Ken’s “Almost Daily” Journal
Based on overwhelming demand for more timely updates on my travels, I have created a daily (well almost daily) journal of where I am and what (hopefully) exciting things I am doing. Since my blog posts are running a week or two behind what I am actually doing, you can track my progress around Europe and the world!!! OK, lets be honest, there was no overwhelming requests for me to post my activities (or even one request for that matter), but I thought it might be an interesting addition to the site 🙂 Enjoy!!!
Oh yes, please remember to check out (and follow me on) Instagram. I post pictures of my travels almost daily.
Sunday, August 1st – August 3rd – Just hanging out in London
- Visited the Tower of London and finally saw the crown jewels of England. Pretty impressive!!!
- Toured the inside of Buckingham Palace. Something you can only do on selected dates in the summer.
Saturday, July 30th – Flying back to London
Friday, July 29th – Speedboat to the Blue Lagoon and other islands
- Took a speedboat over to the Blue Lagoon which is about a 1 hour ride from the town of Split. The speedboat weaves in and around the islands dotted all around the Adriatic Sea.
- Snorkled for hours in the Blue Lagoon in crystal clear water
- Visited another island for drinks before zipping back to Split for the evening. .
Wednesday, July 27th – Visited the charming sea side town of Split in Croatia
- Split is a great city in Croatia rich in history. Something I was not expecting at all. In addition it was quite beautiful as well. The town faces the sea so the views are quite amazing.
- The main attraction is huge palace built in the 4th century for the Roman emperor Dioclition. Strolling through the ruins of the palace was pretty cool. Very narrow streets now make up the town.
- Also walked all around the town and all the parks surrounding the city center.
Tuesday, July 26th – Arrived in Croatia from Zurich
Monday, July 25th – Attempted to tour Zurich
An ugly and gloomy day in Zurich. I tried to like Zurich but really didn’t like it much. It was a nice city with beautiful surroundings but the weather was crap and was not nearly as nice as Geneva in my opinion.
Sunday, July 24th – Visited the highest peak in all of Europe – Mt Jungfrau
- An amazing day. Started from Zurich on a tour of several different Swiss towns like Lurernce
- Spent time a few hours in Interloken, a famous resort town in Switzerland.
- Then the long journey to get to the top of Mt Jungfrau. Took several cogwheel trains up the mountain. At the top you can pretty much see the world. From going out and playing in the know to visiting what they called the Spinx which is an observation town and research center. And how could I forget visiting the Ice Palace. An series of tunnels craved out of the glacier. Mt Jungfrau was the highlight of my trip to Switzerland.
Friday, July 22 – Spent the morning high atop Mont Blanc
- Mont Blanc is probably the most famous mountain peaks in the region. Visible from Geneva, it stands out from the sun reflecting on the all-white mountain always covered by snow. The mountain is actually part of the French Alps. Went all the way to the top and froze while taking lots of pictures. The viewing peak is 12602 ft high and you definitely feel it being up that high. A bit hard to breath way up there. And cold especially when you don’t bring a jacket.
- Traveling via train from Geneva to Zurich. The countryside of Switzerland is very beautiful.
Thursday, July 21st – Visited Swiss town all along the massive Lake Geneva
- Started the day in Lausanna and the highlight of the day was visiting the Olympic Museum. Lausanna is the home of the IOC (international Olympic Committee) and the official Olympic museum. It was extremely well done and very informative about how the history of the Olympics.
- After visiting several other villages along the lake, the tour ended up at a very cool castle called Chillon. The castle was made famous by a poem of Lord Byron called the Prisoner of Chillon.
Wednesday, July 20th – Explored Geneva
- Geneva is an absolutely beautiful city. The city sits surrounded by mountains with a the largest lake in central Europe right in the middle of the city. Geneva is a French city and much of the city borders France not Switzerland.
Tuesday, July 19th – Traveled to Geneva / Walked around the city
Monday, July 18th – Stonehenge, Bath and Cotsworth all on one day).
- Visited the charming town of Bath in the countryside of England. Famous for the ancient roman baths and the magical (so they say) spring that feeds it. Filled with minerals, it was thought by the Romans to have special healing powers. Romans came from all over the empire to use the baths.
- One of the most important ancient sites in the world. Stonehenge which dates back 5000 years when the first rocks were places. It sits in the middle of the English countryside. It is pretty cool to see what was built so many years ago.
Saturday, July 16th – Walking around London (taking it easy)
- Walked though all the major parks in London including Hyde Park, Green Park, St James Park and of course Buckingham Palace. Also visited the parliament building and Big Ben.
- Visited one of the best museums in the world – The British museum.
Friday, July 15th – Flying to London
- London is my new home base. This is where I will come and go on all my trips for the next few months. I am excited because there seems to be lots to do in and around London. Home base really just means where my luggage is stored while I travel around.
Wednesday, July 13th – An Amazing Day in Capri
- Traveled from Naples (Napoli) to the beautiful island of Capri. The trip is about 1 hour via ferry.
- The island is really beautiful with high cliffs that dive down into the water. Much of the island is built on the side of these hills.
- The main town of Capri sits high atop the cliffs and is dotted with tons of very expensive boutiques from all the major brands. Shopping is a major tourist activity in between the rich having lunch on the terrace overlooking the sea.
- Since no one actually reads this blog, I can confess that I made a little purchase in Capri. I have always wanted a Patek Phillipe watch. I think they make the best watches in the world.
- Before the watch purchase, I enjoyed lunch on a private yacht and took a dive off the yacht into the Mediterranean Sea. And yes the water is absolutely perfect.
- Strolled around the island taking pictures from incredible vistas.
Tuesday, July 12th – Sir Elton John in ruins of Pompeii
- Traveled from Rome to Naples for really just one reason – to see Elton John perform. The setting was the ancient city of Pompeii in the amphitheater. He performed in front of maybe 3000 people which was cool. I was 7 rows from the stage to really got to see the concert up close. He has so many songs that are great, it makes the concert lots of fun.
Monday, July 11th – Traveled back from Copenhagen to Rome
Sunday, July 10th – Walked the entire city again!!!
- Today was all about hitting all the spots that I have not seen yet.
- Started out at Christianborg Palace which was the royal palace for centuries but kept being destroyed. The royals finally moved down the street in the 18th century but today this houses both the Danish parliament as well as the royal reception rooms which are beautiful. Also saw the royal kitchen, royal stables, and climbed up the tower to see views of all of Copenhagen.
- Next was a walk to the Guinness Book of World Records Museum. It was a bit silly but actually kind of interesting.
- After walking for an hour, ended up at this cool Street Food building which sits right along the waterway and a favorite among the Danish people.
- Finally wrapped up the day at Christiana which is an area in Copenhagen where there are no rules. People live the way they want to live. It is a walled off part of the city where they have their own rules including the sale of marijuana.
- Since it started to rain, I ended up watching the final game of the Euro 2016 championship game (soccer game)
Saturday, July 9th – The Grand Tour of Demark
- Thank God Denmark is not a very big country because I went from one end to the other in about 9 hours.
- Started at very important church in the old capital of Denmark (centuries ago) where most all the royals are buried.
- In the same town is the Viking museum where I saws ships dating back to 1000 AD. Learned how the Viking ships were made.
- Off to the most amazing castle in all of Denmark which is Fredricksborg Castle. it was the summer palace of the royals since the 16th century and absolutely beautiful. A true treasure of
- If that was not enough went to Tivoli which the 2nd oldest amusement park in the world and the inspiration for Walt Disney to build Disneyland (so the Danish people say). Really just went for the fireworks display at midnight (so late because it does not actually get dark until 11pm).
Friday, July 8th – Bike tour of Copenhagen
- Everyone must own a bike in Copenhagen because they are everywhere. Bikes rule the roads not cares and not pedestrians. The good things is you can see the entire city of Copenhagen on bike in ½ of a day.
- Visited the royal palace where the Danish royal family live
- Visited Rosenborg Palace where the crown jewels are located. Rosenborg Palace is a small summer palace right in the center of town built in the 16th
- Took a boat ride through the cancels of Copenhagen.
Thursday, July 7th – Learning the meaning of being Danish
- Went on an interesting tour of (well just me and a guide) that showed what it meant to be Danish and why the Danish people are the happiest people on earth. Understanding the slower paced lifestyle and what they do to stay happy (even though they pay some of the highest tax rates in the world). Saw much of the city on this tour. Quaint is an understatement when you talk about Copenhagen. Also the nicest people in the world are here.
Wednesday, July 6th – Traveled to Copenhagen (and saw ColdPlay live).
- The morning of my trip I noticed that Coldplay was performing in Copenhagen that night. Since their entire tour has been sold out for months, getting a ticket was unlikely. Found a site and after a few tries got a great ticket. Landed in Copenhagen and a few hours later I was sitting at the Parken and watching an amazing concert by Coldplay. And at midnight after the concert, somehow found my way back to the hotel after about a 1 hour walk. Getting a taxi was not possible.
Tuesday, July 5th – The Last Supper Day
- The highlight of any trip to Milan is seeing the famous painting by Leonardo DaVinci called The Last Supper. Painted on the inside wall of a church (not a fresco rather just painted on the wall), it is pretty spectacular.
- Also saw the last sculpture by Michelangelo that he ever did (which was never completed).
- Visited the La Scala (the Milan Opera House) and probably one of the most famous opera houses in the world. This was the birthplace of man fo the famous Italian operas.
Monday, July 4th – Saw the sites of Milan
- I did not think I was going to like Milan but I have to say that I really liked it. It is not Rome or Florence but there was some cool things to see.
- Spent ½ day at the amazing Milan Cathedral. Started by climbing to the top of the massive structure and walked all around the roof. Incredible views of the entire city from there.
- The did the complete tour inside the Cathedral. Many interesting things to see but the coolest thing is the nail from the cross of Jesus. You can’t actually see it but you can see where it is.
- Visited the Leonardo DaVinci museum which was much better than I thought. He lived an very interesting life. While he was best known for his paintings, the museum displayed the vast number of inventions he worked on. Most of the things he created were only in drawing form but things drawings / plans to build things like an airplane but in the 17th Clearly he was a genius.
Sunday, July 3rd – Traveling to Milan
Saturday, July 2nd – Visited the Capital City of Valetta in Malta
- Very busy day visiting all around Malta
- Spent most of the afternoon visiting the capital city of Valetta and learning lots about Malta and its history. The city has had an interesting history withstanding many attacks over the centuries. Valetta is very charming with small streets and beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea from almost everywhere you look.
- In the evening walked for hours through the island in search of the large fireworks display. Malta has fireworks going off every night but on Saturday (and during the feast) there are large displays all around the city. Because I have not yet learned the concept of “just taking a taxi instead of walking” yet I never made it to the viewing spot but did see them and heard them. They literally go on for more than an hour.
Thursday, June 30th – Relaxation day in Malta
- Beach and resort day. Took a jet ski out into the Mediterranean Sea which was really fun.
- Visited a number of small towns including St Julian’s Bay
Wednesday, June 29th – Traveled to Malta
- Arrived in the island nation of Malta. A relatively small island that sits in the middle of the Mediterranean off the coast of Sicily.
Sunday, June 26th – Visiting Tel Aviv
- Not my favorite place so not going to write much. It is a big city and very humid. Only here for a day
Saturday, June 25th – A big day seeing the sites of Jesus (Nazareth, Sea of Galilee, Jordan River
- A very interesting day tracing Jesus’s life from his childhood (after returning from Egypt) to the town where he met St Peter and the spot where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.
- In Nazareth, visited the Church of the Annunciation where Mary received the message from God that she would give birth to Jesus. Also visited the Church of St Joseph and saw where Jesus and Joseph worked as carpenters.
- Went to the Jordan River at the exact spot where Jesus was baptized. While I just put my feet in the water, people can also be baptized there.
- Visited Capernaum which is where Jesus preached after leaving Nazareth.
Friday, June 24th – Toured the Old City of Jerusalem
- While I had been to some of the places on my own, the all day tour really was a great education into stories from the Bible. Seeing the sites of Jerusalem and outside the city as well really makes the bible come alive. Here are some of the interesting places that I visited on this day.
- The Last Supper room
- Kind David’s Tomb (which is actually right below the Last Supper room).
- The Church of the Holy Sepulchre (where Christ was crucified). Touched the spot where he died.
- Western Wall (can never go there too much)
- Gardens of Gethsemane where Jesus often prayed
- Chapel of the Ascension where it is said Jesus ascended to heaven
- Jewish Quarter
- Christian Quarter
- Muslim Quarter
- And finally the 12 points of the cross. There are twelve stations that are significant when Jesus walked through Jerusalem with the cross.
Thursday, June 23rd – The Lost City of Petra
- This was the day I had been looking forward to for many years. Woke up to a stunning view of the mountains which contain inside them the city of Petra.
- Carved out of the sandstone rock, this ancient trading post town built by the local tribes became the capital of the region. The entire city is carved into the mountains creating some amazing facades that look like Greek buildings. The Romans took over the town but after the town had peaked. Not an easy town to capture because of the natural barrier the mountains created. A small path weaves in between two very high mountains for about a mile.
- Climbed the 1600 steps through a path carved in the sandstone mountain to the monastery which was well worth the exhausting 3 hour hike.
Wednesday, June 22nd – Explored Jordan including Amman and Jaresh (and Petra bound)
- Crossed the Jordanian border on my way to Petra. Since Petra is quite far from Jerusalem and border crossings are challenged, I went on a two day tour that included other parts of Jordan.
- First visited an ancient Roman town called Jaresh (about 30 minutes from the Syrian border..yikes!!!). But all was good. A very well preserved Roman city which really gave you a great feel of how the Romans lived during that time. Many structures still intact.
- Then off to see the big city of Amman. Very crowded city and not too much to see
- Off for another 3 hour drive south to Petra.
Tuesday, June 21st – Trip to Masada and the Dead Sea
- Started the day with a trip to the very interesting city of Masada. High atop a mountain, Roman emperor Herod built a three level castle on the side of the mountain and a small city to support the castle around it. He originally built it to protect his family but after killing many of them, he lived there alone. The other use for this was in 70 AD when the Romans came in an destroyed Jerusalem. About 1000 Jews left Jerusalem for Masada thinking it would product them. After the Romans found them (and knowing the Romans would kill them), all but two committed suicide.
- Next was an adventure down to the Dead Sea. In 47c (or 115f) temperatures, I spent about 90 minutes floating in the Dead Sea. Because there is so much salt in the water (about 30% salt content), the only thing you can do is float. It is near impossible to sink at all. In addition to floating, grabbed mud form the bottom and smeared it all over my body. It is like a free spa treatment.
Monday June 20th – Trip to Bethlehem, Jericho, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
- Started the day in Bethlehem visiting the birthplace of Jesus. First visited the holy spot where the shepherds lived. They were the ones who received a message from God saying the Messiah has been born.
- Visited the Church of the Nativity where you can enter the caves Mary and Joseph lived and the manger (the exact spot) where Jesus was born. The spot is marked with the Star of the Nativity.
- Also visited the cave where Mary nursed Jesus before forced to escape to Egypt
- Visited Jericho which is important for two reasons. First it is the oldest city in the world. More than 11,000 years old. It is also the lowest city in the world (1400 feet below sea level). Second, Jesus spent some time there while he was making his trek to Jerusalem.
- In the evening, went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the site of the crucifixion of Jesus for those of you not quite up to speed on the Bible) on my own just to check it out. To my surprise the church was almost empty (which is rare). I was able to enter the Holy Tomb and pray on the tomb of Jesus (alongside the nuns – only three people at a time are allowed in the tomb).
Sunday, June 19th – Traveling to Jerusalem (and viewing the Western Wall for the first time
- Arrived in Tel Aviv to a modern and very safe airport. I know there is quite a lot of fear in traveling to the Middle East and specifically Israel, but it appears to me to be a very safe country. Security is high and police presence is visible and plentiful but that adds not takes away from the safety.
- Staying at the King David Hotel, the most historical and prestigious hotel Jerusalem. It is the hotel for heads of state, celebrities and kings (oh yes and me too ..haha).
- After checking in went immediately to the Old City of Jerusalem which is very close to my hotel. Walked through the narrow streets of the city with vendors lining every inch of the of the popular streets.
- Stumbled upon the Western Wall (also known as the Wailing Wall). This is the most scared place for Jews. The Western Wall is actually the old retaining wall of the Second Temple (which is all that is left after the Romans destroyed it in 70 AD). Behind the Western Wall is actually what the Jews are praying to which is the Rock that is contained in the Dome of the Rock which is the holiest spot in the world and the said to represent all of creation. Kind of powerful!!!
Friday, June 17th – Flying back to Rome from Dubai
- Nothing exciting to report. But I will say Business Class on Emirates is very nice. Better than United!!!
Thursday, June 16th – Relaxation at the Burj Al Arab
- Today I took full advantage of staying at the world’s only 7 star hotel. I spent the entire day in the hotel (well almost – Had to take a trip to the Mall since that is what everyone does at night).
- Spa Day – After the massive breakfast spread at the hotel, I started a relaxing afternoon at one of the best spas in the world. The spa pool (one of 5) sits on the 18th floor of the hotel looking over all of Dubai. The most amazing city view from a pool. And the entire pool is done in mosaics (some 24 carat gold). Incredible!!!
- Went up to the Sky Lounge which sites at the top of the Burj Al Arab. Actually had a drink (which was very tasty but only one for me or the room starts spinning). it was called Extraordinary. And anyone who knows me knows that word is important for me.
Wednesday, June 15th – The Palm Islands
- Spent the day on and around the beautiful Palm Islands – Jumierah which is the largest man-made islands in the world. The Palm Islands form a palm tree in the Arabian Sea and lined with expensive villas and Five Star hotels like the Atlantis which dominates the front of the islands.
- Visited Atlantis to see the Lost Chambers which was 22 aquarium
- Finished the say with a 2 hour speed boat ride all around the Dubai Marina, the Palm Islands and the Burj Al Arab from the sea. It was a blast.
Tuesday, June 14th – Move in day at the Burj Al Arab – My Dream Hotel
- If you want to experience the very best in hotels then stay a few nights at the Burj Al Arab. The hotel is the icon of Dubai and is the envy of everyone in Dubai. It is hard to describe but here are a few highlights. You are greeted by the hotel staff who are ready to check you in. But the checkin process happens from your nicely appointed office (complete with a huge Mac computer). There is no front desk for check in and check out. It is all done by your butler since each floor of the hotel as a staff (yes staff) of butlers. They know your every move and handle everything for you. I don’t think I actually ever opened my own door to my suite. As soon as I got off the elevator, they would all stand and one would hurry to unlock my room for me.
- Now my check in process was a bit more complex because The Burj upgaded my suite to an even larger suite but I did not like the incredible view so picked the smaller one but of course I had to see both a few times. Welcome to my world. Now don’t feel sorry for me for picking the smaller suite. It was still two floors with a grand stair case and huge living room. There are no small rooms at the Burj. Also the view of Jumierah Beach and downtown Dubai was spectacular. The bathroom complete with a spa, was done in 24 carat gold everything. The real stuff.
- There was no detail left undone at the Burj. They really think of everything. For example, in the bathroom all of the amenities were Hermes (the best) but not just those small little bottles. Everything was full size including gifts of Cologne for you to take home (and after shave). And there are two sets of everything. Yes, men and women each have their own scent. Crazy. The value of the amenities were about 800 USD according to my calculations.
- Burj Khalifa – OK I did do more than just obsess about my hotel. I also visited the tallest building in the world at 160 floors. I was able to get VIP Access to the 145 floor observation deck which was amazing. It was during sunset which is the best time but unfortunately it was a bit foggy so hard to see, but still amazing to be that high up. The building is stunning.
- Dubai Mall & Dubai Fountain show – A wrapped up the evening at the Mall. In Dubai, the Mall is very important because it is the center of all activity. The Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world with over 1200 stores. It was overwhelming (and did not really like it that much). I like the Mall of the Emirates better which was also huge. In Dubai everything is tax and duty free so shopping is a sport. Also saw the fountain show which was a lot like the one in Las Vegas (not as good in my opinion).
Monday, June 13th – Visited Abu Dhabi – The Capital of the UAE
- Took the 1 1/2 hour ride from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. The tour started by visiting the best side in all of Abu Dhabi, the Sheick Zayad Mosque. Costing over 850 million to build, it is one of the most amazing Mosques in the world. It is rather dramatic in its design and size.
- Not much to see in Abu Dhabi except the mosque but it was a nice city to visit. Very new and modern with beautiful buildings but much smaller and less crazy than Dubai.
Sunday, June 12th – Played in the Arabian Desert
- Spent the afternoon and evening in the desert. It was awesome. Started with Dune Blasting which is taking a jeep (with a driver of course) through the desert sand twisting and turning the entire way.
- Next I got to drive the ATV through the desert sand which was a blast.
- Camel rides of course
- Ended the evening with a BBQ in the desert after sunset.
Saturday, June 11th – Toured Dubai
- It is very hot here!!! Toured around Dubai by car with a tour guide.
Friday, June 10th – Traveled to Dubai
- Arrived in Dubai and stayed at the Four Seasons Jumierah Beach. The hotel is amazing but deserted. Because it is Ramadan and hot, people don’t really go to Dubai. But on the bright side, I had the hotel to myself and relatively inexpensive hotel rates. The weather really did not bother me much.
Tuesday, June 7th – Seeing Cool Things in Seville, Spain
- Today is a bit hot in Seville. Just 97 degrees. In Seville (and much of Spain), most of the stores close from 2pm to 5pm and people take a nap mainly because of the heat. About 7pm things start to come back to life.
- Saw a bunch of sites including a tour of the Plaza de Toro which is the oldest operating bullfighting ring in all of Spain. While I hate the idea of bullfighting, it was interesting to learn the history and understand the so-called sport.
- Visited a great neighborhood called Triana. Knows for the gypsies that once inhabited it. Today it is still an artist community and the home of the Flamingo dance. Also known for Sevillia ceramics.
- Visited a palace from the 12 century just opened to the public. Palacio de Las Duentas is still occupied by the House of Alba (part of Spain nobility for centuries).
Monday, June 6th – Cathedral of Seville & Real Alcazar
Sunday, June 5th – The Alhambra – Granada Spain
Saturday, June 4th – Traveled to Seville, Spain & Bike Tour
Friday, June 3rd – Visited Toledo and Segovia
- I did not have high hope for the long tour day but it turned out pretty darn good. Started off with a visit to Toledo Spain which was the capital of Spain until the 16th century when Felipe II moved it to Madrid. Toledo is a city built high atop a hill with city walls and natural rivers providing protection to the city. The highlight of the city is the Cathedral of Toledo. This was the head of the Catholic church of Spain until it was moved in the 20th century to Madrid. Toledo is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Next the tour was off to Segovia. A very quaint town that housed two very special sites. First, the best preserved Roman aqueduct in the world are in Segovia. With no cement holding them together (only the pressure of the stones), this aqueduct reaches a height of 93 feet (28.5m). They are truly spectacular to see. Second, the Alcazar of Segovia was the home of Spanish kings from the 11th through the early 16th Extremely well preserved, this castle sits high atop a hill very well protected. It was pretty interesting to see how the kings lived during this time.
Thursday, June 2nd – The Prado Museum & Cooking Tapas with Ken
- The Prado Museum is considered one of the top 10 museums in the world and I have to say I would agree. The museum was filled with masterpieces almost everywhere you looked. The museum was very well put together and a great audio guide to learn about all the pieces. Famous artists include Velazquez, El Greco, Raphael, and the most famous Spanish painter Goya.
- Spanish Tapas Cooking Class – Yes I actually took a cooking class and had a blast. This 5 hour class taught us how to make some of the most popular tapas dishes around, then enjoy the fruits of our labor. Some of the dishes included, sangria (to start), garlic shrimp, chorizo in cider, Spanish potato omelette, potatoes with brava sauce, tomato bread, and catalan crème. All delicious.
Wednesday, June 1st – Seeing the Sites of Madrid
- Took a morning and an afternoon walking tour of Madrid. The morning tour took me through the historical district of Madrid. Visited the oldest continually operating restaurant in the entire world. Just about every famous person who has ever come to Madrid has eaten at this restaurant. Also got to see the changing of the guard at the palace. Got lucky to see since it only happens on the 1st of each month at noon (just happened to be in the right place at the right time).
- The afternoon tour took me around the literary and theatrical center of Madrid along with the new part of Madrid (new in Madrid means built after the 1750s). incredible architecture and stories literally at every turn. Visited the home of the famed author of Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes). Don Quixote is the 3rd most translated book ever.
Tuesday, May 31st – El Escorial & the Valley of the Fallen
- Another adventurous day an all day tour (exhausting but interesting). El Escorial is a massive complex (so big hard for me to get a picture of the building from any angle). This was the hunting palace built by Felipe II in the 16th The entire palace (now called a monastery), centers around this church that sits in the middle of it. One of the interesting features of El Escorial almost every king of Spain is buried here (and you can see them all and their families).
- Valley of the Fallen – This is a large church built inside a mountain and it is quite dramatic. It was built by Franco (dictator of Spain) to honor the fallen in the Spanish Civil War from 1936 – 1939. Franco is also buried here.
Monday, May 30th – The Royal Palace & Botanical Gardens
- Started my day with a long visit to the massive Royal Palace (Palacio Real de Madrid). It is the largest operating palace in all of Europe. And it is huge with over 600 rooms. Built in 18th century by Charles III who created much of what we see today in Madrid. While the king of Spain (and yes there is an actual King of Spain still) does not live in the palace it is still used for official state business.
- An evening visit to the Botanical Gardens of Madrid which were excellent. Keep in mind that in Madrid it does not get dark until 10pm this time of year so evenings last quite a long time. These gardens are very well designed and makes for a relaxing walk.
Sunday, May 29th – First day in Madrid
- Madrid is actually not only a very beautiful city (much better than I was expecting) but also a city with lots of life and many interesting things to do. Also Madrid is the historical center of Spain. I found my way the city amazing park called Retiro Park which reminds me a lot of central park but maybe even better. Beautifully done and very relaxing to escape the heat of Madrid.
Saturday, May 28th – A Day in Tivoli – Villa D’Este and Hadrian’s Villa
- Villa D’ Este – I think I have found my new home and it would be Villa D’ Este. Only problem I don’t think they will let me stay. The palace was nice but the gardens that weaved their way down the side of the mountain were absolutely spectacular. Villa D’Este gardens ranks as one of the most beautiful gardens in the world. 51 fountains including the famous Neptune fountain which plays music as the clock strikes the top of the hour. Every inch of massive gardens are perfectly designed.
- Hadrian’s Villa – Well not quite the kind of villa that you can live in since they are all ruins that are over 2000 years old. Emperor Hadrian built these massive complex about 1 hour out of Rome during his reign in the 2nd century AD (located in a town called Tivoli). The ruins are very well preserved considering they are 2000 years old. You really do get an idea of what life as an emperor of Rome was like during this time.
Thursday, May 26th – A Day at the Vatican
- The Vatican is a huge complex with so many amazing things to see. In fact the Vatican is a country (the smallest in the world) with population of 800. Started the day at the Vatican Museum which is considered to be the best museum in the world. If you were to spend 1 minute looking at each item in the museum it would take 12 years to see everything.
- Next was a visit to the Michael Angelo’s masterpiece the Sistine Chapel. It is one of the most spectacular creations on earth. Spent a good 20 minutes viewing the artwork on the walls and the famous ceiling. Unfortunately you are not allowed to take pictures in the Sistine Chapel.
- Finally, I visited the single most incredible basilica in the world. St Peter’s Basilica is the largest catholic church in the world and the grandeur will inspire both Catholics and non Catholics alike. The Basilica’s alter sits right above the grave of St Peter (who was Jesus’s chosen apostle to carry on his work here on earth after he did. Peter was given the keys to the kingdom and is always depicted with those keys. Walked through the Holy Door again today (twice actually).
Wednesday, May 25th – Hanging with Pope Francis
- Rise and shine early in the morning to secure my front row seat at the Vatican for a special Wednesday morning mass in St Peter’s Square. Because this is a special Jubilee year (normally they occur once every 25 years but Pope Francis proclaimed 2016 a Jubilee year.
- Walked through the Holy Doors which are a set of doors only open on Jubilee years (once every 25 years). By walking through the doors you receive special blessing fro God.
- In the evening, went on a 4 hour food tour of Rome tasting everything from 6 different types of salami to a pasta tasting (that was my favorite). Delicious!!!.
Saturday, May 21st – Explored the beautiful town of Taormina
Friday, May 20th – Visited Two UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- Another awesome day in Sicily. The sun has been shining all day. Today, I went from one end of the island to the other (a long day to say the least).
- First visited the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. Considered one of the most sacred valley’s in the world. The temples were built by the Greeks in 5th century BC to honor the Gods. Absolutely stunning, is the most well preserved Greek temple anywhere in the world. It is called the Temple de la Concordia.
- Next, I visited the largest collection of mosaics anywhere in the world. Piazza Armerina is a Roman villa built by a very rich family in the 4th century. The floors of the entire villa are done in mosaics depicting various scenes from Greek and Roman mythology. The most famous room is called the Girls in Bikinis.
Wednesday, May 18th – Mt Etna
- What a very cool day. Today, I got the opportunity to hike around the top of the highest volcano in all of Europe. Oh yes, the volcano is also very active. The Italians don’t really care if you get a little ash or lava on you, I guess because they took us right to the top while the volcano was actually erupting (or exploding which is the phase before an eruption). I got pretty lucky because the weather was perfect and the volcano was active which does not usually happen. Photos and video on my Instagram account.
Tuesday, May 17th – Taormina, Sicily
- Took the train from Naples to Sicily / Taormina. As most of you know Sicily is an island, so the Italians literally loaded the train (a full size train mind you) onto a ferry and sailed us over to Sicily from mainland Italy. The trip only took 30 minutes but took 1.5 hours to put the train on and take it off the ferry. It was cool but highly inefficient. Welcome to Italy!
- Arrived in a small town on the side of a mountain called Taromina. Wow, it is absolutely amazing here. Sicily is a very beautiful place. It reminds me a bit of Hawaii, as many of the towns/villages are built on the side of a mountain overlooking the sea.
- Most of you know I do like a nice resort now and then, well I found it at the Belmond (my new favorite brand of hotels) Villa Sant’Andrea. It sits right on the water with the town of Taormina about. It is complete and total luxury!
Monday, May 16th – Naples
- In Naples (Napoli) today enjoying some beautiful weather finally (it rained for two days). I do like the city better today than the first two days I was there, but I still think it is dirty and not so nice.
- The city of Naples is quite historic, as it was once the third largest city in Europe. There are some beautiful museums, over 400 churches and a few royal palaces.
- The food is actually very good in Naples, as it is the birthplace of pizza – so I did indulge in a traditional pizza at one of the hottest pizzeria in town.
Sunday, May 15th – Pompeii and Mt Vesuvious