Italy 2017: Vatican Museums

From our research we knew that the Vatican Museums were going to be an epic undertaking. To make sure to see all of the most interesting bits before our feet gave out we planned out a route in advance. We rarely rested, didn’t visit every gallery, and it still took us over four hours of exploring to get through the entire complex! There is a well labelled route that takes visitors one way through a series of galleries, all ending up at the famous Sistine Chapel. I believe we walked about four miles by the end of our visit!

Cortile della Pigna (pine cone)
Cortile della Pigna (pine cone)

Chiaramonti Museum
Chiaramonti Museum, a loooong hall of exquisite sculpture

Perseus with the head of Medusa  Augustus of Prima Porta
Perseus and Augustus of Prima Porta in the Braccio Nuovo gallery

Braccio Nuovo gallery  Laocoön
Braccio Nuovo gallery and the Laocoön

porphyry bathtub of Emperor Nero
porphyry bathtub of Emperor Nero (hard to see in this photo but the stone is purple)

mosiac floor
gorgeous mosaic floor in the Pio Clementino

Gallery of Maps
the ceiling in the Gallery of Maps outshines the walls!

School of Athens by Raphael
The School of Athens by Rafael

more amazing ceilings

Vatican Museum
amazing ceiling and frescoes in the Rafael Rooms

Jesus and his sheep  spiral staircase @ Vatican Museum
Jesus and his sheep; the spiral staircase

The sheer amount of priceless art and opulence is a bit overwhelming to be honest. And, of course, there are several gifts shops along the way so you don’t even have to wait until the end to buy souvenirs. </sarcastic voice>

of course there's a gift shop

We have no pictures to share of the Sistine Chapel as you are not allowed to take pictures in there. Most people were obeying the rules, but the experience of admiring the ceiling was periodically interrupted by loud “SHHHHHH”ing noises from the guards and the occasional “NO PHOTO!”

Overall, I think the Vatican Museums is an experience absolutely worth doing once, just make sure to wear your most comfortable shoes. And the next time we’re in Rome we’ll definitely make it inside St. Peter’s Basilica.

Beijing 2015: The Palace Museum (Forbidden City)

Saturday morning we awoke to an even smoggier day, but decided to continue with our plans to see Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Unfortunately, we found the smog obscuring Tiananmen Square, so we couldn’t really see anything. Thankfully we were still able to experience the grounds of the Forbidden City, the imperial palace for over five centuries, known today as the Palace Museum.

To get onto the grounds we had to pass through two layers of security, first from the metro station tunnel, and then again at the gates of the site. Tickets were easy to obtain just to the left of the main entrance, and we found maps in a variety of languages at a kiosk just inside. Your first view past the gates is quite impressive and provides an imperial ‘wow’ moment just as intended.

Forbidden City

There are hundreds of details in and around each building: water cisterns for fighting fires, statues, carvings, etc.

Forbidden City  Forbidden City

water cisterns for fire protection  Forbidden City

We continued through the several layers of the complex, each successive courtyard getting a little smaller, but the buildings becoming even more ornate as we approached the royal living quarters.

Forbidden CityForbidden City

Forbidden City  Forbidden City

We also explored some of the side buildings, including the Pavilion of Literary Profundity, one of the catchiest names we experienced on this trip.

Directional signs wanted us to exit to the north, but that was a long walk from the metro, so we circled back toward the south and took the east exit instead. One of our last views was a pretty canal running near the outer walls:

Forbidden City

The Palace Museum is an immense site with hundreds of buildings for which it is justifiably famous – even give the cold conditions and air quality it was still a memorable experience.

Germany & France, July 2013: long layover in London

Given the opportunity I will gladly spend time in London, and on my way back to the US I enjoyed an 18 hour layover. As with earlier trips, I stayed along the Piccadilly line since it runs out to the airport, but this time I stayed in South Kensington.

After dropping my bags at the hotel I headed to Cask, one of my favorite pubs in London. It was busy but not packed (surprising on a Friday evening) so I was able to snag a table. I started with a half pint of Pheasant Plucker cider and bacon dusted chips, then tried the Barbour Special B, a belgian red cask ale aged in rum casks… complex, and very good. My last was a Belgian ‘zinbier’ on draft.

Saturday morning I wanted to visit the V&A museum before I headed to the airport at noon, but the museum didn’t open until 10a. While I waited for it to open I walked up to Kensington Gardens since I’ve never seen them in the summer time. The weather and the views were both great.



Royal Albert Hall
Royal Albert Hall

Albert Memorial
Albert Memorial

Kensington Gardens

Kensington Gardens  Kensington Gardens
gardens in bloom

wise policy
seems like a good policy

Once the Victoria & Albert Museum opened I headed to a side entrance and made a beeline for the sculpture rooms.

V&A museum  V&A museum

V&A museum

V&A museum

V&A museum
detail above doorway

I also checked out some of the silver rooms and an exhibit of old 1800’s photographs. The collections and sheer amount of objects in the museum are just astounding.

V&A museum  V&A museum

Two days in the V&A Museum wouldn’t be enough, let alone two hours, but I enjoyed my limited time and definitely want to return for more.

My hotel was three blocks away, so I checked out and crossed the street to catch the tube back to the airport. An hour and a half later I was enjoying dandan noodles in the Cathay Lounge; little did I know that American Airlines had upgraded me to business class for the flight back to New York! As usual, I enjoyed my time in London, and can’t wait to go back for something more than just one night.

A New York weekend: NYC

The weekend after Easter we flew up to New York for a quick family visit and we decided stay in the city for the first night so we could make sure to see my niece (since we usually miss her during our Christmas or summer trips). Hotel prices were rather high for our particular weekend so we decided to redeem one of our free Hyatt nights (earned through a credit card signup) at the Hyatt 48 Lex.

In a first for us,  our flight from RDU arrived at LaGuardia 45 minutes early, so our cab arrived at the hotel right around our original landing time. At check-in we were notified that we had been upgraded to a lexington studio room on the 19th floor. One minute later we were in our spacious (by NYC standards) room.

Hyatt 48 Lex Hyatt 48 Lex
looking left, looking right

our view in the morning

We decided to try out one of the better-known craft beer bars in the area, The Ginger Man, and along the way I took Leandra through Grand Central Station since she had never seen it in person.


The bar was quite crowded when we first arrived and we struggled to get an order in. We eventually got a menu (they’re printed daily as the beers change rapidly) and placed our orders for a Left Hand Ambidextrous II and the ‘t Smisje Imperial Sour. Beers in hand we scouted around and found stools and an open counter towards the back, allowing us to settle in and enjoy some people watching.  Around 9pm the crowd thinned out, then became quite busy again after 10p. Looking over the beer list again Leandra noticed they had the Alvinne Undressed sour beer that we’d only seen in Brussels.  That quickly became my second order (Leandra opted for a Two Brothers Northwind Imperial Stout), along with pretzels and a surprisingly spicy mustard sauce. Tired after a long day at work we gave up our seats around 11p for our super comfortable bed.

The next morning we had breakfast at Demarco, a coffee shop in midtown. Their breakfast sandwiches were tasty and Leandra really enjoyed her latte. As a bonus, they had complimentary copies of the NY Times so we read through a few sections with our breakfast.

Fueled up we walked across town taking in a few of the tourist sites that we hadn’t visited in about 10 years: Rockefeller Center, Times Square, then on to the Macy’s Flower Show in Herald Square.

Chrysler building 30 Rock
Chrysler building (one of my favorites); 30 Rockefeller Center

Prometheus and ice rink
still ice skating in April!

Times Square
a typically busy Times Square

Macy's Flower Show panorama

Macy’s flower show

Macy's Flower Show
Macy’s flower show

We returned to the Hyatt around noon, checked out, then took a taxi to my brother’s apartment on the Upper East Side. From there we all walked to the Guggenheim.

Guggenheim Museum.

Photos are only allowed on the ground floor, but the exhibit spanning the main hall was quite interesting: long plastic tubes with colored liquid.


The Thannhauser Collection was our favorite exhibit, featuring an outstanding density of masters including Monet, Picasso, Renoir, Van Gogh, etc.

We spent the rest of the day with family, then back out to Long Island later that evening.

Asia/Australia 2013: Brisbane

Our time in Brisbane unfortunately overlapped with the rather-strong remnants of Tropical Cyclone Oswald. Rain came and went on the first evening but Eric was able to get some interesting shots of the CBD from our apartment balcony.

our view from the apartment

The next day featured intermittent showers, so we were able to get out and explore a few spots on a wet Saturday.

free city hopper taxi
free city hopper water taxi… slow, but cost-effective

Brisbane CBD

The free ferry took a winding 30 minutes to get to the South bank dock, just over one mile as the crow flies. We walked up the south bank promenade ducking out of rain, heading to the museum section. The Australia Day festival was still going on with a moderately damp crowd.

Brisbane arbor

QaGOMA (Queensland Gallery of Modern Art) was a nice dry spot to spend a few hours. This fantastic (and free!) museum had lots of colorful fun art and installations and plenty of play areas for children to get creative.

city in the sky reflected wooden house by Takahiro IwasakiI can buy your life  whale corridor

Check out more of QaGOMA photos on our Flickr acct.

After enjoying the museum exhibits we walked over the Go Between Bridge and through an office/business area to The Scratch, a craft beer bar. Our bartender, Patrick, was a great host and gave us a tasting and background of all the beers on draft. To accompany the high gravity beer, we also ordered a smoked cheddar plate that was delicious. While we were there we also discovered that you can bring in your own food (or have it delivered). This bar definitely also felt more like a living room with comfy couches and boardgames leading to a relaxed vibe.

The drafts

  • 4 Degrees Wheat- banana and toasty (Eric ordered.)
  • Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta – earl grey IPA, lots of anise and hops
  • 4 Pines Wee Heavy Scotch Ale – lift yer kilts! Lots of smoky malt. (Leandra ordered.)
  • Nogne Imperial Dunkel Witbier – dark and sweet finish
  • Bacchus Waimea Golden Bitter- light and fruity, hand pumped and on the warm side

After our first round, we still had some cheese left, so we went to the bottle list. Leandra ordered the Brewboys Seeing Double Wee Heavy and Eric opted for the Moon Dog Magnificent Mullet Billy Ray Citrus (with a name like that how could we not??).

mmm, smoooooky cheeeeese

the Scratch

Semi-dried off, we made our way back to the CityHopper ferry and onto Kangaroo Point to meet up with the family for cocktails in the apartment. Viewing any fireworks was going to be a challenge with all the rain, so we cabbed it over to an indoor meal at the Ship Inn on the south promenade. We found the prices steep, even for Australian standards, but the food was pretty good. Leandra’s bouillabaisse went nicely with a glass of the Allendale Chardonnay, while Eric went with the Wild Earth Riesling and a chicken burger (which was really just a chicken breast on a bun).

rain.The rain worsened on Sunday, so we were stuck inside all day. Thankfully, we had a stocked fridge so Lynn (Leandra’s step-mom) and Steph (step-sister) prepared lamb chops and kangaroo sausages and we watched Djokovic beat Andy Murray in the tennis final.

Monday morning the sun started finally peaking out behind the clouds, so at least my folks had a nice day to cap off the end of their two month trip. We got a cab to the airport — with our first ever female driver — to relax in the Qantas lounge with some sparkling wine, coconut apricot balls and chocolate chip cookies, while we awaited our 747 to Singapore.



Israel 2012: Jerusalem, Day 1

On our first day in Jerusalem we started at the Jaffa gate, walking around some of the perimeter streets of the Armenian Quarter.

Armenian Quarter
Inside the Jaffa gate

olive tree
A quiet corner

Zion Gate
Zion Gate- the divots in the wall are from bullets and shrapnel

We progressed through through the Jewish Quarter and toward the Western Wall.

Jewish Quarter
stalls crowding the walkways

After turning a corner and passing through metal detectors we were very suddenly looking at the famous remnant of the former Jewish temple.

Western Wall
Western Wall

While in the Jewish Quarter we came upon several boisterous bar mitzvah celebrations parading toward the Western Wall, complete with drums and other instruments.

Israeli soldiers jumping into a bar mitzvah procession

After a lunch of schwarma we stopped into the Wohl Museum of Archeology to see part of the Herod-era ruins that are under the current city.

Wohl Museum of Archeology
Lots of ritual baths and mosaic floors

After making our way back to the Jaffa gate we managed to find two cabs that would take us to the Israel Museum, home to many of the Dead Sea scrolls, other antiquities, and artwork. This is really a museum campus with several buildings all for a single admission– the breadth and depth they have on display is stunning.

Dead Sea Scrolls dome
Dead Sea Scrolls dome

Dead Sea Scrolls room
Inside the dome with some of the scrolls

1:20 scale model of the Old City
50:1 scale model of the Second Temple and City in ~66 CE (fullsize)

hand-painted bronze sculpture apple core
interesting art work- the dandelion is painted bronze, and the apple is ~10′ tall

You can easily spend several afternoons here and it was well-worth the admission price. We ended the afternoon with tea in the home of my parent’s friend.

mom and dad chatting over tea

Day 1 was reasonably easy on the feet; day 2 would prove to be much more strenuous and equally memorable.

Balboa Park

Our options were limited on Sunday due to the rainy weather, so we had a leisurely breakfast and used our 24 hours of internet-time to research some indoor options.

Eric suggested we look into Balboa Park which is a huge park of museums near downtown. After looking around at admission pricing and offerings, we decided on the Museum of Photographic Arts.

But first we took a damp stroll around the first (large) lathe building built in the US that houses several orchids, bromeliads, and other flowering plants. The grounds of Balboa Park are sprinkled with sculpture and fountains, including a huge ampitheatre for the weekly organ concert each Sunday.

Once the rain cleared up we walked over to the Spanish Village arts center to check out some local artists.

This is more or less what every building looked like, absolutely stunning detailed architecture…

It’s easy to see why locals and tourists alike flock to this place!