerhofer of Italy and Kjetil Jansrud of Norway in silver and bronze respectively.

Men's downhill flower ceremony, Sochi 2014

Men’s downhill flower ceremony, Sochi 2014

The Men’s Super G turned out to be the most exciting race. I thought it would be the Men’s Downhill and I almost did not buy a ticket for the Super G.

Once again I make the LONG trek up the mountain. This time, I had something to cheer for…..Jan Hudec! Our first alpine medalist in TWENTY YEARS! Jan tied for bronze with Bode Miller of the US. It was an exciting race; Hudec and Miller were in silver for a short spell but hung on for bronze!

Hudec is a story of perseverance: leaving his native (then) Czechoslovakia thirty years ago secretly in a boat his father put together himself; seven knee surgeries; and back issues that sidelined him a month before the Olympics. The lucky loonie wins again! Jan Hudec hid a loonie at the finish line

While nothing can ever really top Olympic hockey gold, this sure comes a VERY close second. Too bad they did not hand out the medals right there; I could not go to the Olympic park when they did as I had another event. I only have a few pictures of the men’s super G; I was WAY too busy cheering and screaming. I screamed myself hoarse. 🙂

Men's Super G flowers, Sochi 2014

Men’s Super G medalists, Sochi 2014 – Weibrecht, Jansrud, HUDEC and Miller (left to right)

Great moment for Canada at the Olympics by a great Canadian! I’m glad I was there to cheer for Hudec and the entire Canadian Cowboys! Nicely done!

Have you been to an Olympic games? What was your favourite moment?

You might also be interested in:

Sochi Olympic 2014 Opening Ceremony

Men’s Sochi Olympic Figure Skating Long Program

Men’s Hockey Gold Vancouver 2010 Olympics

 

 

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Planning Your Olympic Adventure

Apr 06

Olympic Adventure: a trip of a lifetime to Russian Olympics in Sochi! If you ever get a chance to attend an Olympic games, I thoroughly recommend that you make it happen. It will be the best time of your life. You might ask yourself: how do I attend the Olympics as a spectator? It is a lot of work and yes it will take months and maybe even years to plan. However, the end result is one of the most rewarding experiences of your life: pure joy along with heartache and a chance to cheer for your country while you meet great people from around the world.

Planning Your Olympic Adventure

Olympic Rings, Olympic Park, Sochi, Russia

Olympic Adventure – Olympics Rings, Sochi 2014

1. Tickets

I recommend purchasing tickets before you make any other plans such as flights and hotels when planning your Olympic adventure. Your nationality or country of residence will determine the next step. For the most recent games in Sochi, Russia, Russians and anyone residing in Russia could purchase tickets through their main website, sochi2014.com. The remainder of the world had to go through an official ticket agency or reseller: each country was assigned to one. Canada, United States and several other countries were under http://cosport.com/.

UPDATE: CoSport remains the ticket re-seller for many nations including the United States. Canada, however, has opted to make a change and now tickets for the Olympics are available through ATPI Sports Events. They are all live sales, no ticket request submissions and then an allocation later. It is live and chaotic. However, I appear to have some luck and have secured tickets to both hockey gold medal games again along with some figure skating for men/pairs/dance, snowboard, curling, speedskating, skiing, and so on. I am still trying to get the men’s big air or men’s curling gold tix. Those are the two remaining tickets I am trying to secure.

I purchased my Olympic tickets for Vancouver through their main website (vancouver2010.com) while purchasing tickets for London and Sochi via CoSport. My guess is Rio and Pyeongchang will follow suit with CoSport but nothing has been announced yet. Keep an eye on the Olympic websites for each host nation.

In both cases, you will submit your ticket request. The process has differed slightly for each Olympic games so I will focus on Sochi, my most recent Olympic experience. I submitted a ticket request to CoSport. I was not charged immediately. The first step was an ‘expression of interest’ where I listed which events I wanted, how many tickets and which price category. A month or two later, I received word on which tickets were available and I was able to purchase at that time; I could change my mind during the checkout process such as delete tickets I did not want anymore. I could not add to my request or change the price category level.

You don’t get just one shot at it either. Tickets are released numerous times during the year. I learned this the hard way with the Vancouver Olympics: I thought there was ONE opportunity so I booked my flights and hotels around my original ticket allocation. Remember, there are MANY opportunities to buy tickets: either others declined to purchase, sponsors have returned tickets, etc.

I have bought tickets for some very big events: men and women’s hockey gold medal games in both Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 (the marquee event of the Winter games); men and women’s curling gold medal games in Vancouver and Sochi; men’s downhill in Sochi; Sochi Opening Ceremony; men’s 200 m in London; Vancouver Closing Ceremony. How did I get that lucky?

It is not luck. You must check the websites constantly for either new tickets or information on when more tickets will be released. Be vigilant.

One of the tricks that worked for me was creating multiple accounts for the original ticket allocation: I added an account for my mom and one for my dad. I added big-ticket events to their request as well as to my own. Maybe they’d want to come to the games with me? Or maybe they can give me their tickets? I hit the men’s hockey gold both times using this method (my mom is very lucky).

If you did not get tickets in the original allocation or even in the subsequent releases, do not worry. There are other opportunities. Both Vancouver and Sochi had a ticket reselling website (London did not) so you could sell and buy tickets officially; I liked this since I knew the tickets were legitimate. I would be very apprehensive of buying through a non-official source.

Finally, if you want to take the risk, you can try scalpers. Each Olympics will have different rules according to their games and country. Russia had scalpers hanging out right in front of the venues or just other people wanting to sell tickets. I never bought tickets that way but I almost did a couple of times; I declined due to time constraints on my schedule.

So keep an eye on the main website for the Olympics you wish to attend and sign up for any newsletters.  Rio 2016 and Pyeongchang 2018 are the next Summer and Winter Olympics.

For the last three Olympics, tickets went on sale or the process started about 14-18 months before the event but keep a close eye on their websites. Russia was very slow to post information while London and Vancouver had a great deal of information on their websites years before their games started.

Sochi 2014 Olympic Ticket for Olympic Adventure

Sochi 2014 Tickets – First Step in your Olympic Adventure

2. Hotel and 3. Flight

I normally book my hotel and flight around the same time or I’m researching them at the same time when planning my Olympic adventure. For Vancouver and London, this went smoothly and there were plenty of hotels to book in both locations. I had no issues with both cities; I booked my hotel about a year out and my flight about six to eight months from the Olympics. Russia was very different: they had hotel issues and it was difficult to book anything. I booked about six months to go and that made me nervous.

My policy for booking a hotel is always location, especially during an Olympics. You want to be near the metro or public transportation so you aren’t spending extra time walking especially if it is late at night. You will need to save your energy: usually the venues are spread-out and you will walk your ass off (yes London and Sochi).

Flights are usually the easiest to book: it’ll depend on your hotel booking or the dates you wish to attend. It will depend on price, how many stops, and whether you are going anywhere else as I did when I went to London (D-Day Beaches in Normandy, France) and Sochi. Here is a link to my article on finding cheap flights: that applies to any flight booking.

Be prepared to pay more for flights and hotels during an Olympics. You can stay in hostels, bed and breakfast or couch-surfing to save money. Prices increase during the Olympics; my guess is 25-40%. I prefer staying in hotels and staying in a good location so I book early. Booking flights later is probably fine; I had issues with my Russian trip as flights were limited in/out of Russia on the prepared days/times so always keep that in mind.

Update: It has been a bit tougher trying to find accommodation for PyeongChang. I am in a couple facebook groups where people are posting tips. However, there is plenty of time so I am not worried. Check with TripAdvisor for tips in the travel forum section. That is how I discovered the cruise ships moored in the port for the Sochi Olympics. 

4. Visas

Do you need a visa? Of course this will depend on your country of residence but make sure to check into this and how long it will take. For Sochi 2014, I submitted my Russian visa application in November just to give myself extra time before flying to Russia on January 31st.  Canadians and Americans need a visa for Brazil but do not need one for South Korea.

5. Immunizations

Check with your local health provider to see if you need to update any of your shots or need new ones. I updated some of mine before Russia and got the Hep A/B combo shot just in case. Your travel health clinic can tell you which ones you need. Maybe you also want to bring along something for traveller’s diarrhea so your Olympic adventure doesn’t turn into a disaster.

6. The Language

I always recommend learning the language of the country you are visiting. While you may not be able to learn all of it, you should at the very least learn a handful of phrases such as asking for directions, ordering food, please and thank you. The locals will treat you better if you know just a few phrases. But go further than that; learn more than just thank you. It is rewarding to learn a new language.

7. Insurance

Don’t forget to purchase medical insurance if you do not have it already. I am lucky that I have it through my work and it covers any trips I take around the world. Also you will need trip insurance: make sure it includes cancellation or interruption, baggage lost, flight accident, or whatever you wish to include. I usually get one that covers everything since the price is usually reasonable. Check whether it includes catastrophic events and all fine print. These are big and expensive trips: do not live on the edge.

These are the top things you have to keep in mind when planning a trip to an Olympic games; your Olympic adventure will be filled with excitement if you take care of everything before you go. Other things may pop up so that’s why I have recommended that you pay close attention to the Olympic host city website and sign up for those newsletters. Each Olympic procedure may differ from the previous one so keep an eye on it.

Vancouver 2010 Olympics - Gold for Men's Hockey

Vancouver 2010 Olympics – Gold for Men’s Hockey

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Dreams of Russia: Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony

Apr 04

Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony

First up for me was the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony! After spending five days in Moscow, I finally made my way to Sochi for the 2014 Olympic Games. I have been planning this event for four years; I made the decision to attend the Sochi 2014 Olympics after having a great experience in Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics. I then attended my first summer games in London. Sochi is my third Olympics in a row; I will be skipping Rio 2016 but am consider Pyeongchang 2018.

Olympic Rings, Olympic Park, Sochi, Russia

Olympic Rings, Olympic Park, Sochi, Russia

I did not have a ticket for the Opening Ceremony in Vancouver nor London so I made sure to do whatever it took to get the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony ticket. I had no problem and while I had to spend a great deal of money, it was worth it to see the show that the Russians put on for the world. It was spectacular.

Opening Ceremony, Sochi Olympics 2014

Opening Ceremony, Sochi Olympics 2014

I wish my flag wasn’t so wrinkled.

The Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony started by reciting the Russian alphabet and a famous landmark or Russian. I LOVED the showcasing of the Cyrillic alphabet and listing prominent Russians such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Catherine II the Great, Tchaikovsky, Gagarin and many others. The Russian poets and writers are some of the best in history; I wish more people would pick up a Tolstoy novel or a Pushkin poem.

Five large snowflakes appeared and expanded to create the Olympic rings. Oops, one snowflake didn’t open and the rings could not be illuminated by fireworks….not really a big deal but apparently while the spectators in the stadium and many around the world saw the mistake, those watching on Russian television did not as the Russians hastily replaced this section with one that worked from dress rehearsal. I had my camera at the ready and snapped the infamous mistake. 🙂

Snafu at Opening Ceremony, Sochi Olympics

Snafu at Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony

Aside from the snowflake snafu, the remainder of the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony was flawless. From a men’s choir singing the Russian National Anthem to hundreds of volunteers dressed in their flag’s colours, it was beautiful.

The troika is a three horse carriage and the traditional method of transportation for Russians in the 18th century; it is also a literary and cultural symbol that was used in Gogol’s Dead Souls, a Russian masterpiece.  Missing from my photo: the troika was pulling the sun. If you look at the bottom left, you can see miniature St. Basil’s Cathedrals that would inflate and be used in the next section.

Troika, Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony

Troika, Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony

And the best moment of any Opening Ceremony: the Parade of Nations!! Greece enters first and Russia as the host nation last; the rest enter according to the Russian Cyrillic alphabet. Canada (or Канада in Russian) entered 35th (out of 88), lead by four-time (three at the time) Olympic champion Hayley Wickenhauser, the Queen of women’s hockey!

Team Canada, Opening Ceremony, Sochi Olympics

Team Canada, Opening Ceremony, Sochi Olympics

Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony had a large focus on classical music, including art, music and ballet as well as history. A tribute to Peter the Great and his construction of Russia’s first navy (bottom right in the collage below); Peter was a reforming visionary who modernized his country, taking it from a medieval and superstitious country to a modern and rationalist Empire.

Fourteen columns rose from the floor while classical music played as a tribute to Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The columns disappeared and the dancers left the stage. Enter the hammer and sickle; the Opening Ceremony covered the Russian Revolution as well as the Soviet period of industrialization.

Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony

Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony

The Olympic flag then entered the stadium carried by Khamatova, Skoblikova, Popova, Tereshkova, Fetisov, Gergiev, Enileev, and Mikhailov. And the grand finale, the Olympic torch FINALLY entered the stadium. I was very glad to see it as those seats were NOT comfortable at all. I was slightly disappointed that the torch relay around the stadium included so many summer Olympians. I really wanted them to focus on the Winter Olympians.

Olympic Flame, Sochi Opening Ceremony

Olympic Flame, 2014 Sochi Opening Ceremony

Tennis star Maria Sharapova brought the Torch into the stadium, handing it off to pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, then gymnast Alina Kabaeva, and finally to figure skater Irina Rodnina (controversial after her tweet on Obama which she originally defended as freedom of speech and later claimed she was hacked) and hockey player Vladislav Tretiak who jogged out of the stadium to light the torch.

It was a bit annoying not to have a cauldron inside to light (as they did in Vancouver) as well as one outside. A big fireworks display occurred next while Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker score played but once again, the spectators inside the stadium did not see any of that.

A great three-hour show (it felt like five). It also included the Russian police choir singing Get Lucky and Russian pop duo t.A.T.u. in the pre-show. The event lived up to my expectations; it even exceeded them. The Russians put on a great show and I could not wait for the Olympic events to get started. Bring on the Canadian gold.

You might also be interested in:

Red Square Moscow

Behind the Kremlin wall in Moscow

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Hidden Gem of Moscow: Kolomenskoye

Apr 02

Kolomenskoye

A visit to Moscow must include the hidden gem of Kolomenskoye as well as Red Square Moscow and the stopping behind the Kremlin Wall. It is the former location of the residence of the Grand Princes of Moscow and later the Tsars of Russia. Kolomenskoye, and its 390 hectares, is situated on the outskirts of Moscow overlooking the Moskva River and dates back to the 14th century according to the Testament of Moscow Grand Prince, Ivan Kalita.

View of the rest of Moscow from Kolomenskoye

View of the rest of Moscow from Kolomenskoye

Kolomenskoye was the location of numerous important events: the armies of Prince Dmitry Donskoy in 1380 and Tsar Peter the Great in 1709 stopped on their way to battle. It was a summer residence for the Moscow Grand Princes and Tsars. Church of the Ascension was built in 1532 by Prince Vasili III to celebrate the birth of his son, the later Ivan IV (the Terrible) and an early example of traditional wooden roofed church.  It made UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1994.

Church of the Ascension, Kolomenskoye

Church of the Ascension, Kolomenskoye

Tsar Alexei I built the great wooden palace in the 17th century, his favourite residence. The future Empress Elizabeth Petrovna was born there and Peter the Great spent his youth here. It fell into disrepair and was later torn down by Catherine the Great and replaced by a stone and brick structure, which was also torn down a century later. A replica of the original wooden palace was built in 2010.

Kolomenskoye Wooden Palace

Original Wooden Palace via Wikipedia

There are numerous buildings to see and you could easily spend a whole day here. Don’t miss the Colonel’s Chamber Museum and Peter the Great’s log cabin. Both are fantastic to visit. The blue domes are another thing of beauty as you enter Kolomenskoye.

Kolomenskoye

Peter the Great’s log cabin, entrance to Kolomenskoye, church and view of Kolomenskoye

The church beside the Church of the Ascension (below), the belltower for the church of St. George – tough job to ring the bell. The little Russian rang those bells for five minutes or longer. It was a wonderful addition to its beauty. Walking around during the ringing of the bells was amazing; a very beautiful melody.

Kolomenskoye

Ringing the bell at Kolomenskoye

Tips for Visiting Kolomenskoye:

  • It is easy to travel to Kolomenskoye – take the metro on the Zamoskvoretskaya Line to the Kolomenskaya stop (Коломенская) and walk about 10 minutes.
  • The park is very large so give yourself a minimum of three hours to visit; likely need four to five.
  • Admission to the park is free but you pay for entry to the museums and some of the sights (not a large amount).
  • If you don’t want to do it yourself or prefer a tour guide, there are many tours that go to Kolomenskoye. I took a combo tour: metro and Kolomenskoye which also covers all entry fees.
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Behind the Kremlin Wall in Moscow

Mar 28

Behind the Kremlin Wall in Moscow

After posting about the awesomeness that is the Red Square Moscow, guess what is next? We are going behind the Kremlin Wall! Московский Кремль

What is behind the Kremlin Wall in Moscow? The first word that comes to mind: DIAMONDS!! Of course, there are many other things but I cannot stop thinking about the bowels of diamonds and other jewels in the Diamond Fund.

There are so many treasures in the Armoury that I cannot list all of them. Let’s cover a few of the highlights!

Kremlin Wall, Moscow

Kremlin Wall, Moscow

First up: crowns! The Armoury has several crowns: Monomakh’s Cap, also known as the Golden Cap, which was the crown for the Russian Grand Princes (precursor to Tsar) and later Tsars. It was created in the late 13th to early 14th century in Central Asia, 200 years after the death of Vladimir Monomakh who has no connection to the crown but bears his name according to legend that Byzantine Emperor Constantine gifted the crown to his grandson Vladimir Monomakh. The first wearer of the crown was Ivan I Kalita (moneybag), Grand Prince of Moscow in the early 14th century, during the Mongol yoke. 

Ivan IV (Grozny – mistranslated in English as Ivan the Terrible (Иван Грозный​ or Иван Васильевич), closer to inspiring fear, formidable or tough) crowned himself as Tsar of all the Russias with the Monomakh Cap; the first Tsar of Russia. Before they had been crowned Grand Princes but this signaled a major shift in Russia that had started with his grandfather Ivan III (the Great) to overthrow the Mongol horde which started with refusing to pay tribute under Ivan III who also annexed surrounding lands of Moscow.

The Kazan Cap was made for Ivan the Terrible in 1553 after conquering the Kazakh khanate. It was not used to crown Ivan nor any other tsars.

Monomakh Cap and Kazan Crown

Monomakh Cap (foreground) and Kazan Crown (background) via Wikipedia

The Monomakh Cap was used until Peter the Great took the title of Emperor and designed a new Imperial Crown. Other crowns have been worn such as the Kazan Cap but not for coronations. Below is a crown of Tsar Mikhail, the first Romanov Tsar, which was made by the Kremlin Armoury in 1627, long after his coronation in 1613. Also included is the sceptre and orb of Boris Godunov, first a regent to Ivan the Terrible’s son Fyodor I and then the first non-Rurikid tsar from 1598-1605 after seizing the throne following the death of childless Fyodor. The end of Boris’s  reign had thrown Russia into the Time of Troubles.

Crown of Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich with orb and sceptre of Boris Godunov

Crown of Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich with orb and sceptre of Boris Godunov via Wikipedia

Below are three of the thrones found behind the Kremlin Wall in the Armoury. Clockwise, you have the joint throne of Peter I the Great (Пётр Алексеевич) and his brother Ivan V, Alexis I and Ivan IV the Terrible. In the double throne for Ivan and Peter, you can see the hole in the back for their sister, Sophia, who was regent, was able to whisper instructions or answers when conversing with the Boyars (nobles). Sophia would later rise up against Peter when he was ready to assume full control of the throne. Ivan, who was sickly and feeble-minded, was not an issue. Peter became the sole ruler in 1696 when Ivan finally succumbed to his illnesses.

Russian Thrones - Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great and Alexis

Russian Thrones – Tsars Peter the Great (and Ivan V), Alexei I and Ivan IV the Terrible via Wikipedia

The Armoury also houses Imperial dress, carriages, golden bibles and decorated silverware, armour and many other items. The Armoury also has an excellent Faberge Egg collection. Below is an egg made by Peter Carl Faberge for Tsar Nicholas II and he presented it to his wife, Tsaritsa Alexandra. It contains the portrait of eighteen Romanov Tsars including Mikhail I, Peter I the Great, Catherine II the Great and Nicholas II himself, who ended up as Russia’s last Tsar/Emperor.

Romanov Tercentenary Egg, Armoury, Moscow

Romanov Tercentenary Egg, Armoury, Moscow via Wikipedia

There are also many Imperial carriages for Tsars and Tsarinas; in particular is the one for Catherine II the Great (Екатерина II Великая) dating to 1769. The room must have held 20 carriages at least; most were gold-plated and simply gorgeous.

Catherine the Great's carriage, Armoury, Kremlin, Moscow

Catherine the Great’s carriage, Armoury, Kremlin, Moscow via Wikipedia

Below are a few other items of Catherine the Great: portrait of her coronation on the left with her crown, orb and coronation dress on the right. The Imperial Crown was made for and first worn by Catherine II during her coronation in 1762 and used by all following Russian rulers. The Imperial Orb was made for the coronation of Catherine as well. There are 1370 total diamonds. The last image is Catherine’s coronation dress. The Armoury had a large room of royal dresses, coronation dresses and robes, and tapestries.

Catherine the Great Regalia, Armoury, Kremlin, Moscow

Catherine the Great Regalia, Armoury, Kremlin, Moscow via Wiki

As you make your way from the upper floors of the Armoury to the lower exit, you will see the Diamond Fund entrance. You pay here if you don’t have a ticket and go through another set of metal detectors. Once you make your way inside, the lights are dim and the jewels sparkle!

Below on the left is the famous and gorgeous Orlov Diamond, given to Empress Catherine II the Great from her lover Grigory Orlov, with whom she had two secret children. Catherine had taken a new lover, Potemkin, and Orlov sought to restore Catherine’s affection and presented the 189 carat Orlov Diamond in 1773, one of the world’s most impressive diamonds. Catherine had it made into the new royal scepter and it was used at all following coronations (Catherine’s coronation sceptre has been lost). Catherine declined Orlov’s advances but kept the diamond. Hell yes she did. My girl Catherine liked her jewels.

On the right hand, lovely Kokoshnik Diadem with 175 diamonds and a 13 carat pink diamond in the center. The brilliant green emerald (my favourite jewel) is 136 carats. On the right, the third jewel is the Shah Diamond; weighs around 88 carats and has a fascinating history. It was discovered before 1591 in India and was later given to Tsar Nicholas I in 1829 as an apology after a Russian diplomat was killed in Tehran. Apology accepted!  The names of three of its former owners were engraved on the original faces: earliest date is 1591. The blue sapphire weighs 260 carats! The last crown is the Russian Field Diadem, made of platinum, gold and brilliant colors. 

Diamond Fund, Armoury, Kremlin, Moscow

Diamond Fund, Armoury, Kremlin, Moscow via Wikipedia

The Armoury and Diamond Fund are two of many places to visit behind the Kremlin Wall in Moscow. There are numerous other places to visit such as: Cathedral Square that is surrounded by three cathedrals including my favourite, Cathedral of the Archangel Michael, built in 1505-1508, where many of the Muscovite Grand Princes are buried including Ivan Kalita, Ivan the Terrible, Alexei I and Mikhail I. Peter the Great moved the burial of the Tsars to his new city, St. Petersburg.

Ivan the Terrible tomb

Ivan the Terrible tomb per Wikipedia

Tips for Visiting the Kremlin

The Diamond Fund is located in the Armoury building behind the Kremlin Wall. You must buy your Armoury ticket in advance at Kutafya Tower in Aleksandrovsky Sad (garden) and can only enter during your specified time. If you purchase your ticket first thing in the morning, you can probably enter not long after. You must also leave all backpacks in a storage facility near the entrance (ladies may take a purse or cross-over bag which I did).

The Armoury (including the Diamond Fund) is not open on Thursday.

I picked up an audio guide for 50 rubles which was helpful; gave a bit more information even though I have several degrees in Russian history and knew much already. I would recommend an audio guide or even a Tour through Viator for the Armoury if you have limited Russian history knowledge.

Buying tickets is not easy especially if you do not speak Russian. I find when something is complicated in Russia, the explanation is simple: because Russia. They have pictures so you can point to it if you don’t know any of the language. Make sure you get all the tickets you want as they are sold separate.

  • Cathedral Square ticket -350 rubles
  • Armoury -700 rubles
  • Ivan the Terrible Bell Tower -500 rubles
  • Diamond Fund ticket is 500 rubles – buy this within the Armoury and go through another set of metal detectors (cash only)

FYI: When I was in Moscow in February 2014, the Ivan the Great Bell Tower was closed. It should be re-opening spring 2014.

There are two entrances: buy your ticket first near Kutafya Tower (half way – near entrance 1 on the map) and if you are only going to Armoury/Diamond Fund, walk the rest of way down to Borovitskaya Tower (entrance 2). If you wish to see the cathedrals first, your entrance is near the ticket office.

Kremlin Entrance, Moscow

Kremlin Entrance via askmoscow

One final note: as you have noticed, only one of the above is my picture. The Kremlin has a strict “no camera” rule and I was warned numerous times before my trip as I researched it online and also several times by my hotel after I arrived. They warned me not to take any cameras and specifically included phones. I usually ignore rules like this and take pictures pretty much wherever I want but I was not about to test Russia.

However, when I entered the Kremlin, guess what I saw? CAMERAS! Everywhere. Yes I am still pissed off. When I return to Moscow, I will risk taking a camera so I can at least take pictures of Cathedral Square or the Bell Tower. Maybe even sneak a picture inside the Armoury. You won’t be able to take anything inside the Diamond Fund; two small rooms and guards in each. So take a camera at your own risk: there were dozens of people with cameras in February 2014. Maybe it was due to the closeness of the Olympics? Maybe next time they will confiscate them at the entry point. I would risk it.

Go forth and enjoy the treasures behind the Kremlin Wall. It will not disappoint. Have you been to the Kremlin yet? How about stopping by Red Square in Moscow as well?

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Red Square Moscow

Mar 25

Red Square Moscow  –  Красная площадь

I finally made it to Russia and in particularly Red Square Moscow after years of planning and planning including getting a Russian visa. It is on my bucket list and a trip of a lifetime! I enjoyed four days in Moscow before heading to Sochi to cheer Canada on during the Sochi 2014 Olympics! I will return to visit St. Petersburg, the Golden Ring, Novgorod and Siberia. There are many places to see in Russia. First up, MOSCOW! I adore this city, even surprising myself with how much….did not expect to fall in love with Moscow. Red Square Moscow lives up to the hype!

This is the iconic image of not only Moscow but also all of Russia. Red Square (Красная площадь or the transliteration is Krasnaya Ploshchad) is located at the what is considered the epicenter of Moscow: the Kremlin on the east, the masterpiece of St. Basil’s Cathedral on the south end, GUM department store on the west, and the creepy Lenin’s mausoleum beside the Kremlin wall. Red Square has seen executions, demonstrations, riots, parades and speeches throughout the centuries, dating back to the 15th century after the Kremlin walls were completed. Red Square is the focal point of Moscow socially and politically. They even set up a skating rink in the Square (although that was annoying since it was in the way when taking pictures).

Kremlin, Red Square, Moscow

Kremlin, Red Square, Moscow

I mentioned executions and that is something I want to expand on. Russia’s history is long and complicated but also quite turbulent. During the reign of Ivan the Terrible, he declared his abdication of the Russian throne several times and tortured the hostile boyars in Red Square Moscow. During the reign of Peter the Great, the Kremlin guard (Streltsy) rebelled and he executed the guards in Red Square; many were executed personally by Peter himself, ending a long struggle with the guard who had rebelled a decade earlier under Peter’s sister Sophia.

St. Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow

St. Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow

Krasnaya is now translated as red but originally it was beautiful (today beautiful is красивый – krasivyy but the ending changes due to gender/number). The name of Red Square has nothing to do with communism; it is most likely named for the beauty of St. Basil’s. It really is a gorgeous area; I was lucky enough to book a hotel nearby with a view of the Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral. That was a great decision!

Lenin’s Mausoleum

To visit Lenin’s Mausoleum, all electronics such as phones and cameras must be checked in a nearby building (for a small fee) and there is no charge for entry to view Lenin’s body. You walk through a metal detector and then make your way to the mausoleum. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for others buried on your right hand side near the Kremlin wall. Stalin is buried there as well as Brezhnev, Dzerzhinsky, Kalinin plus many others. If you love creepy dead bodies and graves, this is the place for you! Lenin is still a murdering bastard but it is something to see.

Lenin's Mausoleum, Red Square, Moscow

Lenin’s Mausoleum, Red Square, Moscow

I visited last month (February 2014) and there wasn’t a line. But I suspect the line will be longer in the summer so go first thing in the day. Basically, you move slowly while walking around the glass-encased body of Lenin: do not talk or chew gum as respect is key and the guards will not bother you. Lenin is fairly well-preserved; I do believe this is actually Lenin even though he does look rubbery. It looks like a body that has been on display for decades; it is not perfectly preserved. He is freshened up every 18 months and this is a must on your stop in Red Square Moscow.

Lenin's Body, Red Square, Moscow

Lenin’s Body, Red Square, Moscow via Wikipedia

After visiting Lenin, go back to pick up your electronics so you can take photographs of Red Square. When I was in Moscow, the Russians had set up a skating rink in Red Square which took up quite a bit of space and blocked attempts to get the whole Square pictured.

St. Basil’s Cathedral

Saint Basil’s Cathedral is also known as The Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed or The Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin by the Moat. It is the iconic image of Russia and it does not disappoint. It was built by Ivan the Terrible in the mid-16th century to commemorate the capture of Kazan from the Mongols in 1552 by builders Barma and Postnik Yakovlev. There is a fantastical legend: the builders were blinded by Ivan the Terrible so they could not create anything as beautiful as St. Basil’s again. I enjoy the legend even though it is not accurate.

St. Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow

St. Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow

You can enter the Cathedral as it is partly a museum now; it is open daily from 11:00-17:00 and the entrance fee is 250 rubles. It is worth a quick visit inside to see icons and paintings. Words do St. Basil’s no justice; go and see for yourself. It is a trip you will never forget. While Russia may not be on anyone’s destination list right now due to the invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea, keep it in mind and you will not be disappointed.

Have you visited Russia? What did you think of Red Square? How about the a trip behind the Kremlin Wall?

 

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Guest Post: Australia

Mar 18

Australia’s Overlooked Historical Wonders

From the Acropolis in Greece to the Forbidden Palace in China to Machu Pichu in Peru, there are so many history-rich destinations for a globe trotter to roam. For a history addict like me, standing in places with such extraordinary historical significance means stepping back hundreds or thousands of years into the lives of our predecessors.

But there’s one gem in the world that is often overlooked when contemplating history: a place that seems comparatively young, despite its long life. Australia is often left off of the list of historically significant places, which I believe to be a mistake.

Geological History

Of course, being many flavors of history nerd, I feel obliged to begin by mentioning that Australia’s geological history is fascinating. To me, there are few ways to better get to know an area than to learn how it came to be. Australia is home to volcanoes, glacier-sculpted landscapes, and plentiful mineral stores.

Geologically speaking, Australia’s most famous feature is Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, the gigantic sandstone monolith in central Australia. Of particular interest might be the columnar dolerite cliffs of Tanzania, volcanic beauties of Victoria, the sea cliffs of Loch Ard Gorge, and Wave Rock in Hayden.

Uluru

Uluru via Creative Commons

Australia has huge expanses of land to cross with many routes to take, making it difficult to plan how to get from one geological marvel to the next. To make the best of your gas and time, you may choose to sign up for one of the many Australian tours that cross the nation that will hit highlights in between cities you want to visit.

Earliest Humans & Indigenous Culture

Australia’s human history goes back around 50,000 years. Scientists are still not quite united on how the earliest denizens of Australia made it there, whether via boats or via land bridges that have since disappeared under rising sea levels. There are museum exhibits across the country dedicated to these early Australians, particularly to the extraordinary survival skills of the Bushmen who lived in the harsh conditions of the Outback, skills that have been passed down to their modern ancestors.

One of my favorite aspects of Australia is its history of Aboriginal art which spans thousands of years. From sacred petroglyphs to weaving techniques, there are such beautiful traditional colors and patterns to be enjoyed either in museums or in the work of contemporary artists.

Aboriginal Memorial_National Gallery of Australia

Aboriginal Memorial_National Gallery of Australia via Creative Commons

Ancestral Aboriginal people have faced great adversity with the process of globalization. As with many native peoples, they have been dispossessed and marginalized in Australian culture for hundreds of years. Any student of history will enjoy learning about the inspiring quest for Aboriginal social justice and the brave individuals that lead the fight for equality. Most historical museums in Australia will feature a section on the subject and the Aboriginal Heritage Museum in Northbridge, NSW focuses on it.

Modern History

Australia was claimed for Britain in 1770 by the famous Captain James Cook almost a hundred years after its discovery by Europeans. Within a couple of decades, over 150,000 Australians were brought overseas to their rugged new home as convicts, beginning a new life that is remembered today by many Australians as part of their family history.

Immigration became a major source of population increase throughout the 19th century. Notable groups moving to Australia came from Greece, Britain, and India. Many people came, as with the American West, to take jobs in the industries that required manual labor- mining, railroad building, etc. These people have formed communities with strong ties to their original homelands while also forming a distinct Australian culture. The history of such immigrants, too, is an important element of the Australian identity.

Australia officially became its own nation on January 1st, 1901. Not even two decades later, it entered the First World War and suffered massive casualties- almost 65% of the young men who went out to war never came home. You can visit the Australian War Memorial to learn more about the servicemen and women who fought for Australia and peruse the archives housed there.

Australia War Memorial

Australia War Memorial via Creative Commons

Australia has a resonant history that is both intensely unique and also born from many parts of the world. Considered a “young” country, it’s easy to dismiss it as not having much of a story to tell. But Australia is one of the true melting pots, with thousands of years of cultural antiquity and a historical microcosm of colonialism and immigration on top of that. Take some time to get to know the long and fascinating of history of Australia- you might just be surprised what you find.

Julius Wright is a travel writer and photographer with a love of trying new foods and learning cultural history.

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Trip of a Lifetime: Russia & Czech Republic

Jan 29

Trip of a Lifetime

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I am heading to Russia on Friday for a trip that I have been planning for four years: a trip of a lifetime. Actually, it is much longer. I have wanted to visit Russia ever since I was a teenager. I was fascinated by Russia and her history; I even ended up studying Russian history in university. I have planned a trip to Russia three other times; it either fell through, plans changed or I did not want to go on a solo trip. It is finally happening!

I am visiting Moscow first for a few days then heading to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics. I attended the last two Olympics in London and Vancouver; I’ve always been an Olympic junkie so I had to combine a trip to Russia with the Sochi Olympics. While I would prefer to visit Russia at a different time of the year, cold weather does not faze me. I am from Canada after all. 🙂

St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow

St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square, Moscow via wikipedia

My hotel is a quick walk from Red Square; I splurged a bit to stay close to the Kremlin and Red Square. I have tickets to the Bolshoi Theatre  and can’t wait to view Lenin’s body.

After five days in Moscow, I head to Sochi for the Olympics. I am staying on one of the cruise ships that will be moored in the Adler port near the Olympic park. I have tickets to 15 events at this point and am looking forward to each and every one of the events. This really is a trip of a lifetime! Below is a list of the events I am attending – I hope to see many Canadians win GOLD!!!

Olympic schedule Sochi 2014

My Olympic schedule – Sochi 2014

This is an ambitious trip: I spent months and years planning this trip of a lifetime. From applying for a Russian visa to booking my hotel and finding a cheap flight, it has taken some time. After watching Canada win the hockey gold (hopefully), I will head to Prague, Czech Republic the next day for five more days. I have always wanted to visit Prague and decided to add-on another city to my already trip of a lifetime. I actually had it narrowed down to Istanbul and Prague. I want to visit both desperately but chose Prague; no idea why but it stood out to me.

Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic

Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic via wikipedia

I hope to continue posting while I’m over in Russia and Czech Republic. I will at least be posting on social media: twitter, facebook and instagram. So follow me and my adventures of my trip of a lifetime on social media. I’ll be more active there than on my blog – of course this all depends on the wifi or when I pick up a new SIM card in Russia for my recently unlocked iphone!

I can’t talk about the Sochi Olympics without mentioning the security threat. I am a tad nervous about it and I know I am taking a risk visiting Russia at all, let alone during the Olympics when the threat alert is higher. I just have to believe and hope Russia knows what they are doing and every thing is locked down. Be harsh and kick some ass, Russia. I know their record on human rights and I do not care about anything else at this point other than safety. I can care about the other stuff when I’m home safe.

Russia roubles and Czech koruna

Russia roubles and Czech koruna

I have all my Canadian gear, picked up some Russian roubles and Czech korunas, and started packing last night. I am heading down to Calgary tomorrow (I live in Edmonton) and fly out on Friday. I booked a first class ticket to Russia using part visa points and part cash. I upgraded to first class two years ago when I went to the London Olympics; there really is no other way to fly overseas! 🙂

GO CANADA!!!

Vancouver 2010 Olympics - Men's Hockey Gold

Vancouver 2010 Olympics – Men’s Hockey Gold

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