Tag Archive: tips


The Arena of Verona

My crazy boys in front of the Arena:)

Experiencing an opera at the Arena di Verona is a must-do.  The Arena is 2000 years old, and still in use!  I know from our visit to Lake Garda that 166 Cathars were captured in Sirmione, taken to the Arena di Verona, and burned at the stake in 1276…I’m glad to experience a performance at the Arena for a happier occasion!! We were advised by our Italian host to buy our tickets months in advance, so we purchased tickets to see Verdi’s opera Aida.

Sets for the opera.

Sets for the opera.

These photos were taken on our first day in Verona (Saturday).

Gulp!

Gulp!

The Arena is in Piazza Bra, inside the main gate as you enter Verona’s historic district. Next to the Arena is the neoclassical Palazzo Municipale.
Creeping on someone's wedding!

Sneaking a photo of someone’s wedding!

Boys just wanna have fun...

Boys just wanna have fun…

There’s a park in the middle of the piazza.

An eight year old's idea of a funny pose:)

An eight year old’s idea of a funny pose:)

We came back the next day (Sunday) to see the opera Aida.  We came a little early to see more of this lovely city.

Castelvechio Bridge

Castelvecchio Bridge

View from the bridge.

View from the bridge.

Castelvecchio  Castle was built in the 14th century.  It was both a residence and a fortress, including the brick bridge you see above.

The castle is now a museum, apparently with a good art collection. We just peeked in.

Castelvecchio Castle is now a museum, apparently with a good art collection. We just peeked in.

The clock tower.

The clock tower.

We continued wandering down the street, and came across this lovely little church.

We came across this lovely church called Chiesa San Giovanni in Foro.

Chiesa San Giovanni in Foro.

It was so quiet and peaceful...we were the only people there.

It was so quiet and peaceful…we were the only people there.

We continued to wander through the city.  See more photos of Verona here:

https://globalnomadfamily.com/2013/07/20/verona-so-much-more-than-juliets-balcony/

At last it was time to go and claim our seats up in the nosebleed section of the arena.

At last it was time to go find seats up in the nosebleed section of the arena!  We rented cushions for 3 Euros apiece.  Advice: bring your own cushions!

We rented cushions for 3 euros apiece. Advice: bring your own cushions!

The performance started at 9:15pm.

The performance started at 9:15pm.

Verdi's 1871 opera set in Egypt...a love triangle.

Verdi’s 1871 opera…a love triangle set in ancient Egypt.

Aida is a captured Ethiopian princess who is in love with Radames, who struggles to choose between his love for Aida and his duty as the Pharaoh's celebrated military commander.

Aida is a captured Ethiopian princess who is in love with Radames.

Radames struggles to choose between his love for Aida and his duty as the Pharaoh’s celebrated military commander. The story gets even more complicated because the Pharaoh’s daughter loves Radames and is promised to marry him…but Radames loves Aida.

The story gets even more complicated because the Pharaoh's daughter loves Radames and is promised to marry him...but Radames loves Aida.

Let’s just say it has a tragic but spectacular ending!

Nate didn't make it all the way through, but the rented cushion came in handy.  The performance ended around 12:30 am...we were surprised it finished so late!

Nate didn’t make it all the way through, but the rented cushions came in handy.

The performance ended around 12:30 am…we were surprised it finished so late. It was well worth it.  Nate was a real trooper and walked sleepily back to our car. Another great day!

Stay tuned for posts about our day in Venice, staying in a beautiful restored farmhouse in the French countryside, and having an AMAZING day yesterday seeing Mont Blanc in the French Alps!

Juliet's Balcony.

Juliet’s Balcony.

Verona’s “claim to fame” for attracting tourists is being the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Now that I’ve experienced Verona for myself, I find it tragic that most tourists “do” Verona in a few hours, rushing in to take photos at Juliet’s balcony and then moving on to the next city!!  Verona really surprised me with how incredibly beautiful the city is, and how much there is to see and do here.  Before I tell you more, here are our own tacky tourist photos of Juliet’s House.

Check out this stern warning!!

Check out this stern warning!!

Look at the background behind us. What is it?

Look at the background behind us. What is it?

Although the house is  a major destination for tourists, it actually has no connection with Shakespeare’s characters….who were fictional and therefore never existed:)

Love messages, written on top of chewing gum shaped into hearts...yeesh!

Love messages, written on top of chewing gum shaped into hearts…yeesh!

The house itself is old, but the balcony was added in 1936.  The house was named Casa Guilietta (Juliet’s House) to attract tourists.

Couples add these locks as a symbol of their undying love...

Couples add these locks as a symbol of their undying love…

The balcony overlooks a small courtyard with a statue of Juliet. There is a huge amount of “love graffiti”. Visitors leave notes, as well as write their initials and those of their loved one in chewing gum… which they stick on the walls of the courtyard…risking a year’s imprisonment or a hefty 1039 Euro fine!

More love graffiti...

More love graffiti…

We asked our host if it was worth it to see the inside of Juliet’s House, and he told us that most people in Verona are annoyed by the “hype” of Juliet, the congestion of tourists near the “shrine”, and the fact that until recently, an employee was paid to answer love letters to Juliet from lovesick people from around the world. So we took his advice, and didn’t go inside.

Here's what our son thinks of all the lovey dovey stuff!!

Here’s what our son thinks of all the lovey dovey stuff!!

Apparently, if you pay the 6 Euro entry fee you will see a small collection of Renaissance frescos, and the bed from Zeffirelli’s 1968 movie, but not much more. We spent the money on gelato ice cream instead…a much better choice in Nate’s book!!

This was so interesting Nate gave them a coin!

This was so interesting Nate gave them a coin!

Ok, now we’re done with the annoying typical tourist stuff.  Come see the real Verona with us!

Look for the close up in the next photo.

Pizza del Erbe. Look for the close up in the next photo.

Verona was once one of the most powerful cities during the Roman Empire. The historic center is amazingly well preserved, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Beautiful balcony

Beautiful balcony!

Just another amazing statue!

This is the Lion of St. Mark, symbol of Venice.

Fun souvenirs!

Fun souvenirs!

Andy

This lead to another lovely square.

Verona was the home of Dante Alighieri, writer of the Divine Comedy. You can read more about Dante’s tumultuous life here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dante_Alighieri

That's Dante!

That’s Dante!

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Verona was also the setting for two more of Shakespeare’s works: The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Taming the Shrew.

I wanted to sit here!

Nice place for a meal!

The scenic mausoleum of Arche Scaligere houses outdoor tombs of the Scaligeri lords who ruled Verona for hundreds of years.

Arch of Scaglieri

Arch of Scaglieri

statue

The architecture is stunning!

So, for those of you following along with us, this was Day Six of our European road trip.  I hope you enjoyed learning about Verona.  Coming soon will be posts about seeing an opera in Verona’s Arena, built in the 1st Century BC, as well as our trip to Venice.

From the castle walls!

From the castle walls!

We have hosted more than 50 guests since we moved to Prague in 2011!  Many more will visit us this year. Below is my top ten list of things to see and do in Prague if you have only a short time.  I’ve also included our favorite inexpensive restaurants (main dish for under 200 CZK ($10/8E) near the sites.

1. Prague Castle and Gardens

Take a picnic lunch with you to the gardens.  Or stop at the outdoor restaurant on the way down the hill to Malostranska. It is surrounded by an ancient vineyard and has the most spectacular views of Prague.  They usually advertise dessert and coffee for 99 CZK($5/4E)…other items are quite expensive.

See my post for insider tips about Prague Castle:

https://globalnomadfamily.com/2013/04/13/beautiful-prague-prague-castle-and-st-nicholas-church/

The view of the castle from the gardens.

The view of the castle from the gardens.

2. Charles Bridge and Old Town Square

Going inside the clock tower is quite interesting. By some crepes (palacinky) from one of the food stalls in the square and enjoy the excellent people watching opportunities.  Don’t eat at one of the cafes around the square unless you don’t mind paying exorbitant prices!

Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

Old Town Square in 2010.

Old Town Square in 2010.

3. Jewish Quarter and Museums

Allow several hours to see this area, as there are six sites to visit in the Josefov district. Here’s a link to find out information about the ticket costs and other information:

http://www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/ainfo.htm

http://www.prague.cz/prague-jewish-town.asp

The Jewish Cemetary

The Jewish Cemetery

My friend took this photo in the Spanish Synagogue before we were told no photos are allowed.

My friend took this photo in the Spanish Synagogue before we were told no photos are allowed.

Find your way to the Cartouche restaurant for an interesting atmosphere and decor that makes you feel like you are in a tavern from the 1700’s. It has a pricier menu but there are a few Czech and other dishes for 199-249 CZK.

http://www.cartouche.cz/en/index.html

Inside the Cartouche.

Inside the Cartouche.

Celebrating our 10th anniversary last year!

Celebrating our 10th anniversary last year!

4. Wenceslas Square

It’s a pleasant walk from Old Town Square to Wenceslas Square.

This is looking towards Old Town Square. The blue building will be on your left if you are in OT Square heading for Wenceslas Square.

This is looking towards Old Town Square.

Nate with dear friends Curt and Sandra, AKA Doc and Marmee.

Wenceslas Square with dear friends Curt and Sandra.

The Powder Tower and Municipal house are also a short walk away from Wenceslas Square.

The Powder Tower. There's an interesting little museum inside.

The Powder Tower. There’s an interesting little museum inside.

This is the view from the Powder Tower.

This is the view from the Powder Tower.

If you have some time, stop in at the Museum of Communism…

LOVE this sign!!

LOVE this sign!!

If you are hungry, try one of our favorite restauranst in Wenceslas Square: O Balouna.  It says “Traditional Czech Restaurant” on the outside. Here’s the website:

http://www.ubalouna.cz/en/

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It’s a few doors down from the Thai Massage place with big tanks of water in the window, where tourists sit with their feet in the water, allegedly getting their dead skin nibbled away by the fish. I say allegedly because my friend Elsa tried it and didn’t notice a difference…but it was a great photo op!

She said it tickled!

She said it tickled!

Elsa attracted lots of attention...she is in photos of other random tourists who stopped to watch.

Elsa became a tourist attraction…she is in photos of other random tourists who stopped to watch!

5.  Stroll along the river and rent a paddle boat.

Take a walk along the river from Charles Bridge heading south. After passing another bridge (Most Legii) and the National Theater (Narodni Divadlo)  you’ll see a small bridge leading to a little island (Slovanski Ostrov) which is pleasant to walk around.  You can rent paddle boats from here.

Our river walk in 2011.

Our river walk in 2011.

When you are ready for a meal, enjoy one of our favorite restaurants, Club Cestavalu (Caravanserai on the sign outside, a mint green building across the street from the island). The food is Arabic and Lebanese, with Indian menu choices as well. They have unusual photos of exotic places as part of their decor.  They also have some free exotic snacks for the brave of heart (which I was not)!

http://www.hedvabnastezka.cz/klub-cestovatelu-praha/english

What are they holding? Why does Nikolas look like he is going to throw up?

What are they holding? Why does Nate look like he is going to throw up?

Fried grubs! Nate and Andy said they tasted like fried styrofoam!

Fried grubs! Nate and Andy said they tasted like fried styrofoam!

Another favorite restaurant of ours is Grosseto’s Marina. We love taking guest here because the views of the city and of Charles Bridge are spectacular, and the prices are reasonable.

http://www.grosseto.cz/en/marina

The view from the boat is outstanding.

It looks like a boat but it isn’t.

6.  Take a boat cruise on the Vltava River.

There are many different companies with a variety of cruise options, from a quick one hour spin to a several hour dinner cruise.  Our favorite is Prague-Venice, because it is a one hour cruise on a small boat which takes you through some hidden canals as well as along the Vltava.  Currently it costs 290 CZK ($14/11E) and includes a drink and ice cream.  You can buy tickets from the guys in white sailor suits at the end of Charles Bridge on the Old Town side.

http://www.prazskebenatky.cz/en/cruise

You can see the boat sign behind Nate. We also went to a concert in the church behind him.

This is the area to buy the tickets. Taken in 2010

Cruise with Grandma and Grandpa, summer 2012.

Cruise with Grandma and Grandpa, summer 2012.

There are several other options.  I have heard good things about the Jazz Boat.

http://www.pragueexperience.com/sightseeing/river_cruises.asp

We did a dinner cruise with the Zidek family. That's Vikki and me:)

We did a dinner cruise with the Zidek family. That’s Vikki and me:)

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Sunset is a great time for a cruise!

There’s also another cruise option, free with your transportation ticket!  It’s a little boat that zigzags along the river; especially fun for kids. We found it when we were walking along the river and hopped on.

The free boat (with your valid public transport pass).

The free boat (with your valid public transport pass).

7.  See an opera or ballet.

We  have seen three operas and one ballet and have really enjoyed them…even Nate (although he looks bored in the photo below)!  You can pay a lot of money to sit up close, or you can sit up high in the middle for 480-530 CZK ($25/20E) at the Prague State Opera. You will have a great view of the stage and orchestra, and the acoustics are great.

If you forgot to pack your opera clothes, it’s ok…at least in the cheap seats:)

The Prague State Opera House.

The Prague State Opera House.

Buy your tickets from Bohemia Tickets.  They don’t add a surcharge like other sites.  You can purchase them online, or get them when you are in Prague.  Go to the Mustek metro stop and follow the Na Prikope exit. The address is Na Prikope 16.  If they try to tell you they don’t sell the lower price tickets, tell them a local friend told you that they are available (unless they are truly sold out, which you can verify online).

http://www.bohemiaticket.cz/WBS/ang/contact.php

In front of the Estates Theater.

In front of the Estates Theater.

8.  Go to a classical music concert in one of the beautiful churches or other historic buildings like the Rudolfinum or the Municipal House.

We went to one at Saint Salvatore Church and loved it! The music, acoustics, and atmosphere were outstanding.

Waiting for the concert to start.

Waiting for the concert to start.

9.  Take the funicular up to Petrin Hill.

It’s free to ride the funicular with your valid transportation ticket.  Take a picnic lunch and enjoy it in the gardens at the top. Climb the “Prague Eiffel Tower”.

There's a nice view of Prague waiting...

There’s a nice view of Prague waiting…

Kids--big and small--will love the mirror maze at the top.

Kids–big and small–will love the mirror maze at the top. Taken in 2010.

Head down the hill...

Head down the hill…

Quench your thirst with the world's best beer--or apple juice:)

Quench your thirst with the world’s best beer–or apple juice:)

10. Take a day trip to Karlestejn Castle.

The castle was founded in 1348 by King Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor. It is easy to get here by train from Hlavni Ndrazi.  See the websites below for how to walk to the castle from the train station…it’s good exercise!  The town below the castle is very picturesque, with many options for restaurants and shops.  Souvenirs are cheaper here than in Prague.

http://www.hradkarlstejn.cz/informations-for-visitors-2013/

http://www.myczechrepublic.com/regions/karlstejn.html

Taken with our friend Vanda in summer 2010.

Taken with our friend Vanda in summer 2010.

This was taken in March...the views are more spectacular in spring, summer and fall.

This was taken in March 2012…the views are more spectacular in spring, summer and fall.

It's pretty fun to stand on a real drawbridge!

It’s pretty fun to stand on a real drawbridge!

So, that’s my list!  There are so many more wonderful things to see and do in Prague.  I’ll get to them in a future post.  Are there any other places you would count in a top ten list?

The Alhambra!

The Alhambra!

We recently went to Spain for our Easter holidays.  After visiting Sevilla we went to Granada. The Alhambra is amazing!  Enjoy the photo essay:)

Tip #1:  Book your tickets to the Alhambra as soon as possible; it gets booked up well in advance. You will be given a morning or afternoon or evening time, with a specific time to enter the Nasrid Palace.

Tip #2:  Try to see all of the rest of the Alhambra complex before your time to enter the Nasrid Palace.

You enter and can stroll through the Alhambra complex until it's your time to enter the Nasrid Palace.

You enter here and can stroll through the Alhambra complex until it’s your time to enter the Nasrid Palace.

Granada is the capital of the province of Granada, in the region of Andalusia, Spain.

Looking out over the Albayzin, the Moorish Quarter.

Did you know…….?

The view from the Alhambra, looking over the Albaicin, the old Moorish Quarter.

Granada is located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains by the Darro and Genil rivers.

This is the palace of Charles V, Grandson of Isabelle and Ferdinand.

This is the palace of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, grandson of Isabella and Ferdinand.

You can read more about Charles V here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_V,_Holy_Roman_Emperor

Now we are in the Nasrid Palace.

This was the view from the Nasrid palace for the sultans of Granada, and later for Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, and their descendants.

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The rooms, courtyards, and gardens inside the Nasrid palace are stunning!

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The city has been inhabited since the dawn of history; first by Ibero-Celts, then by Greeks, followed by Romans and Visigoths.

DSC01144

Moorish forces under Tariq ibn-Ziyad first took the city in 711.

DSC01147

Granada was a Muslim kingdom for almost 800 years.

It became the capital of a province of the Caliphate of Cordoba.

It became the capital of a province of the Caliphate of Cordoba.

The ambitious Ibn al-Ahmar established the longest lasting Muslim dynasty in Spain : the Nasrids.

The ambitious Ibn al-Ahmar established the longest lasting Muslim dynasty in Spain : the Nasrids.

The Nasrids aligned themselves with Ferdinand III of Castile in 1238, and became a vassal state of the Christian kingdom of Castile for 250 years.

The Nasrids aligned themselves with Ferdinand III of Castile in 1238, and became a vassal state of the Christian kingdom of Castile for 250 years.

The Nasrid sultans were responsible for building most of the palaces in the Alhambra.

The Nasrid sultans were responsible for building most of the palaces in the Alhambra.

In 1492 Muhammad XII (known as Boabdil to the Spanish) surrendered Granada to Ferdinand and Isabella, Los Reyes Católicos, after a long siege.

In 1492  Boabdil  surrendered Granada to Ferdinand and Isabella, Los Reyes Católicos, after a long siege.

The 1492 Alhambra decree forced the predominantly Muslim population to convert to Roman Catholicism or face death.

The 1492 Alhambra decree forced the predominantly Muslim population to convert to Roman Catholicism or face death.

Many fled the inquisition to their ancestral lands in North Africa.

Note the intricacy of the work behind Andy.

The gardens were lovely!

Many Muslims fled the inquisition to their ancestral lands in North Africa. The Jews were also expelled after the Alhambra decree.

The fall of Granada ended the eight hundred year long Islamic presence in the Iberian Peninsula.

The fall of Granada ended the eight hundred year long Islamic presence in the Iberian Peninsula.

Isabella's prodigy Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas, leading to the Spanish Empire, one of the largest world empires for hundreds of years to come.

Isabella’s prodigy Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas, leading to the Spanish Empire, one of the largest world empires for hundreds of years to come.

Tip #3:  Get the following historical novels  to learn more about these fascinating people and the amazing Alhambra:

I read an excellent book, The Queen’s Vow , by C. Gortner.  It was a historical novel about Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand.  It made the Alhambra, Granada, and Seville come alive for me. Gortner’s second book, The The Last Queen: A Novel, was about Isabella and Ferdinand’s daughter, known as Juana the Mad, was also excellent.

Did you know that Isabella and Ferdinand’s youngest daughter, know to history as Katherine of Aragorn, was the first wife of Henry VII?  Phillipa Gregory’s The Constant Princess  is a great book about Katherine’s(born Catalina) life, including her early years spent in the Alhambra, after the conquest.

We also got the Kindle Edition of Rick Steve’s Spain 2013 and really liked it.  I usually prefer Lonely Planet guide books, but I had read bad reviews about how their ebook functions.

So, that’s the Alhambra! What do you think of it?