The Colosseum

One of the highlights for me personally on this visit to Rome was going to the Colosseum. It is definitely an item off my bucket list.  To me places like this are not just old buildings, they are much more than just old dusty real estate that is built for the convenience of tourists.

Just inside the main entrance 

On the day that we ventured out into the beauty of Rome, the sun was out and it was hot. The concierge at our hotel told us that the Colosseum was only a short walk from the hotel, wo my daughter and I took him at his word and set off for the grand old wonder. We walked for about a half an hour, this included a stop to purchase some cigars, and we arrived at our destination.

To say that it was busy would be an understatement. The area around the Colosseum was packed with tourists, tour sellers, trinket sellers and tour operators.  We stopped for a moment and surveyed the scene and noticed that the line up outside the Colosseum was about 3 hours long. this was confirmed when I asked some of the folks standing in line. So Jenna and I had a little conference. I asked her if she wanted to wait in the line, and not surprisingly she said that was not something that she was interested in doing. So we agreed to see if one of the tour operators could get us in faster.

Jenna waiting for the tour to start

I found and operator that looked honest enough as far as possible scammers go and entered into a bit of a discussion to arrange the price. I asked him how fast we would get in if I purchased a tour, he replied about  minutes. To Jenna this was way more acceptable than the 3 hours.

True to his word the tour operator had us inside the old building within 20 minutes. we also passed the hour long line inside the Colosseum that streamed from the ticket window. So altogether it would have been a four hour wait to enter this attraction. In my book it was  euros well spent.

In the foot steps of  Emperors

Upon getting past the lineup and the ticket booth we entered what would have been the main entrance that was used by the emperors of the Roman Empire. For me it was truly an awe inspiring moment to walk in the same places that echoed through time. If you have ever have the good fortune of traveling with me you will find that I need to come into physical contact with the things and place that I see. It makes them more real, and in my mind connects me to history itself, no matter how small a part I play. There are two gift shops on site and wide range of items to purchase from the very cheap to the very expensive.

My daughter and I stood where the ruling elite of the roman empire decided the life and death of literally hundreds of thousands of souls that were caught up this industrialized mechanism of death. When you see the floor of the Colosseum or rather the lack of a floor you can see the rows of pens and cells that housed man and beast. The Colosseum or the Flavian Amphitheater as it is also known was the largest amphitheater of the Roman Empire. Construction was begun in the year 70 AD under the direction of Emperor Vespasian and completed in 80 AD by Emperor Titus. It is estimated that it could hold between 50000 and 80000 spectators and was used for everything from plays to mach sea battles.

This old structur was in use all the way up to the early Middle Ages and later re-purposed as housing, work shops and a fortress just to name a few. In its current form the Colosseum still bares the scares from devastating earthquake, stone robbers and wreck-less tourists that like to carve their graffiti into the ancient stone.
I f you are a lover of history as I am I recommend a visit to this grand old wonder. It is worth the price of admission even on the free days. 

P.s. A small bit of travel intell. The tour operators make more money on the free days than they do on the regular admission days, simply because of the sheer volume of tourists that flock to the most popular attraction in Rome next to the Vatican.

Paris the City of Light–hop on hop off tours

On of the biggest benefits to going to Paris is the various ways of getting around this great city. There are bicycle tours, car tours, walking tours, Segway tours, and last but not least hop on hop off tours. This post will focus on the Hop on Hop off tours.

There are two main operators of hop on hop off tours in Paris. The biggest one that covers the most ground is Le Open tours,and then there is Big Bus tours ( formerly Le Car Rouge) that covers only the major sites. Both tour companies have audio commentary recorded in a multiple of languages, that is accessible for via the set of disposable head phones that are provided on the tours. Passes for both companies can be purchased for 24, 48 or 36 hours. They can both be booked in advance via the internet, which we found very convenient. and then we printed off the ticket at home and brought it with us.

In a previous trip to Paris, my wife and I only had a limited amount of time to see the city so we paid for a 48 hour pass with Big Bus, it took us to all the major sites with the ability to hop on and off as many times as we liked for the duration of the pass. It served the purpose and the bus completed the circuit in about 2 hours.

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On this trip to Paris we opted for the Le Open tours, because one of their stops was close to an attraction that my daughter wanted to see. Le Open tours has 4 different routs, and as I said covers a great deal more territory. Each rout  has a connection point with every other rout so it can be a useful way of getting around the city if you have the time. Each rout takes about 2 hours to complete if you stayed on the bus to complete the rout.

As with any type of mass transit operation there are drawbacks, some of the stops are crowded and require more than one bus to take all of the passengers. In some cases there is standing room only, which I am sure is a traffic violation. Be cautious of the stupid tourists that like to disregard the safety signs and stand on the top deck of a moving double decker bus to get the perfect photo op. One of the big differences that we noticed between the operator is that Le Open tours did not actually stop at the attritions. They had stops down side streets or other locations that were close to the attractions, where as Big Bus had stops directly in front of the attractions. Another difference was that Le Open tours seemed to more crowded than Big Bus. I have to guess the reason for this is that it goes to more places.  The stops for Le Open tours were difficult to find, where as Big Bus were not.

Both tour operators offer a night tour of the city, which I do recommend, however the Big Bus pick up location is more centrally located at there Arc De Triomphe stop.

So my advice when considering a a hop on hop off tour, bigger is not always better. If you have a lot of time in Paris then Le Open  Tours may be the one for you. But if I had to make a choice between the 2, I would take the Big Bus tour. The stops are better situated, not as crowded, and they have a night tour  pick up point that is more convenient. 

The Pull of the Old World

When ever I travel, especially to places like Rome and Paris I always return home with mixed emotions. There is satisfaction of having gone and done things that others only read about or see on TV and there is the relief of returning home after a successful trip. After all there is no place like home. 
On this trip we left Rome, and after a nine hour flight we returned to Canada. I couldn’t help but get the sense that I had left the old world and was returning to the new, For me it feels as though every time i go to Europe I leave a peace of me behind. I have been to Europe 3 times now and each time the call to stay and or return becomes stronger. It is as though the art, culture, lifestyle and history calls to my heart and has attached itself to my soul. The cafes, restaurants, and bistros and hustle and bustle of those classic cities is hard for me to ignore. 
To walk in the same streets as great writers, artists and figures of history is a pull to great to ignore.  
This is my first post on this blog, I hope to write many more so please stay tuned and return often. Thanks for taking the time to read and please fee free to ask any questions that you may have.