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Trip Report March 2013: Barcelona, Rome and Prague Trip Report

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And we're off! My boyfriend and I planned a 12 day European tour of Barcelona, Rome and Prague. Our plan was to fly from Ohio to JFK at 1:10PM on March 6th, from JFK to Barcelona at 5:25PM (EST), arriving at Barcelona at 7:15AM on Thursday, March 7th.

However, even my obsessive compulsive planning can be thwarted by a greater power --- weather! We got our boarding passes, were waiting for our flight and then received a call from American Airlines that our flight to JFK had been canceled due to the Snowpocalpyse or Snowquesterian or whatever they were calling it.

We tried to talk to the American Airlines representatives at the airport about how to reschedule. Basically, nothing was flying into JFK. I talked to 3 or 4 people expressing my willingness to take any available flight, fly to LAX, Houston, Atlanta, O'Hare, wherever. I was very disappointed by the service I was given. The one attendant told us there was nothing she could do - all international flights flew through JFK (obviously untrue), and that she could get us on the plane the following day. Then she looked and told us oh, no - not for 2 more days. At this point, I started crying (envisioning all my carefully orchestrated plans going up and smoke).

We decided to leave the terminal, go out to the ticketing counter, where they had more autonomy. Those American Airlines staff members were terrific! They booked us to fly to O'Hare, and then fly to Madrid, and finally arrive in Barcelona. We then sprinted through security to catch our O'Hare flight ....

And we made it to Chicago! Of course, we didn't have boarding passes for our next flight (just an itinerary), so we had to go out to ticketing again. We were now flying Air Iberia (Spanish airline that has a partnership with American). They printed our boarding passes for the OHD-Madrid flight and Madrid-BCN flight.

We then proceeded through security for the third time that day (at the end of all of this, we are now security experts!). Waited until 5:45 CST to fly to Madrid. The flight over was great. It was only half-full, so we were able to sleep and relax (as much as you can on a plane), until we landed in Madrid at 7:30AM (Madrid time)....

I will say, having never flown internationally to Europe since I was about 12, I found the Madrid airport overwhelming. We went through customs, and were trying to find our Barcelona flight that was supposed to depart at 9AM. We couldn't find it listed on any screens. We asked the Air Iberia staff, and they told us to go to Air Iberia information. At Air Iberia information, we found out that this part of Air Iberia was on strike. We trekked all the way across the airport and finally found someone to help us. Basically, out 9AM flight didn't exist (for us and about 4 other people) - and we never had any idea what happened to it. They were able to get us on a 9:40AM flight, which put us in Barcelona at around 11:30, just about 4 hours later than we anticipated.

When we arrived, we took the Aerobus for 6ish Euro a person. This bus takes you from the airport to Placa Cataluna, which was a five minute walk to our hotel (once I figured out which direction was south)!

Stay tuned for ... Day 1 and 2: Barcelona!

(I promise this will be more cheery than my dreadful flight experiences, but I was hoping that explaining all of our issues would make other travelers know what to expect.)

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    I agree with Dukey1...great report and IMHO, it does help when planning trips to read about when things go a bit "off-kilter". At least it prepares one for what might be thrown at them. :-)

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    Whew! Well at least you made it - and only 4 hrs late. Not bad at all, considering.

    It never ceases to amaze me how you can have a totally different experience with the same company - just hundreds of feet away.

    I, too, eagerly await more. We arrive in Barcelona (first time) 2 months from today.

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    General Planning and Context:

    I know I said my next post would be about Barcelona Day 1 and 2, but I'm at work, and I forgot my journal. I took specific notes so that I could remember names of restaurants/locations. I'll try to post this evening, but I want to be able to be as specific as possible, so I’d like my notes.

    Obviously, this gives a little insight into the type of person I am. My boyfriend and I are in our late 20s, and neither of us had ever independently planned an international vacation. We had gone to resorts in Mexico before, but this was the most traveling either of us had ever done (independent of school trips or family vacations as teenagers).

    We booked our roundtrip flight to Barcelona in September, and we chose Barcelona because 1) we’d never been and 2) it was the cheapest place (that we could fly) to fly into in Western Europe. From there, I created a spreadsheet of where we could fly in Europe that we had never been and prices. We picked Rome, because the flight from Barcelona to Rome was about $80 (Vueling Airlines), and Prague, because the flight from Rome to Prague was about $100 (Alitalia). In hindsight, I would have flown from the US into Barcelona but flown out from another city. We ended up flying from Prague back to Barcelona for one day, and that wasn’t the smartest planning on our part, but hey, we are learning! I booked all of the flights in September as well, and we were flexible as to where we wanted to go, so we got really decent rates.
    I also used TripAdvisor extensively to select hotels in those three cities. More on this later, but I was so happy with all of our selections.

    Packing: We bought the largest possible carry-on rolling suitcases and never checked our bags. If someone had told me a year ago that I would have gone to Europe for 12 days with only a carry on suitcase and my purse, I would have laughed in their face. However, I think this was one of the best decisions we made. With all of our constant plane changes (as evidenced already) and frantic scrambling, I am so happy we weren’t dealing with lost luggage/checked bags. Also, every airline employee who helped us would say, “are you checking any bags?” and when we replied no, they would always say something along the lines of, “okay, good.”

    Budget: We were trying to stay around $2500-$3000/person. Of course, I haven’t tallied everything yet, but I think that was pretty accurate. For our US-Barcelona flight, plus all of our within Europe flights (4 in total), it was about $1400. We budgeted $100/night per hotel, and we hit that mark. Unexpected expenses were typically around transportation to and from the airport (more in later posts). We took out around $200 Euros before we left, used our credit cards as much as possible (did not have a chip/pin card, but had no issues) and used the ATM twice (once in Rome, taking out an additional $200 Euros and once in Prague taking out about $250 in CK equivalent).

    Itinerary: Because I am very much type A and also a bit of a nerd, I planned a general itinerary of each day. Yes, my boyfriend did make fun of me for scheduling free time. But, that’s just the type of people we are. I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but it did for us. For the sights we knew we wanted to see, I booked tickets in advance. In every case, it was well worth it (as we didn’t have to wait in line). Before we left, I printed our itinerary, every flight confirmation, hotel confirmation, sight confirmation and took it to FedEx/Kinko’s. I had them bind it for me in a spiral bound itinerary. It cost like $5. It was SO worth it. I wasn’t looking for papers, trying to find an email confirmation; It was all in one place. I also added blank pages at the end for a journal/notes section. I do not care that I looked like a dork, it was so incredibly helpful!

    Anyway, when I get home tonight, I will try to write up Barcelona Day 1 and 2 (after consultation with my cool itinerary of course ;)

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    lor...I soooo like the way you roll. In fact, you remind me of me during my first few travel adventures after finding Fodors. When I traveled to Central Europe for 4 weeks (yes using only my 21-inch carry-on bag!)with a friend, I did exactly the same thing you did, by binding all my confirmation forms/emails. Now I just buy a "clip-able" report cover and put all the papers in there, works like a charm! ;-)

    Looking forward to more!

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    I think you sound like a fun person to travel with! I do the same type of trip planning for our group and they always tell me to quit acting like a teacher.:):) I just find it helps to have some type of plan. They always say it was the best trip ever afterwards. Can't wait to read more.

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    Thanks everyone for the kind words! I’ve been a little busy, so I can at least post Barcelona Day 1, and I’ll try to do Barcelona Day 2 tomorrow!

    Barcelona Day 1

    Due to our problems at the airport, we arrived in Barcelona a little later than expected. Based on a friend’s advice, we took the Aerobus (seriously – what a convenient means of transportation) directly to the city center of Barcelona at Placa Catalunya. After I figured out which way was south, I was able to take the 5 minute walk to our hotel, the Hotel Aneto. A friend who had previously stayed in Barcelona recommended it as it was almost directly on Las Ramblas and only €65.

    We checked into the hotel, and a quick review for anyone interested. We picked it based on location and price. It was very cheap, but safe and in a great spot. From the hotel, we walked to all of the major attractions (with the exception of Sagrada Familia). Rooms were very small and sparse, but they were safe and clean. The hotel clerks spoke English and were helpful. Wifi was free and easy to access. Something that caught us off guard when we checked in was that they asked for our passports (all hotels we stayed in did this, we just weren’t expecting it). Also, when we would leave, the front desk would hold our room key and return it when we came back. Kinda weird, but easy enough to deal with. So, Hotel Aneto – recommend if you’re after price/location. If you want a luxury hotel, I’d skip it.

    Anyway, we checked in and decided to go for a walk. We walked around the Gothic Quarter, using Rick Steves (as I consider him my BFF at this point). Loved the architecture, loved the weather, just had a fantastic time strolling about.

    Afterwards, we grabbed some lunch around the Barcelona Cathedral. We were just very hungry, so we sat at the first place that looked decent. It was called ‘Café Restaurant’ and it was just okay. I’m sure it exists for the sole purpose of attracting tourists who are just starving and want to eat outdoors while looking at the Barcelona Cathedral. And for that, it served our purpose. Food was so-so, but coffee was great!

    I had purchased tickets in advance for the Picasso Museum, so we had to be there by 3:00. Tickets in advance were €11, and we were able to pick them up at the counter. I’m not sure if it was a slow day, but there was no line whatsoever, so buying tickets in advance may not have been necessary. Neither of us are big art people, but we enjoyed the museum and felt that it was a really interesting collection. It really takes you from Picasso’s early days to his more contemporary cubism work that he’s known for. We were glad we stopped by.

    We continued exploring after the Picasso Museum and walked around Las Ramblas and the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter some more). We went back to the room to get ready for dinner, which we wanted to stay in the El Born area (by the Picasso Museum). Something that really surprised me about Barcelona was how walkable everything was. On the map, it seemed like the distance from our hotel to the Picassa Museum was SO FAR, but it was only like a 10, maybe 15 minute walk. So we headed over to Sa Gar Di (a Rick Steves recommendation) that was a fantastic tapas restaurant! Servers would come around with hot tapas or you could go inside and pick cold tapas. At the end, you were charged by the number of toothpicks on your plate, which equated to about €2ish a tapas. We loved the hot tapas, and it was a great experience sampling them.

    After dinner we strolled around and discovered Placa Reial, a lovely little plaza directly off Las Ramblas. We could not get enough of this place. I’m not sure if it’s really touristy, but it was this fantastic plaza that had restaurants on all sides. In the center of the plaza were fire dancers, entertainers, musicians, etc. The atmosphere was just so fun. We stopped at Rei de Copes (a bar), grabbed a seat outside, and started downing pitchers of sangria. We anticipated that each pitcher was going to cost us about €30, and were shocked when it was only €14 for a pitcher. We stayed out until around midnight or so just watching people and listening to the various bands playing.

    At this time, we were slightly tipsy and really wanted some drunk food. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any late night vendors selling food, so I begrudgingly admit that we went to McDonald’s and ordered late night food … in Barcelona, Spain! Horrifying, I know, but seriously needed after our day! ☺

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    Barcelona Day 2

    Ahh! A fresh new day – our first full day in Europe! We woke up in some serious need of food, so we headed down to Mercat de la Boqueria, a large market directly of Las Ramblas. This was about a 3 minute walk from our hotel and I loved it! This market reminded me a bit of the Pike Place Market in Seattle, and I had a blast just snapping pictures and looking at all of the different foods. It really was beautiful. We grabbed breakfast (some fruit) and some coffee and strolled around a bit.

    Next, I wanted to walk towards Eixample to view the different architecture. Bringing along my BFF, Rick (Steves), to act as my tour guide, we started walking north on Las Ramblas. At this point, I would like to note that since we had packed only a carry on, we clearly had packed for functionality. Primarily, I had solid colored sweaters, scarves and some accessories. My bf had the same type of get-up. In Eixample we looked like hobos. It is clearly the expensive/trendy area of Barcelona, as evidenced by the designer stores (Chanel, Gucci, etc.). Again, I didn’t think we looked like total bums until I was standing next to Chanel. ANYWAY, I highly recommend a walk around this area.

    We primarily stuck to Passeig de Gracia, and highlights for me included: the Block of Dischord and Casa Mila. What struck me throughout Europe when looking at these beautiful buildings is that at one point, they were just single family homes! Amazing! I had also recently read “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, which is an excellent book that takes place in Barcelona. So as I strolled about, I kept picturing scenes from the book. If you’re about to go to Barcelona, read this book – it’s fantastic!

    On our way back towards Placa Catalunya, we were famished, so we decided to pick a spot. We stopped at Qu Qu (Quasi Queviures) to grab a bite. I felt SO vindicated when I started drinking my coffee, perusing Rick Steves and realized he recommended this restaurant – however, we had just decided to stop in on our own. I know this shows how dorky I am, but I immediately felt that we’d made a good decision. It was really great. Huge selection, great people watching. We sat and imagined what it would be like to stroll into Prada and just on a whim come out with a new pair of shoes (that probably cost more than our entire vacation). Again, loved it!

    After lunch, we took a cab to Sagrada Familia. I am sure there is a cheaper way to get there, but given our time, this was our course of action. It cost about €10, so not too horrible. I had purchased tickets in advance for our tour, and I am SO glad that I did. The line was insane. Everyone I knew who had been to Barcelona previously told me to visit Sagrada Familia – that it was a must see. But, I didn’t know that much about it, so I had just told the bf that we’re going to see a Gaudi church. He wasn’t that impressed until he got there, and then we were both in awe. Saying it is “big” does not do it justice. It is absolutely incredible, and probably my favorite church that we saw on our trip (including the Vatican; I know, I’m sacrilegious that way). I just loved the architecture. It was over the top, but in a beautiful, naturalistic way. We probably stayed for an hour and a half. We bought the audio guide, which I’m glad, because it helped us understand what we’re looking at. I hate to just look at things and have no understanding of the historical context, I like to read all of the signs and listen to tours. So (even though I had some technically difficulties figuring out how to work the audio tour – which is just me being technology illiterate), I recommend the audio tour as it really added some depth to the tour. After exploring Sagrada Familia, we took a cab back to Placa Catalunya, and began a stroll down Las Ramblas.

    Our aim was to walk directly south on Las Ramblas, ending up at Port Vell. I loved walking down Las Ramblas and watching all of the vendors and people watching. I should point out that I’m actually someone who enjoys airports as I like to people watch, so I could have sat on a bench all day and been perfectly content. Anyway, we made it down to Port Vell, looked at the Columbus Monument and strolled along the port. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

    At this point, it was about 4/5ish so we decided to take a quick nap (as we were dying) and get ready for dinner. In Barcelona (as in pretty much all of the places we visited), the night starts much later than we are used to. So, we headed over to Placa Reial around 8ish for dinner. (Our flight to Rome was the next morning, so we knew we couldn’t stay out too late). We had dinner on the plaza again, at a restaurant called Rossini. We had another pitcher of sangria, and had a fantastic time watching the piano recital going on. Apparently, some type of arts council in Barcelona puts on a 24 hour piano recital where anyone off the street can just walk up and play music. It was so neat to watch. We were constantly in awe of how vibrant the city was, how much was going on, and we definitely decided Spain>Ohio.

    After watching the piano concert for a while, we grabbed some gelato (delish!). We strolled back to Las Ramblas and purchased a seriously overpriced beer so that we could just sit on the street and watch people. Around midnight, we headed back to our hotel.

    Summary of Barcelona: We absolutely loved it! The weather was fantastic (60s), it was energetic, beautiful, friendly and inviting. We only had 2 full days, and I would have definitely added time on to keep exploring. We did not see Park Guell or Montjuic, so if I come back, I would definitely like to see those places. Also, while our hotel served its purpose, I think if we came back, we’d like to stay in a less “touristy” area than Las Ramblas, see a new part of the city.

    Next up: Rome! (March 9-12)

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    "Spain>Ohio"

    That made me laugh! For only two days, it sounds like you accomplished a nice mix of seeing "stuff" and just soaking it all in.

    I am currently reading "Shadow of the Wind" - I love it.

    Great report!

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    After our stay in Barcelona, we took a flight to Rome via Vueling Airlines. We left our hotel at 4:30AM, taking a cab. We would have taken the Aerobus, but it doesn’t operate that early. So we were stuck paying about €35 to get to the airport. We arrived with plenty of time because we were a little concerned about using the budget airlines. However, our experience with Vueling was extremely pleasant.

    One thing we noticed that was true for all of our flights. There is no boarding by group. All of a sudden, a group of people starts to form by the terminal. Then, one random person decides, hey, I want to get on this flight. They give their ticket to the flight attendant and all of a sudden, it’s like the floodgates open and everyone starts pouring onto the plane. This was highly stressful for us, as we had (by far) the largest carry on suitcases, and we wanted to make sure we had overhead space. After we noticed this phenomenon of boarding, we always lurked by the ticket counter like creepers to avoid being last on the plane :)

    Our hotel in Rome, the Hotel Giuliana (http://hotelgiuliana.com/), picked us up from the airport. I highly recommend Hotel Giuliana. It is very close to Termini Station and is really a great deal. For around $100/night, we had large, clean, comfortable rooms. All of the staff spoke great English and were incredibly helpful. We paid €2 for wireless for our 4 day stay. Breakfast was great and included (as it was for all of our hotels besides Hotel Aneto), as it had pastries, cereal, fruit and freshly made coffees. As coffee lovers, Europe was a fantastic experience!

    After checking in around 10 (our flight arrived at 9), we took a nap. We were just drained. After our nap, we walked to Trevi Fountain, which was probably a 15-20 minute walk if you don’t get lost. However, if you are as directionally impaired as I am, it’s more like a 30 minute walk. I’d like to point out that you really only need to take about 3 streets to get there, but that was a little challenging for me. In addition to our Rick Steves books for all 3 cities, we also bought the Knopf pocket maps, and those were really helpful!

    We walked around the Trevi Fountain and ate lunch in that area at a small pizzeria. We noticed that when we would order a pizza to share, that was viewed somewhat oddly. It didn’t seem that most customers shared entrees (or at least it didn’t seem that way to us). But, we were trying to be somewhat conservative during lunch so that we could splurge at dinner.

    After lunch, we continued our walk to the Pantheon. I think this was one of the neatest things we saw. I loved thinking that it was 2000 years old and this well preserved. I was fascinated by the large hole in the dome (the only light source) and how this building had weathered all of the elements for such a long time. There is also a neat obelisk in the plaza by the Pantheon, and I liked seeing those around the city. There is no admission fee for the Pantheon; you can just walk right in.

    We used another Rick Steves recommendation to grab some gelato at Gioliti by the Pantheon. It was tasty, but they definitely had little patience for our lack of Italian skills. So, I’m not entirely convinced I got what I asked for – but still yummy!

    Then, we continued wandering about and found ourselves at the Piazza Venezia, where we were able to walk to the top of the Altare della Patria, where you could take great pictures over the entire city of Rome.

    We rested up a bit before we went back out for dinner. We found a restaurant right by our hotel, Ristorante Strega (http://www.ristorantestrega.it/). We LOVED it! We had delicious bruschetta, pasta dishes and a bottle of wine. We were able to eat outside, and it was packed. I highly recommend this restaurant.

    After dinner, we tried to figure out where the nightlife was. It turns out, there’s not tons going on by our hotel (located at Via Agostino Depretis, 70), but we walked across Nazionale to Piazza Barberini and stumbled across Pepy’s Bar. (http://www.pepysbar.it/) Had a blast! The waitstaff was incredible to watch. (We are huge fans of Bar Rescue, and we kept thinking this was a model Jon Taffer establishment). It was filled almost entirely with locals, drinks were great, late night snacks were delicious. For people watching, we had a great time, and the few bottles of wine helped with that as well :) Afterwards, we went back to our hotel as we had a Colosseum tour scheduled for the next morning.

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    Sorry for the delay! I've been a little slammed at work since coming back from my 12 day European extravaganza.

    Here's Rome, Day 2 - March 10

    Before I get started on day 2, a few notes about Roman culture. Skinny jeans! Men love skinny jeans there! It was cracking us up how “out of fashion” we were. Also, my cool golden Sperry’s? I might as well have been wearing orthopedic clogs. The women were typically dressed to the nines, looking like models, and definitely not wearing boat shoes (or God-forbid, the hideous tennis shoes I was also sporting).

    Anyway, back to our travels…

    We had breakfast at the Hotel Giuliana. I probably ate 15 croissants while in Europe. I wish this was a joke. They were just so good!

    Next, we walked to the Colosseum. It was maybe a 20-25 minute walk. It’s just incredible that you’re strolling down the street, past a McDonald’s (they seriously love McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King – Wendy’s, not so much), and then all of a sudden, there is the Colosseum!

    Our tour started at 9, so it was relatively peaceful with very little crowds. I had purchased tickets in advance from the Colosseum itself. Based on our good friend's recommendation, we wanted to take the underground tour (where the gladiators were kept). Outside tour companies charge like $100-$150 for this tour, but if you book through the Colosseum it’s about €18. We were in a group of about 30 individuals, and the tour was great! We started by going to the area that would have been where the gladiators fought. This was the main arena, and during the day it would have been covered in wood. Our guide told us that during the early parts of the Colosseum, they would sometimes flood the arena and stage ship battles.

    Seating was arranged by class, with the rich at the front and the pleibs up top. Women (even rich women) had to sit closer to the top. As I looked around, all I kept thinking was, I want to watch Gladiator. I kept saying, “Are you not entertained?!!?” over and over until the BF looked like he was going to kill me. I guess my humor’s too high brow ;) After stopping at the stage level (no clue if that’s what it’s called) we went underground. It looks sunny in the pictures, but then it would have had the stage over top, so it was very dark. This is where the gladiators and animals were kept while they waited to battle.

    Some facts our tour guide told us that I did not know:

    • Gladiators were not only slaves. You could chose to be a gladiator as it was sorta like being a rockstar (except with a slightly higher chance of death).
    • Gladiators only fought about 3-4 times a year (again, still high chance of death).
    • Gladiators and animals did not live at the Colosseum, they just stayed there when they were about to fight. There was an underground tunnel that lead to the gladiator training school/housing.
    • Some slaves could earn their freedom (ala Gladiator, the movie) by surviving for 5 years, which was possible, just difficult.
    • They don’t know if the “thumbs down” signal from the emperor actually meant, kill the gladiator.
    • Joaquin Phoenix was not killed by Russell Crowe
    • Christians were not killed just for being Christian in the Colosseum. They were elsewhere in Rome, but there’s no proof linking that to the Colosseum. The tour guide was very adamant about that; she must get that question a lot.
    • Until the 1980s, anyone could just go into the Colosseum and do whatever – they finally turned it into a museum in the ‘80s.
    We continued to see all the different levels of the Colosseum, and I just thought it was so interesting.
    After the Colosseum, we found out our tickets also got us into the Roman Forum, which is where the Roman Senate took place. This was also really neat as it’s the birthplace of democracy. I just couldn’t get over how OLD everything is. I mean, the oldest stuff in the U.S. is pretty much modern in Europe.

    After the Forum, we stumbled onto Piazzo Navona, which was this great plaza that also used to be flooded to have ship battles. Those Romans loved their staged ship battles. Now, it’s full of activity, with a huge nightlife. We had lunch and then walked to the Tiber River.

    This is when I started getting whiny and complaining that my feet hurt. The BF was content to continue walking to the Vatican … But, since we were going to the Vatican tomorrow, I convinced him we should walk home. It started raining when we got back to the hotel so we took that as a cue that we should begin napping. We had wanted to go back to Piazzo Navona for dinner and then to stay out, but it was still raining, so we decided to stay closer to the hotel.

    We walked around the main drag, Nazionale, and settled on a restaurant, La Cucina Nazionale. It was just okay. Not nearly as good as our dinner the night before, but it was fairly cheap.

    Afterwards, we stumbled across a local bar, “George Byron” and we ordered a bottle of wine. Behind us, there was a wall with currency from all over the world. We of course had to add our dollar to the mix. We noticed that US currency isn’t nearly as cool as the other international currency. Oh well...After this drink, we went back to Pepy’s, which became our Harrison’s (our local Ohio bar) and drank some more. We talked ourselves out of getting McDonald’s again – as we decided that was pathetic. We got a late night snack at Pepy’s then headed back to the hotel… so that we could get up early for the Vatican!

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    lor - having been there myself very recently, I'm enjoying being back in Rome with you as well.

    could you do us all a favour and post the link for booking the underground tour of the colosseum?

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    Answering some questions:

    annhig, it looks like since I purchased Colosseum tickets in the fall, the pierrici.it link has changed it's name. It redirects you here: http://www.coopculture.it

    I still think this is an active link that will allow you to buy tickets, and we had a great experience!

    Someone else was wondering about pickpockets. We had no issues whatsoever. I wore a money belt (sometimes), but we were both very aware of where our wallets/purses were. I had a Longchamp bag that I zipped at all times and turned around so that the zipper end was close to me, and I could see it. We split up our money, and always had some in multiple places.

    I also made multiple copies of our passports, and always left a copy in the bottom of our suitcases. We always had our passports on us.

    But, honestly, we did not have any issues.

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    lor - this is what comes up via the link you give:

    http://www.coopculture.it/en/events.cfm?id=6

    these seem to be ordinary tickets to the colosseum, forum and palatinate, NOT the underground and upper levels tour - it's only €12 which is the ordinary entry price, not the €18 you quote. I checked both the italian and english sites and got the same thing.

    they have a night-time visit from May to november but that's something else, i think.

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    Hi ann,

    I emailed them to ask, because I know this is the right website, and here's the response I got:

    Dear Client,
    the link to buy ticket online is http://www.coopculture.it/en/ticket.cfm?office=Colosseo%2C%20Sotterranei%20e%20Terzo%20Ordine&id=2&evento=6
    you have to select BUY VISIT, than you have to select the date and the type of ticket.
    Otherwise you can take the same reservation by calling the information and reservation center at the following number + 39 6 39967700.
    Please note that we are a call center, therefore for any further information you have to contact us by phone.

    Not sure if this is helpful or if they have since changed the tours offered.

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    Lor - aha! thanks!

    i didn't go far enough with the website - as you say, it you keep going you get to a long menu of choices for guided tours, underground tours, and ordinary tickets.

    interestingly there are still places available for the english underground tour on Easter Saturday, so it's obviously always worth trying to see if there are places, even at short notice.

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    Rome Day 3 - The Vatican

    We had reservations for a tour of the Vatican at 9:00 AM, so we prepared to get up super early to attempt to take the subway to the Vatican City. We left our hotel around 7 and walked to Termini Station. Of course, we were instantly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people bustling about – especially since it was rush hour. Given that we could not figure out how to read the map (hey, we’re not geniuses), we decided we didn’t want to be late so we’d cab it. Cabs ended up being only €9,and we were dropped off directly in front of St. Peter’s Square. Or, at least the cab driver told us it was St. Peter’s Square. I’d only ever seen the Vatican on television, and it was always swarmed with people. Especially, considering the Conclave was going to be the next day we figured it would be crawling with people. But, at 7:30 in the morning, there was literally no one there.

    At first, I was concerned we were in the wrong place. I thought that maybe we were behind the Vatican, and we needed to walk around to see the main entrance. I’m not kidding – it was empty! But, upon closer inspection, I realized that yes, we were at St. Peter’s square. We tried to figure out where we needed to go for the Scavi Tour, and virtually every individual we met seemed to think we were insane for being there an hour before our tour started. So, we had to wait around for the tour to start, snapping pictures of a completely empty St. Peter’s Square. The Swiss Guards were total bros. They were chatting us up and laughing, not at all stoic like I was expecting.

    At 8:45 we were allowed to go into the Scavi Tour. If you’re going to Rome, I HIGHLY recommend this tour – probably my most favorite part of our trip. The Vatican, specifically the church, was built on this spot because it was the tomb of St. Peter. Prior to the tomb of St. Peter, this area was a necropolis for the city of Rome and its pagan inhabitants. The area of the church was constantly built up over the years. So, the necropolis was filled in by Constantine and a shrine to St. Peter was established. Over the years, new popes would build a larger altar over the tomb and so on. The Scavi tour shows you the excavated site under St. Peter’s basilica. You are able to see the excavated ruins of the necropolis, which is SO cool. You’re underground, and you can see the streets (which would have been above ground) where people walked to visit the mauseleums of the dead.

    Anyway, you are not able to take pics during the Scavi Tour, so I can only explain with my words. To book the Scavi Tour you just email this guy, Fabbrica to set up your tour. It’s €13 each, and it was a great deal! Of course, when we got there, we had some slight language barriers, and Fabbrica didn’t have us on the list. He wasn’t really a happy camper, so he made us stand in the corner until he decided if we were allowed to go. He motioned us in, told us yes, and asked for €26, so we paid AGAIN, but I thought it was best not to argue with Fabbrica. And off to the Scavi Tour we went!

    (On our way in, we saw a cardinal. I don’t know who it is, but let’s just say it was the future Pope Francis, k?)

    After the Scavi Tour, we had a tour scheduled with the Vatican itself to see the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. Due to Conclave, the Sistine Chapel was off limits, so all we could see was the museum. I’m sure it’s fantastic, but for €64, we decided to skip it. Instead, the Scavi Tour ended at St. Peter’s Basilica, so we decided to walk around the basilica by ourselves, sans tour.

    My thoughts on St. Peter’s Basilica: it’s much larger than I expected, with ornate sculptures and paintings everywhere. It is very much a testament to Renaissance art, and it was definitely an interesting place to see.

    However, it was PACKED, and unlike other churches we were in, it just didn’t feel like a church. There were so many people jostling about, edging you out of the way to take a picture that it sorta lost that sacred feeling I think churches are supposed to have. I’m not Catholic, so it’s possible that being Catholic may have added something to the basilica, but with all of the noise and masses, it was hard to really feel spiritual.

    Also, I just personally am not a huge fan of Renaissance art. I enjoyed the Sagrada Familia and St. Vitus (in Prague, more later) better (in terms of architecture). But, I’m REALLY glad that we stopped by and got to see it. It really is neat to see in person and very breathtaking.

    After we were done with the Vatican, we walked around St. Peter’s Square, and then went back towards our hotel. We stopped for lunch off of Nazionale at Bar Tavola Calda, a local sandwich shop. It was a great, local spot, with 2 paninis and rinks for €7.

    Then we napped/hung out back at our hotel for a bit before walking to Piazza Navona. Luckily, the weather was a little better than the day before, so we decided to grab some coffee and people watch. After coffee, we went to another Rick Steves recommendation, Cicia Bomba, right off Piazza Navona. We decided that since it was our last night there, we should do a traditional three course Italian meal. This was my favorite restaurant of our trip, and it was a great deal.

    I got bruschetta, pasta and a squid/shrimp entrée and a bottle of wine. The total of our meal came to €55 – great deal! While we were eating on the patio, we saw that another couple also had a Rick Steves book. Being the creep that I am, I said something to them and we started talking. Turns out, they were from Kansas City. While we were talking to them, the Italians at the table next to us started laughing, because one of them, Mike from Ohio, was from Akron, Ohio (actually Youngstown), he’d been in the US Army in Iraq, but had been living in Italy for the last 10 years.

    Bumping into this group made our dinner fantastic. Mike and his Italian friend regaled us with stories about Rome and how we ended up over here. It was so entertaining. After dinner, our new Kansas City friends invited us to grab some wine with them. We went to a little market, bought some wine, and proceeded to go to the little plaza by the Pantheon and drink. We could not get over that we were sitting in the middle of a plaza, drinking in front of the Pantheon! It got even cooler when it started to drizzle and we wanted to stay dry. We decided to move to the Pantheon itself and drink under its roof. HOW COOL is that?! We’re in Rome, drinking under the Pantheon!? A building that is thousands of years old.

    Our new friends were leaving to go to Southern Italy via train in the morning and we were on our way to Prague, so we each finished off a bottle of wine and then proceeded back to our respective hotels. Definitely my favorite night of our trip!

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    I feel like a total stalker...I have this trip report bookmarked and check several times a day to see if you've added more...I know, kind of creepy! My husband and I will be heading to Rome in May so I was particularly excited to read about your experience there. Unfortunately, I tried to book a Scavi Tour directly with the Vatican and received an email response that they were booked. How did you initially get in touch with Fabbrica? Anyway, keep up the good work on the report. I really enjoy your writing style and perspective.

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    Hi ThingsAreLookingUp!

    I'm glad you're enjoying my posts! You can never quite tell if anyone is reading and if you should keep posting, so I really appreciate it.

    I originally emailed: scavi@fsp.va and told them the days I would be in Rome. Fabbrica emailed me back with a date and time. I'm really surprised they would be completely booked. Perhaps try again and give them every day you're going to be there? I gave them a range of three days.

    Our issue with Fabbrica came when I tried to change the time. I initially had the tour (that I paid for) scheduled for the day we arrived. After chatting with some people at Fodors, I decided that was too much to try to do in one day, and I emailed him directly to change it. This is where our huge breakdown occurred because I thought he changed our tour, and clearly he did not.

    When Fabbrica would email us to confirm our tour, he emailed from info@scavi.va, and this is his email signature if it helps:

    UFFICIO SCAVI / Excavations OfficeFabbrica di San Pietro in Vaticano00120 Città del Vaticano (Europa)E-mail scavi@fsp.va; uff.scavi@fabricsp.vaTel 0039 06 698 85318 Fax 0039 06 698 73017

    Good luck!

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    Drinking in front of the Pantheon - historic!! Might have to file that idea away for my upcoming trip.

    Did Fabricca refund you after the fact? Or did you just leave it alone?

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    • Gladiators were not only slaves. You could chose to be a gladiator as it was sorta like being a rockstar (except with a slightly higher chance of death).

    I actually laughed so hard at this, I scared the cat and he ran out of the room! hahah :))

    Great report. I'll be back in Rome in May and will look up your recommended eats places. Thanks!

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    PS There may have been confusion about whether you had paid or not, depending on when you booked the tour. Some time ago, they became unable to process credit cards or online payments. He must have assumed you booked after that limitation began. I'd have shown him your receipt. But you are right- well worth the price, either way! :)

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    Hi Everyone!

    I just gave up on trying to prove to Fabricca that I had paid. When we originally had our miscommunication, I showed him my receipt and confirmation (in my bound itinerary, darn it!), and we were just not seeing eye to eye. I really think that when I changed the time, it messed something up. So word to the wise, DON'T change times or be prepared to deal with the Scavi equivalent of the Soup Nazi.

    Anyway, just a quick post about our transition from Rome to Prague:

    We were sad to leave Rome, but luckily the fact that it started pouring the day we were leaving made it a little easier. Our flight to Prague was at 1:00 PM, so we had a leisurely breakfast, wandered about for a bit, and then took the car service from our hotel to the airport. (In case anyone is wondering, it's March 12th at this point.)

    We flew Alitalia from Rome to Prague, and that was an experience! With our carry-on suitcases (by far the largest in Europe), we had had no problems flying Vueling. I had read prior to our trip that our bags were only allowed to be 10kg for Vueling and 8kg for Alitalia, but Vueling had not weighed us so I thought we were in the clear. NOT SO FAST …


    Alitalia makes you weigh your bag as you’re going through security. We were laughably over (even though we were only like 12kg, which for 12 days in my opinion is VERY economical!). The flight attendants made us check our bags, which made me nervous. Luckily, there was no cost (!!!), so we were okay. We went through the security line, where I apparently made an enemy of the TSA agent (or ISA Agent?!). Apparently, in Europe, iPads need to come out of the bags. And if the people in front of you are staring at their feet and not moving forward because they are picking the lint off their jackets you are not allowed to politely go around them. So, I got yelled at Italian and was forced to go through security AGAIN. So fun!

    Well, we made it through security and then had an hour or so to wait by our gates. Having learned our lesson from our last flight, we knew we had to act like total stalkers, lurking by the gate, ready to pounce when the mob had decided they wanted to board.

    Let me give you some insight into who was on our flight: me, the BF and two groups of high school students. As a former high school teacher who chaperoned kids to the inauguration of Barack Obama, I can tell you there is nothing worse than chaperoning high school kids to a new city. I can only imagine chaperoning high school kids to a new COUNTRY would be inherently worse.

    We decided there was the cool high school group and the less cool high school group. Both groups decided the goal was to be as loud and obnoxious as possible. One guy had a portable speaker plugged into his iPhone and was walking around the airport blasting music (I guess the modern day version of a boombox on the shoulder?). Some choice favorites: Chumbawumba: Tubthumper. I wish I was making that up.

    So, the mob decided: TIME TO BOARD THE PLANE, and the swarm began. We elbowed our way to the front and jumped into our seats. Our flight was certainly entertaining to say the least. The students audibly cheered during take-off and landing and sang songs. They were clearly having a blast….

    And then we landed in PRAGUE!

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    I experienced the same thing with my iPad for the first time this summer in London and totally unprepared as I never experienced this before.

    Can't wait to hear about Prague!

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    lor41886; Fabbrica was grumpy, lost your reservations and charged you twice for the same tour!

    Here's his mailing address in case you want send a nasty letter *personally* to him and let him have it!

    Fabbrica di San Pietro
    Excavations Office
    00120 Vatican City State
    Europe

    LOL :-).

    The Fabbrica you emailed to and met is actually a 560yr old organization that once was in complete charge of the Basilica.

    Today they take care of preservation, decoration, employees and the tourists.

    'Fabbrica di San Pietro' would be something like the 'Administration Division of St. Peter's' and we deal with 1 branch of it the 'Excavations Office'.

    http://www.vaticanstate.va/content/vaticanstate/en/monumenti/basilica-di-s-pietro/fabbrica-di-san-pietro.html OR THIS
    http://tinyurl.com/bunp5cd

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    Rostra -

    Thanks for the info! WOW do I feel stupid. Here we've been silently cursing "Fabbrica" for the last three weeks! Hah! I guess you learn something new every day.

    Anyway, I think I'm still calling him Fabbrica in my book :)

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    Arrival in Prague (Day .5):

    Since we arrived in Prague in the late afternoon, I'm calling this Prague Day .5 :)

    We arrived in Prague, at which had to be the most efficient airport I’ve ever been to. We walked off the plane, and the airport was practically empty. Given that it was around 3:30 PM, it was sort of odd.

    Since Alitalia had forced us to check our bags we were very concerned they were going to be on their way to Siberia or something. But, by the time we’d taken the 5 minute walk from the terminal to baggage claim, they were already out. We picked them up, walked out the door, and saw the car from our hotel waiting for us! (It’s always cool to see someone with your last name on a sign… I’m such a dork)

    I will say, a surprise cost was airport transportation. It wasn’t a surprise, as I knew were going to have to pay it; I just hadn’t really factored it into my estimates. It always ended up costing around $50-$60 a trip (with the exception of the AWESOME Aerobus in Barcelona), so it did add up. But, public transporation wasn’t much cheaper, so we opted for the hotel cars.

    Now, here’s my bummer about Prague. Barcelona: in the 60s; Rome: in the 60s. Prague: unseasonably cold weather, snowing, in the 20s… yuck! It really is beautiful, but we stepped outside and it was COLD.

    We stayed at the Hotel Maximilian, which was a little bit of a splurge. All in all, we tried to stay around $100/night. With our savings at Hotel Aneto in Barcelona, we splurged for the $120/night Hotel Maximilian. The hotel is located right off the Old Town Square in Prague, and it is a very modern, boutique hotel.


    The staff was FANTASTIC. Before our trip even began, I was trying to confirm our hotel rides, and Mike chatted with me from the website. It was awesome. We checked in, and they offered us beverages and snacks. (I get this may be normal for some, but we are not high end travelers, so for us we thought this was cool).

    Our hotel room was really nice. Yes, the carpets were a bit worn, but the furnishings were very modern and nice. Free WiFi and a complimentary bottle of wine awaited us. Definitely the nicest bathroom we had. They even had complimentary GOLDFISH! Yes, you could request goldfish in your room. Breakfast was by far the most extensive in all of Europe – delicious buffet and a kitchen where you could have eggs and other delicacies made to order. (Again, may be standard for some, but we loved our freebees!).

    Perhaps my favorite thing about Hotel Maximilian was the “Honesty Bar”. This was a fully stocked bar, with a serve yourself philosophy. You just made a drink, and then wrote down what you took, and your room was charged. We debated being honest … but in the end we decided that we couldn’t jack drinks at something called the Honesty Bar. Karma, y’all.

    As we were getting ready to explore Prague, we turned on the TV in our hotel to watch the Conclave begin. Now, our entire time at the Vatican, we had surreptitiously walked by the news crews, loudly speaking in English, flaunting: American vacationers here, will give interviews. Shockingly, no one requested an interview with us to see the average American in Rome’s take on the pope situation.

    So the very next day, on the TV, what do we see? All of these news crews interviewing these random Americans, and asking them stuff like, “what do you think a good pope would do?” They would in turn answer with stuff like, “I hope he’s nice.” CLEARLY, we could have given much better interviews. It was bizarre to think we were there just yesterday, and now we were watching it on TV.

    Anyway, we decided to go to a restaurant nearby, the James Joyce Irish Pub. We noticed there were Irish pubs everywhere, but this was a Rick Steves’ recommendation. When we strolled in, we tried to speak in Czech: Doh-breh den (hello). They immediately started talking to us in English. Apparently, we had neon signs around our heads that said, I am an American! Anyway, they asked us smoking or non? First of all, haven’t heard that in a while. Out of reflex, I said non. They lead us to the back room that housed zero people. We decided to go to the smoking section so that we could actually interact with others. After all of our travels, it was nice to just grab some pub food: fish and chips/burgers/etc. We also had some great beers.

    Next, we walked towards Old Town Square to see if there was a bar or two we could visit. Prague is unique in Europe since it was not destroyed during World War II. All of the buildings are original, many from the 12 and 1300s. As a huge Game of Thrones fan, I constantly kept picturing the series while walking around (particularly King’s Landing). The Old Town Square was beautiful, but cold. We tried one bar, but after a drink left (just seemed really overpriced). We then settled on Caffrey’s Irish Pub (another one!) because it was showing the Barcelona v. Milan soccer game and there were crowds of people.


    We definitely noticed that there was a much larger language barrier in Prague than in Rome and Barcelona. It was difficult to get beers (even though I asked for them in Czech – probably butchering the language of course). After the game was over, the bar started to die down. We also noticed an affinity for 80s pop. Tiffany came on in the bar, and the crowd got noticeably excited (aka … I think we’re alone now). So after our beers, we headed back to our hotel.

    We decided we’d investigate nightlife for the next night to figure out where we should go. Stay tuned for a tour of Old Town Prague!

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    We definitely noticed that there was a much larger language barrier in Prague than in Rome and Barcelona. It was difficult to get beers (even though I asked for them in Czech – probably butchering the language of course)>>

    lol, lor, you remind me of the first bar we went to when we spent a few days in Prague a few years ago - it was recommended by our taxi-driver from the airport, who clearly had a sense of humour. No english spoken at all, a plaster bust of Stalin in one corner, and Alexander Dubcek in the other - they were obviously backing both sides. it took us so long to get our drinks using sign language, that though we were hungry, we gave up and left. perhaps you were in the same bar?

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    I am laughing at your 80s rock reference! We noticed an awful lot of that on our recent trip to Europe too. I think the soundtrack of our trip would be by Cyndi Lauper and George Michael.

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    Ditto tailsock. I can function quite well in Spain, France, and Italy but really lament that I cannot speak a word of my grandmother's native language, other than pivo and I hate beer. :(

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    ann, sounds like we were at the exact same bar! Honestly, I was not picky, just trying to mime 2 beers. Apparently, I shouldn't quit my day job.


    Ahh, a brand new day, in our third country in a little over a week! We decided to check out breakfast in the hotel, which was absolutely fantastic. After an omelette, fruit, 3-4 croissants (they were mini, if that’s any justification), we decided to explore the city.

    Prague is best viewed by simply exploring the city, getting lost in the winding roads, stumbling into new shops, grabbing a snack from a street vendor and becoming immersed in the architecture.

    Minor problem: it was really cold. Considering we had only packed in a carry-on, we didn’t have tons of winter clothes. It was supposed to be in the 40s and 50s, but it probably didn’t exceed 20 the entire time we were there. Nonetheless, we decided to walk around Old Town Square.

    Some of the main attractions in the Old Town Square are the Astronomical Clock, Church of Tyn, the markets, the Jan Huss statute, etc.


    After wandering about, we decided to walk to the Charles Bridge, which was completely doable from our hotel. It was probably only a 10-15 minute walk. The Charles Bridge is incredibly impressive. King Charles (born Wenceslaus, of Christmas song renown) was an incredibly important figure in Czech history. In the 1300s, he was the Holy Roman Emperor, and used Prague as his capital. He rebuilt Prague in the model of Paris. He established the New Town of Prague, the University of Prague, and completely builit up the city. Many things in Prague are named for him, including the Charles Bridge. Until the 1800s, the Charles Bridge was the only way to cross the Vlatva River to go from the Old Town to Prague Castle (more in a later post).

    To quote from Wikipedia: “The bridge is 621 meters long and nearly 10 meters wide, resting on 16 arches shielded by ice guards. It is protected by three bridge towers, two of them on the Lesser Quarter side and the third one on the Old Town side. The Old Town bridge tower is often considered to be one of the most astonishing civil gothic-style buildings in the world. The bridge is decorated by a continuous alley of 30 statues and statuaries, most of them baroque-style, originally erected around 1700 but now all replaced by replicas.”

    I absolutely loved the architecture, and even in the 20 degree weather, it was a bustling bevy of activity for tourists and the like. Vendors were situated all along the bridge.

    Next up: Rest of Day 1 and our experience with Czech Jazz!

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    Love your report but have a question. How did you make out with your carry ons with Vueling? I have flown them and they do not allow a handbag if you have a carry on piece....one piece only and much smaller and weight restricted when comparing with a US carrier. I had to purchase a small gym bag to comply ditching my 22 inch roll aboard.

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    This is very interesting since I found Prague to have very few language barriers. It seemed like everyone spoke impeccable English, but I guess it does depend on exactly where one goes.

    We also froze in Prague when we were there one November. Despite bundling up, I ended up with a doozy of a cold.

    Still enjoying your report, lor! Looking forward to more.

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    lowcountrycarol - I guess we just got lucky with Vueling. I read and reread their website, and they stated that you could bring 1 cary-on and 1 personal item (purse/laptop bag).

    I brought my 22 inch rolling suitcase and a longchamp purse/tote. The BF brought a 22 inch rolling suitcase and a laptop bag. We flew them twice and were never stopped. In the Prague airport, we did have to prove that our bags fit in the appropriate sized bin (with they did). I also read on Vueling's site that the bags could weigh no more than 10 kg. We were never weighed, but when packing, we did try to keep that in mind.

    I should have time this afternoon to post more about the blistering cold of Prague! :)

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    Prague Day 1: Evening and Jazz Club

    Sorry for the delay! School and Easter snuck up on me! So, back to Prague!

    After touring Old Towne, we went back to our hotel to take a quick nap. After our nap, we got ready for a night on the town. We’d researched nightlife in Prague, and we decided we needed to check out the Czech jazz scene. Apparently, the Czechs love jazz.

    First, we decided to “Czech out” (oh my gosh, how funny am I? My bf was about to murder me if I said that one more time) the Honesty Bar in our hotel. It’s a great concept. Just write down what you drink, and they bill your room. The BF had a “Budweiser,” who is apparently in a legal dispute with Anheuser Busch. Czech Budweiser is brewed in “Budweis” and goes back hundreds of years. In the Czech Republic, they are allowed to call the beer “Budweiser” but in the U.S. it is Czechvar.

    After the Honesty Bar, we decided to try a Rick Steves’ recommendation – a Thai restaurant just down the street. We were really excited because Thai sounded fantastic to us. So, we walked over there – and bam, temporarily closed for renovations! We were bummed, so we went to Katr, a trendy restaurant a few blocks down the street. We loved it! The restaurant had grills on all of the tables where you could grill/fondue your own meats. I tried to order this (be a local), but was unsuccessful given my language barrier. Seriously, I am apparently not culturally literate. So, I gave up and ordered an entrée (porkchop), and the BF got a burger. For our yummy entrees and several beers, it was only 550CK – which equates to about $30. Pretty sweet deal.

    Next, we went to Agharta Jazz Club. I had read about this from Rick Steves but also multiple Czech websites. Price was 250CK, and we were pretty excited to experience Czech culture. The guys playing were really pretty good. We were cracking up because they would talk in English sometimes, but then alternate to Czech so it would sound something like, “xlkjdasfljdl sldkfajaldsfkj Baby Funk xclkjsd”. Of course, I recognize that’s not exactly what Czech sounds like, but the point is, we wouldn’t be able to understand anything until they said the name of a song, and then they’d say “Fried Bananas.” We stayed for a few hours – they were really great and fun to listen to!

    After that, we just went back to the hotel. I know that Prague is supposed to have a really vibrant night life, but it was sooooo cold (and snowy), that there were very few people out. It was about 12 or 1 anyway, so we grabbed a drink from the Honesty Bar and went back to the hotel.

    Next Up: Jewish Quarter and Weneclas Square

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    Brand new day in Prague … still cold, still snowy. Thankfully, breakfast is delicious. Seriously though, I’m still working off those croissants. Why must they be so delicious and buttery?

    Our plan for the morning was to walk to the Jewish Quarter of Prague and tour the synagogues and cemetery. Again, Prague is extremely walkable, so perhaps a 10 minute walk took us to the Jewish Quarter.

    For 300CK, you can tour 6 synagogues and the Old Jewish Cemetery but NOT the Old New Synagogue (that was 250CK extra). So we decided to just do the 6 synagogues. Apparently, Prague has the best Jewish “museums” in Europe because they were not harmed during World War II, unlike most of the rest of Europe. In fact, the Nazis kept the Jewish synagogues in tact because they wanted to use Prague as a “museum of the extinct Jewish race.” It’s a totally horrible premise, but does mean that all of the synagogues were remarkably well preserved and fascinating to look at.

    Additionally, you could not take pictures in most of the synagogues. For the Old Jewish Cemetery, you could pay extra to take pics. I considered taking pics even without paying, but as the BF pointed out, that might be an automatic ticket to hell, so I refrained from breaking synagogue rules.

    Our first synagogue was The Pinkas Synagogue. Apparently, Franz Kafka was a member of this synagogue. After World War II, it became a memorial to the Jews who died during the war. The interior walls are painted with over 77,000 names of Jews from the area who died during the war. It is really haunting and surreal. During the 60s (communism) all of the names were erased. However, the names have been restored as part of a project during the 90s.

    On the second floor is a display of Jewish artwork drawn by children in the Terezin concentration camp. This is the premise behind the book “I never saw another butterfly.” I think this was probably the most haunting thing I saw. Beautiful, colorful artwork was created by the children who still saw beauty in the world – even in the midst of the hell they must have been living. The fact that the artwork was preserved is incredibly, and it really is gorgeous. I was particularly struck that most of the artwork was signed; with one by the name of Gertruda Eisinger. Eisinger is my grandmother’s maiden name, so this was particularly touching.

    After leaving Pinkas Synagogue, we went to the Old Cemetery. The graves are from the 14th century to the 18th century. And today there are over 10,000 tombstones. It’s a very small area, and the tombstones have fallen and are crooked, but it was the only place in Prague one could bury a Jew. Tombs were built one on top of the other – almost 12 layers deep – to hold all of the bodies.

    We also went to a few other synagogues, but I felt that the Pinkas Synagogue and Old Cemetery were the most memorable for me. We were not able to go to the Old New Synagogue, which is famous, but we did take pictures from the outside.
    For lunch, we strolled back to Old Town Square and ate lunch from the street vendors. We tried the brautwurst, delicious!
    Of course, I had a croissant for dessert – I’m telling you, must have gained 10 pounds from croissants.

    Next, we went back to take a nap and then headed to Wenceslas Square. I do not believe I ever said the word “Wenceslas” correctly one time during this trip. Again, Wenceslas is named after Saint Wenceslas the patron saint of the area.
    This is a very long boulevard type area, that has newer architecture than Old Town (duh). On the way we passed several historic sights: the Wenceslas Monument and the communism building.

    Finally we walked by the Municipal House, which is a concert hall and very important to Czech history. It’s done in the Art Nouveau style.

    As it was a particularly cold day, we headed back to Old Town for an Italian dinner, and then decided to purchase some wine from a local market. We went back to the hotel and had a night in with wine and some particularly amusing German variety shows on TV. In one, the premise was literally to slap yourself in the face as many times as you can in 1 minute. I kid you not. We also tried to watch America’s Next Top Model in German so that I could work on my “translation.” This consisted of me periodically saying things like, I think she’s upset. Or, she likes her new hair.
    Next morning … Prague Castle!!

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    And it’s our last full day in Prague! Unfortunately, it’s still freezing out, but we decided to make the most of the weather. We had breakfast at the hotel again, loaded up on caffeine, and hit the streets.

    We had decided we were going to the Prague Castle. We were able to walk to the castle, but it was a far walk, probably about 30-40 minutes. You walk through Old Town again, across the Charles Bridge and then walk up this hill to get to the castle. It was so cold, I caved and bought a warm, knitted had with Prague written across it, so I clearly blended in as a local ☺ .

    Once we got to the Prague Castle, we were able to take some awesome pictures. From the top, you can see a panorama of the city, and it really is beautiful. We saw several wedding parties – apparently Friday is the day to get married in the Czech Republic.

    Outside the castle, we saw guards, who unlike the Swiss guards were not friendly… They must have been freezing. We bought the “short pass” that let us into 4 of the sites within the castle complex. This cost 250 CK, but the BF said he was a student and showed his ID and got in cheaper. I forgot mine!

    The whole complex reminded me of Kings Landing in Game of Thrones. It’s a traditional medieval castle complex, with walls around the palace, a church, and other buildings and markets within the walls. Obviously, on a hill to ward off invaders.

    We began at St. Vitus Cathedral that was built in 1344. The church was finally finished in 1929 – the 1000th anniversary of the death of St. Wenceslas. I loved the gothic style, and the plethora of stained glass.

    Apparently, much of the interior has hints of Czech nationalism, with some moments in Czech history depicted in murals and stained glass.

    There were many mausoleums in the church, with tombs of Czech royalty and other important Czech figures. St. Wenceslas is buried here as well.

    After touring St. Vitus, we went into the castle itself. It’s not a castle like Versailles with ornate renaissance type gilded décor. Instead, it is very medieval, and was built in the 12th century. The interior great hall was large enough for jousts and also doubled as a “market” so that the nobility could shop but not have to go outside with the pleibs … The upstairs has rooms covered with the sigils of the local noble families and a breathtaking view of Prague. It was really cool! Of course we kept making Game of Thrones jokes and looking for House Targareyen, but that’s just because we’re so mature.

    We left the palace and went to the Basilica of St. George.

    Then we took some more pictures from the top of the castle quarter and headed back to Old Town. We had lunch/snack from a vendor; one of the sugary rolls that seemed to proliferate Praha. Delish!

    For dinner, we ended up going back to KatR because we loved it so much, and it was so cheap. We took an easy night since we were leaving to fly back to Barcelona the next morning.

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    Hi lor41886, What a delightful trip report, thanks for sharing! I hope that you are still checking back here to see any comments, etc.

    We are heading to Barcelona for two days pre-cruise the end of Nov. Our cruise departs from BCN so we plan to spend two days sightseeing. We have been to BCN before on another cruise but didn't do any sightseeing. We walked the Las Ramblas and just watched the mimes, did some browsing in the stores, etc. This time we want to see some of the wonderful sights. I would like to make the trip to Montserrat as several of my friends have done it and loved it. I am not sure yet how I will coordinate this from BCN. We want to visit the Sagrada Familia to see that masterpiece. We may do the hop on bus so we can see as much of the city as possible. I know two days is not enough but that is all the time we can spare.

    I am considering booking the Hotel Aneto you stayed at in BCN. I am a hotel snob but just something that is CLEAN and basic will be fine for 2 days. We would like a room that does not face the street noise, etc. My husband and I are not in the same age category as you and your BF are, we are way beyond that stage.

    Any other suggestions would be appreciated. We have to find transportation to the port after our BCN stay but guess we will just take a taxi as we will have two large suitcases. I am seriously going to try to condense our packing so we don't have heavy suitcases to schlepp around.

    Thanks again for your report, loved reading it.

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    Hi Luv2travel5! Sorry, I haven't been checking back here very frequently, but I saw that you're not going to Barcelona until November, so hopefully you can still read this. We only had 2 days in Barcelona, so I understand your predicament - you do what you can do.

    Absolutely see Sagrada Familia. We did not do this, but my friend recommended we use the Barcelona Bus Turistic (http://www.barcelonabusturistic.cat/web/guest) to see as many sites as possible. If you enjoy architecture, I highly recommend the Block of Dischord and the Gaudi works in the Eixample area. We did not go inside, but I think we should have.

    In hindsight, I regret that we did not go to Park Guell. I have heard some really fabulous things from some friends - so I would also recommend that.

    In terms of booking Hotel Aneto, it is cheap, clean and extremely basic - really probably a step up from a hostel. But, you probably can't get anything cheaper in that area. Are the beds comfy? Not particularly. But, they were very friendly, I felt safe, etc. If you want to send me a message with your email, I can send you pics of the place so you know exactly what you're getting.

    I'm not sure what port you need to get transportation to, but I don't think a cab would be that bad in terms of price. If you can condense your suitcases, I do highly recommend it. I can't tell you the number of times that having a carry-on saved us. But, we were flying pretty frequently, so it was more of a priority for us.

    Good luck! Let me know if you have other questions!

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