More than myth! Explore the city where they actually lived and died such tragic deaths!
This city is a day trip from Venice. You may not want to leave! The movie “Letters to Juliet” was filmed here. It’s a city of remarkable beauty and fascinating history!
If you are a romantic at heart, then you must make your way to the city of Verona, Italy. As described in “Your Soul Mate” section of this website, it is the city of Romeo and Juliet. Read the following travel article and decide for yourself whether you want to discover this incredible city with all of its charms and fascinating history.
“Oh, Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?” Who would ever have thought that the words spoken by Juliet to her young lover, Romeo, hundreds of years ago would have ignited the most famous and passionate love affair in history and ensured her home town of Verona eternal fame. Situated in north-eastern Italy on the banks of the Adige river, Verona is a beautiful, historic city, so important in the days of imperial Rome that it was known as piccola Roma (little Rome). Founded by the Romans as far back as the 1st century A.D., and once part of the Venetian Empire, it has a mixture of classical (Roman), medieval, and Renaissance architecture. Aside from its grand setting, what makes Verona truly remarkable, and brings hundreds of thousands of tourists flocking to this city every year is the fact that it was the setting for William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. Verona is a pilgrimage site for romantics and those with a passionate heart!
Thankfully for its many visitors, Verona is a walkable city with many sights to see: not only remnants of its romantic past, but also many places of historical interest. It’s a great location for a day trip with most visitors arriving from nearby Venice and Siena by train. From the Verona Porta Nuova train station, it is about a 20-minute walk to the centre of town, Piazza Bra. The first sight to catch your attention will be the immense Arena situated in the centre of the piazza (plaza). Resembling the Colosseum in Rome, it was built in 30 A.D. for the sole purpose of entertaining Verona’s citizens, offering fights to the death amongst gladiators and between gladiators and wild beasts such as lions and tigers. It even had a sophisticated hydraulic system, which could flood the Arena with water so that mock naval battles could be staged for everyone’s entertainment.
The scale of the spectacles would have been immense, as the Arena was originally built to hold about 30,000 people (nowadays it holds about 20,000 people). Even after the fall of Rome, the violent spectacles continued during the Middle Ages, this time with knights battling each other in jousts and tournaments. Thankfully the violent history of the Arena has faded into history with the Arena “re-inventing” itself: it is now well known for hosting world-class operas. Every summer from late June to August in what was once a setting where men battled each other to the death, you can now watch extravagant shows such as Aida, Madame Butterfly, La Traviata, Rigoletto, and Carmen. The demand for tickets is great, so book early. No doubt this magnificent setting lit up by floodlights at night would be an incredibly grand spectacle and make your opera experience one that you would never forget!
From the Arena, make your way along the street via Mazzini to Piazza delle Erbe and then turn onto via Cappello. Within a few minutes you will come upon the Casa di Giulietta, Juliet’s house, Verona’s major shrine to history’s most famous couple: Romeo and Juliet. If you saw the movie “Letters to Juliet” starring Amanda Seyfried and Vanessa Redgrave, you will easily recognize this place. It is not a fictitious creation of Hollywood! Not only does it exist, but it gets half-a-million visitors every year! At Juliet’s house, you enter into a courtyard where until recently couples wrote their names on the outside wall of the house, as a symbol of their eternal love for each other.
This house is a 4-storey medieval building dating back to the 1200‘s, and belonged to the Capulet family (the arch rival to the Montague’s, Romeo’s family). The walls inside are made of brick and clay with colorful frescos on them. There is furniture throughout the house, several well-preserved fireplaces, and colorful ceramic dishes on display. Of major interest to many is the re-constructed balcony where Juliet would have been visited by her lover, Romeo. From the house’s top floor, you have wonderful views of the terra-cotta rooftops of Verona and distant historical sites. If you are in search of your own Romeo, you can join Club Giulietta and request their help in finding true love (much as was portrayed in the movie “Letters to Juliet”). As you leave Juliet’s house you will see a gold statue of her in the courtyard. Tradition has it that if you rub her breast, you will have good luck. Many people do so!
Romeo’s house is nearby, only a couple of streets away at 4, Via Arche Scaligere. Unfortunately, it is not open to the public. This 13th century home belonged to the Montague family, and resembles a castle with a tower and a high stone wall. The Montague family had the heavily fortified home built for defensive purposes, primarily to protect themselves from their mortal enemy, the Capulet family (Juliet’s family and kin). The hatred between these two families was so intense that even the great medieval Italian poet, Dante, commented about their on-going feud in his book the “Divina Commedia” (The Divine Comedy).
A short walk from both homes is the Capuchin Monastery where Romeo and Juliet were married. The monastery is near Piazza Bra at 35 Via del Pontiere (off via Pallone). This medieval building has frescoes, a garden, and an underground crypt where Juliet was buried after she committed suicide. Known as the Tomba di Giulietta, Juliet’s tomb is a red marble sarcophagus, an elegant resting place for such a beautiful girl from one of Verona’s most wealthy families. Only married for less than a week, the tragic end to the lives of both Romeo and Juliet’s lives on in Verona; and thanks to William Shakespeare, they will be immortalized forever.
After paying homage to history’s most famous couple, return to the Piazza delle Erbe, originally created to be a Roman Forum. Later it became the city’s main market place, and now it is the historic centre of Verona and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This beautiful piazza is surrounded by medieval buildings and towers. The major attraction is the Torre dei Lamberti (the Lamberti Tower), an octagonal bell tower built in 1493. At 84 metres (275 feet) high, it is Verona’s tallest tower. For an incredible panoramic view of Verona, walk up its 238 steps or take the elevator.
For lunch or dinner, make sure to try one of the local specialities: pizzocheri (buckwheat pasta with cheese and sage), bigoli (pasta) with duck sauce, casoncelli (ravioli), gnocchi (potato dumplings), or Brasato di manzo all’Amarone (beef braised in wine). Polenta (cornmeal) is served with many dishes. Be forewarned that if your restaurant offers a dish containing “cavallo”, you may want to refrain from eating it as it is horse-meat!
For dessert, try Pandoro, a star-shaped bread cake, popular during holidays. The inside of the cake is usually filled with Chantilly cream or vanilla gelato. Also known as the “golden cake”, it is a specialty of Verona. Two other popular dessert items are the chocolate cookies: Baci Di Giulietta (Juliet’s kisses) and Sospri di Romeo (Romeo’s sighs). You will see these cookies in many of the windows of the city’s pastry shops. Even with pastry, the Italians find romance! For a meal in a truly historic setting visit the restaurant, Tre Marchetti (near the Arena). Its house specialty is baccala (salt cod). Meals have been served here since 1291 (older than most countries in the world)!
With your lunch or dinner meals try some of the area’s world-famous red wines: Valpolicella, Recioto, or Amarone. With dessert or as an aperitif, try Prosecco, a very popular white sparkling wine. Take advantage of this city’s incredible food and wines (in addition to its many sights)!
From Piazza delle Erbe walk towards the river and cross the old stone bridge known as Ponte Pietra. On the other side you can visit Teatro Romano (the Roman Theatre) which dates back to the 1st Century A.D. Its location is quite stunning with stone seats built into the side of a hill overlooking the river. The theatre is still in use, hosting summer festivals of drama, music, and dance. If you are very fortunate, you can even attend its famous Shakespeare Festival performing every year from June through August, including performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company, the most famous classical theatre company in the world. What an incredible experience it would be to attend a world-class performance of Romeo and Juliet put on by the Royal Shakespeare Company in the very city where the couple once lived and died. It’s an experience you would never forget!
On the hill above the Roman Theatre is the Archeological Museum. Housed in the former convent of San Gerolamo built in the 15th century, this museum houses a large collection of Roman artifacts such as mosaics, coins, sculpture and more.
Nearby is the Castel San Pietro (St. Peter’s Castle). Climb up the steps to the hill where the castle resides. The castle itself is not open to the public, but the views from the hilltop are spectacular. Quaint old buildings with red terra-cotta roofs, tall cypress trees, and rolling hills covered with brightly-colored wild flowers are everywhere you look. The beautiful countryside is what makes Italy and particularly this city so special, especially at sunset.
Another site that offers incredible views of the city is Giardino Giusti (the Giusti Garden on the grounds of the Giusti Palace), a 16th century Renaissance multi-tiered garden so magnificent that it inspired its most famous visitor, the great music composer, Mozart. This lush and sculpted garden is located on the same side of the river as the Roman Theatre near the bridge Ponte Nuovo. One of the oldest gardens in all of Italy, this garden has flowers, cypress trees, a labyrinth, grottos, fountains, and statues throughout.
Return to the city centre to the Arena and go west along via Alpini towards Corso Cavour (and the river). You will come upon Castelvecchio, a 14th century red-brick fortified castle located on the banks of the Adige River. This castle houses the City Art Museum with its extensive collection of medieval sculpture and Renaissance paintings, particularly artists such as Guardi, Tintoretto, and Tieopolo. The castle was restored by the famed Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa who re-designed the castle’s doorways, furnishings, stairs, and even its light fixtures so that its artwork could be properly displayed in an authentic medieval setting. The museum also contains many 14th century frescoes. For views of the river and surrounding area, walk along the extensive ramparts of the castle.
If you happen to visit Verona during the summer make sure to visit the Piazza dei Signori (near the Piazza delle Erbe). This piazza is surrounded by magnificent Venetian Renaissance buildings, and in the middle of the piazza is a statue of the great poet, Dante. Fortunately for many visitors this grand location has frequent free concerts, entertaining you with jazz, tango, and classical music late into the evening. If you are adventurous and a romantic at heart, then participate in Sognando Shakespeare (Dreaming Shakespeare) with its Teatro Itinerante (Traveling Theatre). Young talented actors in costume wander through Verona going from site to site, reciting Romeo and Juliet (in Italian only), as Shakespeare would have loved it to be.
This impromptu theatre company usually performs from July to September. It’s a very unique experience, as you get to accompany the theatre company as it makes it way through Verona stopping at all of the incredible medieval sites. Again, it’s an experience you won’t forget, much like Verona itself! Even though Romeo and Juliet have long since passed away, their spirit and passion are still present, giving vibrancy to this beautiful and charming city!
Written by: Eric Hamilton
©Eric A. Hamilton, 2016
Originally published on the “globetales.com” travel website in 2016
This city has so much history that you could spend years here and never get tired of it! The food and wine will make the trip even more memorable!
Paris, France, nicknamed “The City of Lights”, is a place of exceptional beauty and romance. With so many things to do and places to see, make use of your limited time by visiting the most memorable places.
Start your visit by exploring the oldest part of Paris, the Latin Quarter. There are several métro (subway) stops for that area: St. Michel, Cluny-La Sorbonne, or Cardinal Lemoine. The Latin Quarter’s 17th century buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, old stone fountains, and sidewalk cafes, will make you feel like you are lost in time, and in some ways you are, as life here has stayed the same for hundreds of years. Everywhere you walk, you are surrounded by history. Many famous writers, such as Ernest Hemmingway, Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sartre, and James Thurber frequented its bars and cafes.
Take time to visit the Pantheon, an immense neoclassical church where Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Victor Hugo are buried; take a tour of the Sorbonne, one of the world’s oldest and most famous universities; and visit the Cluny Museum of Medieval Art where you can view the famous 15th century Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, and other medieval masterpieces of art. Of course, you must also visit Notre Dame Cathedral, located beside the Seine River. It is famous for its beautiful stain glass windows and majestic architecture. Visit the Bell Tower, made famous by Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. This amazing church is over 800 years old and still standing!
As the day ends, have a seat at one of the many sidewalk cafés. Relax and enjoy a cup of coffee (a “café au lait” or a “café crème” in French) and have a delicious freshly-made pastry, preferably filled with the famous Chantilly whipped cream. If you are a visitor from North America, you will notice that the French coffee has a different (but nice) taste, as it comes from the Arabian peninsula, not from South America. Later go for dinner at any of the many restaurants along Rue Mouffetard. The nearest métro stop is “Place Monge”. The French cuisine is excellent—try the charbroiled steak with garlic butter and herbs and a roasted asparagus salad topped with balsamic vinegar. And, of course, try the French wine with your meal. It’s wonderful and very inexpensive. Believe it or not, but ordering water will cost you more than wine! Only in France!
Later in the evening, walk down to the nearby Seine River. Paris was built on both sides of it, and thankfully most of the major monuments such as Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower were built near the river. At night all of the major monuments are lit up by huge spotlights. Take an evening cruise down the Seine River to experience first-hand why Paris is called “The City of Lights”. Some cruises even offer dinner and drinks.
The next day take the métro to “Abbesses” and explore Montmartre, a huge neighborhood atop a hill overlooking all of Paris, famous for its bohemian lifestyle and village-like atmosphere. Beginning in the 1860’s, Montmartre started to attract artists, especially painters, who wanted to experience first-hand its alternative lifestyle, its incredible architecture and its awesome views of the city. It quickly became the haunt of many well-known 19th century artists. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec made this area famous when he painted many of the beautiful women who danced the can-can at Montmartre’s scandalous nightclubs, such as the Moulin Rouge. His lively and colorful images immortalized a part of Paris’ history, an era when people lived for the moment and enjoyed life to the fullest. Take the time to experience how many of these artists lived by going for lunch or dinner at Le Consulat Restaurant in Place du Tertre on Rue St. Rustique. It was the hangout for Renoir, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Cezanne. It still serves traditional French cuisine and the restaurant itself hasn’t changed in over 100 years!
Strangely, in the midst of such a bohemian area like Montmarte is one of the world’s most beautiful and impressive churches: the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur. It’s on top of the hill, and overlooks all of Paris for a distance of 50 kilometres (30 miles). Visit this church and then spend the afternoon walking around the neighborhood. In some parts, you may come across huge gardens with vineyards full of grapes. These gardens are remnants of when Montmartre used to be a small village and made its own wine. Everywhere you go you will see many artists outdoors sketching and painting—life here still remains the same, much as it did over a century ago.
The next day, visit the Hotel des Invalides (the métro stop is “Invalides”). It is famous for its collection of military artifacts, such as the displays of uniforms worn by Napoleon’s soldiers. You will be surprised how short men were in the early 1800’s. Of major interest, however, is the Tomb of Napoleon, the former famous emperor of France. He is buried here in a majestic domed building, befitting his regal status. The impact that this man had on history was immense, as he nearly conquered all of Europe. As you walk about Paris you will notice on the sides of many bridges and buildings a carved “N”, which stands for Napoleon. Everywhere you go there is some reminder of him.
Two museums that you must see are the Louvre (the métro stop is “Louvre Rivoli”) and the Musée d’Orsay (across the river from the Louvre). The Louvre has been described as the world’s most famous museum, housing an art collection in a palatial setting that is so immense you could spend the entire day there—it has 35,000 pieces of art. Its three most famous pieces of art are the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and the Venus de Milo. After your visit, treat yourself to hot chocolate at Café Angelina at 226 Rue De Rivoli (across the street from the Louvre). This café dates back to 1903 and is famous for its elegant surroundings, its African style hot chocolate (“Chocolat Africain” in French) served with chantilly cream, and its huge selection of pastries, more than you can ever imagine! It is an experience you will never forgot.
Devote at least half a day in order to visit the Musée d’Orsay, a world-class museum housing an immense collection of impressionist paintings. The métro stop is “Solferino”. Its collection includes the works of Renoir, Manet, Degas, Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cezanne, and Pissarro. You may even recognize some of the places in the paintings, as many of the scenes were painted in Montmartre.
In addition to its art and architecture, Paris is also famous for its fashion industry. For fabulous shopping, visit the two department stores Galeries Lafayette and La Samaritaine. Galeries Lafayette is set in a beautiful palatial building with a glass-domed roof that has a rooftop café, offering a spectacular view of the city. Its métro stop is: “Chaussée d’Antin” or “Opéra”. The building is an architectural masterpiece. You will marvel at its dome with its hundreds of stain glass windows. Shopping in this luxurious setting is an experience you will never forget. La Samaritaine has less grandeur, but this Art Déco building has an amazing selection of clothes and gifts to buy, and it has a rooftop café with a 360 degree view of Paris. The métro stop is “Pont-Neuf”. Check first to see if it is open, as it has been closed for renovation for several years. It is expected to re-open in 2020 or 2021.
Of utmost importance is to take time from your sightseeing to just relax and walk along the tree-lined banks of the Seine River and explore this city. As you discover Paris’ incredible beauty, your most memorable moment may be the sense of peace and calm that this city has given you. It truly is one of the most elegant and beautiful cities in the world! Your only regret will be the day that you have to leave it!
Written by: Eric Hamilton
©Copyright Eric A. Hamilton 2016
Originally published on the “globetales.com” travel website.
Visit Waikiki Beach for an experience you will never forget! No wonder this place is called an “island paradise”!
Once the exclusive destination of the very rich, Hawaii has become one of the most popular holiday locations in the world. This exotic, tropical place is within the United States of America (U.S.A.), which means that you are guaranteed a high standard of living and service, and unlike most tropical destinations you can drink the water without getting sick! Honolulu and its surrounding areas have something to offer everyone: warm, sunny weather all-year round; beautiful white sandy beaches; lush tropical rainforests; exotic colorful flowers mingled with palm trees and tropical plants; a huge variety of sporting opportunities that includes sailing, snorkeling, swimming, diving, fishing, and golfing; and abundant shopping opportunities; and all within a safe, secure environment. Hawaii has much to offer, and its largest and most exciting city is Honolulu—its capital. Out of the 1.3 million people who live in Hawaii, about 900,000 live in Honolulu.
Honolulu has been described as the most remote large city on earth: almost 1 million inhabitants living in the middle of nowhere—right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. After you spend a few days there you won’t mind its isolation. As a matter of fact, you won’t want to leave! Hawaii seems to have that effect upon many people. You may be truly surprised how many people you will meet that came to Hawaii for a vacation, and have never left!
Believe it or not, there is one person in particular that has to be given the credit for helping the rest of the world to “discover” Hawaii: in the late 1950’s a young Elvis Presley, the famous American singer and movie star, often referred to as “the King of Rock ‘n Roll” music, came to Hawaii for a vacation. That trip was a life-changing event for Elvis, as he fell in love with Honolulu and Hawaii itself. His love affair with Hawaii continued on until his untimely death in 1977 at the age of 42. Elvis made three movies here. He also came here regularly for vacations.
Elvis’ first movie, Blue Hawaii, released in 1961, became one of his most successful films. In the movie you will recognize such famous landmarks as Diamond Head crater, Waikiki Beach, and Hanauma Bay (located outside of Honolulu). Many credit this movie as “kickstarting” Hawaii’s tourism industry—it suddenly made Hawaii famous and a very desirable destination to go for a holiday. Elvis became Hawaii’s most influential spokesman, especially in 1973 when he hosted the television special “Elvis – Aloha from Hawaii” via satellite on location in Hawaii to raise money for medical research (i.e. for the treatment of cancer). It made television history and was seen in 40 countries by an estimated 1.5 billion people.
Without a doubt, Elvis had a life-long connection with Hawaii and its people. Even today the people of Hawaii speak very affectionately of Elvis, almost as though he was one of them! Many Hawaiians would say that even though Elvis’ home was in Memphis, Tennessee, his heart was in Hawaii, as well as his spirit!
Hawaii is located about 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) southwest of the North American mainland. It takes, for example, over 5 hours by jet to reach it from San Francisco, California. There is nothing between Hawaii and the mainland, which makes for quite a surprise when you look out the window of your jet after flying for hours and hours and then see the bright lights of Honolulu shimmering in the distance—they seem to be almost beckoning you to come for a visit.
Hawaii is made up of a chain of islands in the midst of the Pacific Ocean. This archipelago comprises hundreds of islands that are spread out over a distance of 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers). There are 8 “main” islands of which Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and the “Big Island”—also referred to as Hawaii (which can be confusing to tourists), are the best known. Honolulu is located on the island of Oahu. All of the islands throughout Hawaii are volcanic in nature. Some islands even have active volcanoes that you can visit.
Even though Hawaii has a tropical climate, its temperature and humidity is not as extreme as many other tropical destinations. This phenomenon is due to the trade winds that continually blow across this area from the east.
Honolulu’s temperatures are fairly representative of Hawaii: in January, the average daytime (high) temperature is 80º F (26.7º C) and the nighttime (low) temperature is 66º F (18.9º C). In August, the average daytime (high) temperature is 89º F (31.7º C) and the nighttime (low) temperature is 75º F (23.9º C). As you can see, the temperature stays almost constant all-year round, which makes this city unique and very pleasant to live in.
Unlike most places, Hawaii has only 2 seasons: the dry season from May to October and the wet season from October to April. Thankfully when it rains in Hawaii, it usually rains in the evening, leaving the days warm and sunny.
The topography (landscape) of Hawaii is volcanic in origin and extremely varied, comprising high rugged mountain ranges, low flat plains, lush rainforests covered in mist, areas so arid they almost resemble a desert, high cliffs that suddenly drop off into the Pacific Ocean, and beaches covered with miles and miles of white sand. Few places on the planet offer such an incredible variety of landscapes.
Hawaii was admitted as the 50th state of the United States of America on August 21, 1959. Due to its mid-Pacific location, it has been influenced throughout its history by Asian and North American cultures as well as it own native culture, primarily stemming from the Polynesian peoples from Tahiti and the Marquesa Islands.
The famous British explorer, Captain James Cook, discovered the Hawaiian Islands in 1778. By that time he was already famous for having discovered much of the South Pacific. His writings about Hawaii led to many European visitors coming in, especially other explorers, tradesmen, whalers, and Christian missionaries. Right from the beginning the contact with Europeans and Americans was disastrous for the Hawaiian people: visitors brought measles and other communicable diseases that wrecked havoc and brought death upon the Hawaiian people; missionaries nearly destroyed all of the traditional customs—they even banned hula dancing; the presence of so many whalers and sailors fostered prostitution and alcoholism; sugar planters brought in waves of Chinese, Japanese, and Portuguese immigrants to work the sugar fields, which changed the population base; and by the end of the 1800’s foreigners owned 80% of all of the private land.
Many people may be unaware that for most of its history Hawaii was an independent country with its own royal family and traditions. All of that changed forever when in 1893 a group of American businessmen, primarily sugar plantation owners, with the assistance of U.S. marines overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy (Queen Lili’uokalani), and created the Republic of Hawaii.
The president of this new republic was Sanford Dole, a prominent pineapple plantation owner, born to American Christian missionaries who had moved to Hawaii many years earlier. Dole was an active participant in helping to overthrow Hawaii’s monarchy, and was richly rewarded for such treachery. For example, his cousin, James Dole, set up a company that eventually became known as the Dole Food Company. Everyone is very familiar with Dole pineapple! It was obvious that the business community wanted control over the Hawaiian government so that their interests could be better served—it didn’t matter to them that the Hawaiian people did not want to be annexed to the U.S.A. Apparently, Queen Lili’uokalani, the strong willed and independent-minded ruler of Hawaii was quite hostile to the idea of Hawaii being taken over by the U.S.A., thus the need to eliminate her.
Five years later, in 1898, the Territory of Hawaii was simply annexed to the U.S.A. with no regard to the wishes of the Hawaiian people.
It is amazing how few people, especially Americans, realize that Hawaii never freely joined the United States—it was annexed by means of military force. The unjustified arrest of Hawaii’s royal family and the destruction of Hawaii’s government was not a proud day for the U.S.A., especially given the fact that it has always boasted that it is the champion of freedom and democracy!
As a visitor you may encounter some hostility from the native Hawaiians, especially in the remote areas of the islands. Given their treatment at the hands of foreigners, you can understand why! Surprisingly and to the credit of Hawaiians, they are not bitter about their past mistreatment. Instead they are a genuinely friendly, helpful, and spiritual people.
On December 7, 1941 Japanese warplanes, without warning, attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Within minutes the entire fleet lay in ruins. Anyone who has seen the 2001 Hollywood movie “Pearl Harbor” (starring Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett) has a good idea of the amount of destruction and loss of life this attack caused. The USS Arizona battleship, for example, sank in just 9 minutes, killing all of the 1,177 sailors aboard.
When visiting this memorial, go first to the Visitor Center for an orientation. Make sure to get the 2 ½ hour audio tour: you will listen to a tape on a MP3 player that describes in depth what happened that fateful day. A U.S. navy launch will then take you to the floating memorial that is literally 6 feet above the sunken remains of the USS Arizona battleship. The memorial evokes quite an emotional response from its many visitors, including surprisingly, many Japanese visitors. You will experience first-hand the futility of war. Thousands of young men died that day for no reason, all no doubt thinking how lucky they were to be serving in a tropical paradise like Hawaii. Japan’s unprovoked attack led the U.S.A. to declare war on Japan that same day.
As strange as it may sound, it was Elvis Presley who made the construction of this memorial possible. In 1961, he gave a benefit concert in Hawaii to directly raise funds for the construction project. He also assisted the project by creating publicity for this worthy cause. With Elvis’ help, the project was able to raise the large amount of necessary funds. This was one of many gestures on Elvis’ part towards the Hawaiian people.
On average you should allow about 4 hours to visit this site, as the line-ups can be quite long to visit the memorial. The memorial is open for daily visits, usually between 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
This World War II submarine is located next to the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center. Apparently there are only 15 such submarines left in the entire world. This submarine had a crew of 80 men and fought against the Japanese after the attack on Pearl Harbor. As a matter of fact, the nickname of this submarine was the “Pearl Harbor Avenger”. You are able to go below deck and tour the entire submarine. It is open daily, usually from 7 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
This World War II battleship, moored in Pearl Harbor, was the site where the Japanese signed their unconditional surrender to American forces on September 2, 1945, ending the war between the U.S.A. and Japan. The Missouri played an active role in World War II helping to carry out bombing raids over Tokyo as well as assisting in the battles of Okinawa and Iwo Jima in the Pacific. A guided tour of this ship is available. Check in at the Visitor Center of the USS Bowfin Submarine where you will be transported by bus to Ford Island where you can board the ship. It is open daily, usually between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
This small aquarium is located on Waikiki Beach, near the Honolulu Zoo. It is built on a live coral reef right on the Pacific Ocean. The exhibits are full of many species of exotic, colorful fish, including sharks, eels, monk seals, and green sea turtles. Many of the fishes on exhibit are native to Hawaiian waters. Make sure that you view its most unique exhibit: its giant live 100-pound clams. They are huge! It is open daily, usually from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This municipal zoo is a mixture of tropical forest and savannah. It is about 43 acres in size located in Waikiki, near the Waikiki Aquarium. With over 300 species of animals, it has a large collection of birds and reptiles from many of the islands of the Pacific. Animals include elephants, lions, and zebras, many of which are found in the African Savannah, a 10-acre exhibit. Make sure to check out the Komodo dragon, a lizard-like reptile that is so huge it can kill a human! The zoo is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
This large pineapple plantation is extremely popular. It is located outside of Honolulu, in the center of the island, about a 30-minute drive from Honolulu. Make sure to try the pineapple ice cream—it’s delicious! Attractions include the Pineapple Express, a small train that takes you on a tour of the plantation. Kids will love wandering through the Pineapple Garden Maze, the world’s largest maze, according to the Guiness Book of Records. The Plantation Garden Tour is interesting for its many exotic plants and flowers. You may even get to see baby pineapples growing in their natural habitat. Coffee and other tropical fruit are also grown here. The plantation is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
This 42-acre site is 35 miles outside of Waikiki. It is a major tourist attraction founded in 1963 by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (i.e. the Morman Church). Made up of several re-created individual villages, this center is meant to show visitors what the traditions and lifestyles of various Polynesian peoples once were: for example, the people from Hawaii, Fiji, Tonga, and Tahiti. It is well known for hosting luaus (the traditional Hawaiian feast) where you can witness fire dancing, and other traditional ceremonies (e.g. hula dancing). Many tour companies have package deals available—use them rather than driving there yourself or having to make all of your own arrangements (it’s too much hassle).
This building is the only state residence of royalty in the U.S.A. It was the residence of Queen Lili’uokalani until her reign ended in 1893 when she was overthrown by U.S. military force. Sanford Dole himself stood on the steps of her palace and announced that Hawaii was now a republic and he was its president.
Located in downtown Honolulu at the intersection of King and Richards Streets, this palace is open for tours to the general public. Of particular interest are the Central Hall with its impressive hardwood staircase, the Blue Room where the king used to meet guests on an informal basis, the Throne Room where the king and queen received visitors, the Dining Room, and the Palace Galleries which displays the royal treasures, including the royal jewels.
The queen herself was put on trial right here in her own palace in the Throne Room. She was fined $5,000 and sentenced to 5 years of hard labor, later reduced to house arrest. She was pardoned in 1896. After that she spent the rest of her life in Washington Place, a block away. When she died in 1917, nearly everyone in Honolulu attended the funeral procession. Hawaiians still thought of her as their queen, even if the American-installed government did everything possible to remove her from public life.
This site is quite popular, so make sure that you make a reservation preferably a few days in advance.
This impressive 14-acre garden is located in downtown Honolulu, beside Chinatown. Tropical plants have been collected for this garden from all over the world dating back to 1850. It is a living museum containing many species of rare and endangered tropical plants, some of which are massive in size. The Cannonball Tree, for example, is an exceptionally tall palm-like tree that produces a huge number of nuts the size of cannon balls. Whatever you do, don’t walk under this tree in case one of the nuts falls to the ground—it could be dangerous in case it lands on your head! Make sure to visit the Herb Garden, the Butterfly Garden, and the Conservatory with its incredible collection of beautiful and colorful orchids. This garden contains a huge variety of interesting species such as pomelo, bamboo, vanilla, fig, mango, eucalyptus, coconut, palm, breadfruit, avocado, and cinnamon trees. It is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with on-site parking available, and guided tours are available. This garden is beside the canal and next to the beautiful Kuan Yin Temple.
This amazing botanical garden dates back to 1918 and is massive in size with over 194 acres. It is owned and operated by the University of Hawaii, and is renowned for its extensive collection of tropical plants. A large part of this garden is actually part of the rainforest located at the head of Manoa Valley—an amazingly beautiful place to visit. If you ever win the lottery, consider living in this area, as its natural beauty is indeed breathtaking!
The tropical plants grow to such incredible sizes in this protected area that you will feel like you are in a scene from the movie “Jurassic Park.” The range of colors of many of its flowers is impressive, everything from whites and yellows to purples and reds. At the entrance to Lyon Arboretum, for example, you will be intoxicated by the smell of the beautiful colorful plumeria flowers, used for making leis (the famous fragrant flower necklaces used to greet visitors to Hawaii). Make sure to visit the Hawaiian Ethnobotanical Garden where you will see breadfruit trees, sugarcane plants, taro plants (which are like yams), and the kukui nut whose oil was used as lantern oil (to light homes and businesses). Plan to spend several hours here, as Manoa Falls, a 150-foot high waterfall at the end of a mile-long hike, is right beside the Lyon Arboretum. The Arboretum is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It can be reached by the local bus from the Ala Moana Shopping Center.
Without a doubt this is the world’s most famous and glamorous beach, and when you visit Waikiki you will understand why. For the longest time it was a “playground” strictly for the wealthy and for famous movie stars. Walk along it and all you will see for miles is a beautiful arch-shaped sandy beach bordering the warm turquoise-colored water of the Pacific Ocean. Along this palm-lined beach are some of the world’s most luxurious hotels, and in the distance the massive Diamond Head Crater stands, dwarfing all of the buildings. You can swim, snorkel, and surf or just lay in the sun enjoying the incredible beauty of the landscape around you and appreciating your incredible good fortune to be in such a place!
This world-famous beach is situated along Oahu’s spectacular southeast volcanic coastline, outside of Honolulu. Actually this site is an underwater park, famous for its snorkeling. It is a huge bay with plenty of exotic colorful fish, green sea turtles, and beautiful sandy beaches. This palm-shaded beach can be reached easily by private car or by the local bus. There is plenty of parking available. The beach is open daily, except for Tuesdays.
This small picturesque beach is east of Hanauma Bay, and is often referred to as the “From Here to Eternity Beach”, as scenes from the famous movie “From Here to Eternity” were actually filmed on location at this site. The movie has an all-star cast led by Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, and its setting is Honolulu in 1941 just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. There is a famous night scene in the movie where Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr are romantically entwined in each other’s arms on the beach while the waves crash onto them—it’s an incredibly romantic scene that caused quite a stir when the movie was released back in 1953. This secluded site is incredibly beautiful with its white sandy beach surrounded by black volcanic rock. Nearby is a natural-formed blowhole in the rock that shoots a column of saltwater high into the air at regular intervals, testimony to the island’s volcanic past.
If you continue north for quite a distance past Halona Cove you will come across this exceptional beach, famous for being Oahu’s longest sandy beach. This beach, however, can be quite difficult to find so make sure beforehand that you know where to turn off the main highway. It is not well known by most tourists and many of the locals are undoubtedly happy about that for this beach is stunning. You won’t be disappointed by its miles and miles of soft white sandy beaches and aquamarine water. There are no hordes of tourists here, which gives the place a sense of serenity and calmness—traits not usually found in the more popular beach sites. This beach is lined with a backdrop of ironwood trees and is so beautiful that it is without a doubt what everyone dreams of when thinking of a tropical paradise.
This site is undoubtedly Hawaii’s most famous landmark, as witnessed by the number of post cards with it on it! It’s a 760-foot volcanic cone that offers visitors a 360-degree view of the city of Honolulu and its surrounding areas. The Hawaiian people considered it a sacred place. At one time it was even the site of human sacrifices. The hike to the summit starts at the intersection of Monsarrat and Diamond Head Road. Make sure to wear proper walking shoes. Bring a flashlight for when you walk through some of the tunnels, a hat to protect you from the hot, searing sun (as there is little shade), a camera, and water. The hike can take at least 1½ hours.
The famous American writer, Mark Twain, once described this site as having one of the most beautiful views in the entire world. Upon visiting it, you will understand why. High atop a mountain ridge you will look down upon vast tracts of rainforests, mountain ranges, the turquoise-colored waters of the Pacific Ocean, and settlements such as the town of Kailua dotted along the coast. The breathtaking view provides plenty of photo opportunities for those interested in photography. Believe it or not, this picturesque lookout was the scene of a major battle between two Hawaiian kings. The victorious king used his army to push hundreds of enemy warriors off the ridge to their death. Such carnage was a very sad day in Hawaii’s history, as it was Hawaiians killing other Hawaiians. To make matters worse, when the losing king was captured, the victorious king killed him, sacrificing him to the war god Ku. Sometimes it is easy to forget that this beautiful tranquil island had such a bloody and violent history.
The word “heiau” means Hawaiian temple. This particular site is a very interesting archaeological site, as it is a mystery as to where the massive number of stones used to make the foundation of this temple came from. There is no rock quarry nearby or even close to this location. This temple was used to worship the war god Ku and to make human sacrifices. It is now a state historic site as well as a “test” site to grow Hawaii’s most important traditional agricultural crops and plants such as taro, bananas, coconuts, and noni fruit trees. Part of a large tropical forest borders this area. As you walk around this site, you will notice that all of the vegetation has grown to huge sizes. As strange as it may seem, you will feel like you are walking through a jungle scene from the movie “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” Be forewarned, this site is very difficult to find—it is 1 mile south of the town of Kailua, literally behind the YMCA building. Its actual address is 1200 Kailua Rd. Admission is free, and it is open daily from sunrise to sunset.
This majestic temple is located in the Valley of the Temples, an interdenominational cemetery located on Kahekili Hwy. What makes it so special is both its architectural design and location. Byodo-In is a replica of a 900-year old temple located in Uji, Japan, complete with its classic design and red walls, all set against the magnificent backdrop of the Koolau Mountains. Inside the temple, in the main hall, is a tall statue of Buddha covered in gold leaf. Outside the temple is a 3-ton brass bell reputed to bring good fortune and harmony to anyone who rings it. Encircling the temple is a pond full of large multi-colored carp and an elegant Japanese-style garden. You will be pleasantly surprised to find such an exotic temple in Hawaii, as it looks like it should be somewhere in the Japanese countryside. Due to its proximity to the mountains, it can become enshrouded in mist very quickly, adding an air of mysticism and serenity to the entire site.
Located beside the Foster Botanical Garden, this beautiful Chinese temple is Honolulu’s oldest. The temple is dedicated to Kuan Yin, goddess of mercy. Her large statue is in the richly carved Prayer Hall. Devotees of Buddhism worship primarily at this site, placing offerings of fruit and fresh flowers on the altar. You may also notice some of the worshippers burning what appears to be money. It is special fake paper money burnt as an offering to ensure prosperity and good luck. Admission to the temple is free.
This museum, in downtown Honolulu, is located at 900 S. Beretania Street and has one of the top Asian art collections in the world as well as an exceptional collection of European and American art. No matter what your taste in art, this incredible museum is bound to have something that will interest you. Built in 1927, this museum houses nearly 40,000 pieces of art. With its magnificent courtyards, water fountains, and galleries it is a wonderful place to relax and at the same time enjoy the museum’s interesting collection, which includes Hiroshige’s Japanese woodblock prints; paintings by Picasso, Gauguin, and Van Gogh; Ming dynasty porcelain paintings; war clubs and masks from Polynesia; major works of art from well known American artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe; and an immense Asian textile collection. Have lunch at the on-site café and make sure to visit the gift shop. With 30 galleries to visit you may be pleasantly surprised at what you find in this world-class museum.
Located at 2411 Makiki Heights Drive, this museum has 3 acres of Asian gardens, reflecting ponds, and terraces offering stunning views of Diamond Head Crater. It houses various ever-changing exhibits of paintings, sculpture, and contemporary artwork.
Located in downtown Honolulu at 1525 Bernice Street, this museum is well known for its Polynesian artifacts. Its main gallery, the Hawaiian Hall, is dedicated to Hawaii’s cultural history. Objects of interest include a full-size pili, a grass-thatched house; shark-tooth war clubs; and a magnificent yellow-feather cloak worn by King Kamehameha the Great. The feathers belong to the now extinct mamo bird. Apparently 80,000 birds had their feathers plucked to make this one cloak! The Polynesian Hall has elaborately carved dance masks, canoes, and ceremonial costumes. Of interest to many will be the planetarium with its shows explaining how the Polynesians used the stars to navigate thousands of miles in outrigger canoes. There is so much to see in this museum—it even has a Sports Hall of Fame and Science Center. Make sure to visit its gift shop, as it sells a wide variety of high-quality souvenirs.
Honolulu, especially Waikiki, has an abundance of restaurants, offering an amazing variety of food such as American, Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, Greek, and Thai. Everything that is available on the American mainland is also available here. Unfortunately, most restaurants are expensive. If you want to save money and try numerous exotic dishes, then eat at the food trucks, situated right in the heart of Waikiki. Some of the interesting food dishes are: Pad Thai (stir-fried rice noodles with vegetables), green papaya salad with shrimp, stir-fried broccoli with beef and onions, chicken souvlaki, grilled mahi-mahi fish, cajun-style ahi tuna with coconut rice, etc. The list is endless! The food is tasty, well prepared, and far less expensive than other places.
Hawaii is famous for its tropical fruits. Make sure to try the fresh mango, pineapple, and papaya—it’s great for breakfast. For snacks, try the apple bananas, a unique Hawaiian fruit, much smaller than a regular banana but denser and more nutritious.
At one time the Hawaii people had one of the best diets in the world: plenty of fruit, vegetables, and fish. Thankfully that is still available for you to enjoy even if most Hawaiians have opted for the fast food diet of the mainlanders such as mayonnaise-laden macaroni salad and believe it or not, spam (cheap, high calorie ground pork), also referred to as “Hawaiian steak”. In some cases Hawaiians have even created their own recipes. Be careful if you order the “loco moco”, usually eaten for breakfast. It consists of a plate of white rice, a hamburger patty with a fried egg on top, and then everything is smothered in gravy. The amount of calories is huge! If you are adventurous, you can try two staples of the traditional Hawaiian diet: Kalua pig (roasted in the ground with hot stones) and poi (a gooey, purplish paste made from cooked taro roots). Such foods will always be served at a luah (a traditional Hawaiian feast). As bizarre as it sounds, the only time you will get the chance to even taste traditional Hawaiian food is when you attend a touristy luau, and it will be expensive.
Many coffee lovers adore Hawaii, as Kona coffee is grown here, which is one of the best gourmet coffees in the world. If you don’t drink coffee, then try the various tropical fruit juices such as passion fruit, orange, guava, and of course pineapple juice. Local alcohol-based drinks include beer (ales and lagers) from the Kona Brewing Company and the famous “mai tai” made from rum and orange curacao with a mixture of orange, lemon, lime, and pineapple juice.
Honolulu has a vast assortment of hotels, everything from budget to luxury. The vast majority of hotels are in Waikiki. Remember that only the 5-star luxury hotels will be right on the beach and they will cost you a fortune.
For location, try, if possible, to find a hotel near Waikiki Beach, as it’s central to everything. Unlike most places, the hotels in Honolulu follow a complex pricing structure that depends upon where your floor is located and how much of the ocean you can view. Generally, there is a range of 4 different types of rooms going from budget to expensive: standard, partial ocean view, ocean view, and full ocean view. If your travel agent sells you a standard room it usually means you will have a room on a low-level floor (e.g. the 3rd floor) at the back of the building close to a noisy street, or the room is overlooking either a garbage dumpster or the back of another building. Yes, you will save money, but it will make your trip to Honolulu a lot less memorable. Certainly if you are on a romantic trip (i.e. a honeymoon), you should only consider an ocean view or full ocean view room, preferably located on an upper-level floor. Remember, if you take a room on a lower-level floor, it is going to be noisier (due to its proximity to the street traffic) and the view will be non-existent.
In general, Honolulu is a fairly safe city (in comparison to most other American cities). Usually the crime that is directed towards the tourists is petty theft such as pick-pocketing or purse snatching. For drinks, go to the tourist bars. Avoid places like Chinatown especially for drinks, as many of the drinking places (its bars) are still quite sleazy. During World War II, Chinatown was infamous for its cheap bars, massage parlors, and prostitution. Many sailors and army personnel were regularly “ripped off” and mugged. Even nowadays in some sections of Chinatown not much appears to have changed! This area, however, has an interesting history. For example, in January 1900 the local government burnt Chinatown to the ground to halt the spread of the bubonic plague. The entire area had to be completely rebuilt. If you visit Chinatown, go during the day. There are many food markets offering a vast assortment of fruits, vegetables, and seafood at very reasonable prices (far cheaper than the grocery stores in Waikiki).
At night Waikiki takes on a different look. Prostitution is rampant, with so much activity on some of the side streets that these areas themselves have become tourist attractions! Be careful, particularly in Waikiki, if someone approaches you with a parrot or other tropical bird on his/her shoulder and asks if you want a picture of yourself with the bird. Once the photo has been taken, the owner of the bird will demand money from you. The other thing to be wary of is people selling time-share condominiums: it may be a scam to get you to give them money for a down payment (money which you may never see again). Be forewarned! As in any other city, keep your wits about you, and you will be safe.
Many people may be initially apprehensive about taking a guided tour, simply because it seems so “touristy”. However, when you go to Hawaii for the first time it is advisable to take a tour of the island to get your bearings. Some activities are so specialized such as hiking through one of the local rainforests that you are advised to use the services of a specialized tour company. Trying to find a remote trail in the midst of a dense tropical rainforest is not going to be easy, and you can easily get lost.
Every major hotel will have a tour booth to assist you with booking various tours, inside and outside of Honolulu. If you are interested in experiencing the awesome beauty of Hawaii’s nature, consider using Oahu Nature Tours, a local eco-tour company. This company offers a wide variety of tour packages, everything from trekking through tropical rainforest and botanical gardens to exploring the rugged coastline with its spectacular beaches.
Don’t miss this luxury 5-star hotel, once the exclusive haunt of the rich and famous, located at 2365 Kalakaua Avenue in the heart of Waikiki, literally right on Waikiki Beach. As a matter of fact, it was Waikiki’s original beachfront hotel, dating as far back as 1901. This colonial-style hotel has an elegantly designed lobby with tropical hardwood flooring and paneling and an elegant palm-lined courtyard right on the ocean. Its lobby is so beautiful that it has become a favorite place for Japanese couples to get their honeymoon photos taken. Visit the Banyan Tree Courtyard for drinks in the evening. You can hear live Hawaiian music while waves crash onto the beach. The setting is without a doubt exceptional. Even if it’s for just one evening in your life, experience first-hand how the rich live! Believe me, it’s an experience you won’t forget!
This beautiful 5-star hotel was built over the remnants of what was once a royal garden. Also known as the “Pink Palace”, the Royal Hawaiian is almost next door to the Moana Surfrider Hotel. Constructed in 1927, this luxury hotel is a combination of art deco and Moorish-style architecture. It dates back to an era when the only way to visit Hawaii was by luxury liner, which meant only the rich had the privilege of traveling to places like Waikiki, staying in such exclusive hotels as the Moana Surfrider and Royal Hawaiian. Take a walk through the lobby with its beautiful works of art, luxurious furnishings, and unique open design—there are no entrance or exit doors. In the evening, the outdoor lighting of the gardens gives added elegance to this exceptional site. Go for drinks at the Mai Tai bar. Enjoy yourself, as you are relaxing in one of the world’s most famous and classy hotels! This is your chance to experience how the rich live, even if it’s for a very short period of time!
Contact the company, Atlantis Submarines Oahu, or ask your hotel tour booth staff if you are interested in exploring the coastal waters surrounding Waikiki and Honolulu. Two submarines are available. One of these is the Atlantis XIV, which holds 64 passengers—it’s the world’s largest passenger submarine. Check in at the Hilton Pier located in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Ali’i Tower Hotel located right on Waikiki Beach. Diving off Waikiki, you will descend to 100 feet, observing a wide variety of turtles, coral, and tropical fish. You will then explore the coral reefs and get to observe interesting sites such as sunken shipwrecks and airplanes. This underwater adventure is one you will never forget!
Gallop on horseback along the beach at the 880-acre Turtle Bay Resort, located in the northern part of the island, near the North Shore on Kamehameha Hwy. Experience first-hand the spectacular white sandy beaches bordered by lush green tropical forests. It will be next to impossible to ever find another site like this to ride horseback! The setting is so surreal that you will think you are on a movie set! Contact Turtle Bay Resort for horseback riding information and costs.
Take an exciting tour over Honolulu and the entire island by seaplane. Get an aerial view of Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head Crater, Hanauma Bay, the lopsided conical island referred to as Chinaman’s Hat (made famous in Elvis Presley’s movie “Blue Hawaii”), the North Shore (famous for surfing), and Oahu’s famous historic wartime sites. Check with your hotel’s tour booth for aircraft charter companies that offer this service. One company that has offered this service for many years is Island Seaplane Service.
If you have the time and resources, consider taking a one-day trip to some of Hawaii’s other islands such as Maui or the Big Island of Hawaii. Daily flights are available to other islands. Consult with your hotel’s tour booth staff to find out what is available.
No matter how you spend your time in Honolulu, you will fall in love with this city and Hawaii itself. It is little wonder that so many people want to make this place their holiday destination—the combination of sun, surf, and sand in the midst of so many tropical plants and flowers is an opportunity to experience paradise. Life here is at a slow pace, allowing you to simply relax. Be forewarned that this place can have an unsettling affect upon you, as you may relax and enjoy yourself so much that you forget about everyone and everything back home! Take advantage of every minute that you are in Hawaii, and be thankful—unlike most people, you turned your dream of visiting Hawaii into reality!
Written by: Eric Hamilton
©Copyright Eric A. Hamilton 2016
Originally published on the “globetales.com” travel website
Home to one of history’s greatest empires! At one time, Rome ruled almost the entire known world! The movie “Gladiator” portrayed this city well!
Without a doubt, Rome, Italy, is one of the world’s most majestic, beautiful, and unique cities. Nicknamed “The Eternal City”, it has been around for a long time, as far back as 500 B.C.
Rome is a fascinating place to visit. It is not like most European capital cities that have a uniform style of architecture, usually either 18th or 19th century, that are so well laid out that they seem to have been artificially designed and planned. Rome evokes a sense of being “real, unplanned”. The city is so old that it has many different styles of architecture interspersed throughout it: classical, medieval, gothic, renaissance, baroque, modern, etc. There is no orderly plan to this city: it’s a virtual kaleidoscope of history. One minute you are standing amid classical ruins dating back 2,000 years ago when Rome ruled the western world, and the next minute you are standing in the chapel of an 18th century Baroque church. That is part of Rome’s charm: you can actually see and experience the passage of time—you feel like you are part of it.
Rome is full of incredible places to visit and explore. Every day is a different adventure. There are so many museums, churches, and places to visit that you could stay here for months and still not visit everything, so choose the most impressive sights, ones that will leave a lasting impression upon you. The best way to explore Rome is by foot. Ask your hotel for its business card with its address and location indicated on it, then buy a good map and just spend time wandering through Rome’s cobblestone streets; its ancient ruins, luxurious palaces, and spectacular churches; its fruit, vegetable, and flower markets; its sidewalk cafes; and its town squares known as piazzas. Experience Rome as a Roman would. Get used to using the city’s various landmarks to guide you, rather than actual street addresses. Be adventurous: if you get lost you can always hail a taxi, show the driver your hotel’s business card, and ask him to take you back to your hotel.
Start your tour of Rome at its oldest and most significant location, the Roman Forum (Forum Romanum), often described as the historic heart of the city. The Forum is one of the world’s most important archeological sites. It was from this location that Rome ruled the entire western world, an area bordered by Egypt in the south, Northern England in the north, Spain in the west, and modern-day Iran and Iraq in the east. Rome ruled its vast empire with an iron fist. In order to truly understand and appreciate this city, you must know at least some of its history. Rome had unbelievable wealth, power, and a level of sophistication unequalled anywhere else. While most of the world’s population lived in wooden huts in small impoverished villages, ancient Rome had a million inhabitants who lived in the midst of a splendid setting: beautiful marble palaces, luxurious gardens, cobblestone streets, aqueducts that brought a steady supply of water into the city, a sewage system, and opulent bath houses that even had hot and cold water plumbing. It was no wonder that the Romans were so arrogant and looked at others with contempt. Rome had everything anyone could ever want—why look elsewhere when you lived in the best city in the world!
It is here in the Forum that you can walk amongst the ruins of this once mighty city. The Forum’s main sights include: the Arch of Septimius Severus (which is at one end of the Forum) and the Arch of Titus (which is at the other end), the Temple of Saturn, the Curia (where the Senate met), the Temple of Vesta, and the church of San Luca e Martina. All of these sites are connected by the Sacra Via, the main road that runs through the Forum. When the victorious armies returned to Rome, they marched down the Sacra Via displaying all of the gold, silver, jewels, and other treasures that they had looted from other countries. Huge numbers of slaves clad in chains were also paraded in front of Rome’s citizens and in particular its emperor.
Beside the Forum is the Palatine Hill. Make sure to explore this Hill, once the site of fabulous botanical gardens and imperial palaces. Visit the House of Livia, the wife of Emperor Augustus. Her home is famous for its elegant wall paintings of various mythological scenes. She on the other hand was famous for murdering (by poison) numerous Romans, many of whom were quite high profile. She is even reputed to have murdered her own husband, the Emperor Augustus, in order to make way for her son’s ascent to the throne. Ancient Romans may have surrounded themselves with beautiful art and architecture, but for many this was merely a façade, an attempt to hide their incredible violent tendencies as well as their insatiable appetite for power and wealth.
The Roman Empire lasted 1,000 years, so you can imagine the impact that this city has had upon the western world. Walk along the Palatine Hill and marvel at the incredible view of the city, and imagine the splendid buildings and peoples that lived here. Its once elegant marble palaces now lie in ruin, overgrown by trees, plants, and flowers and its once powerful inhabitants are long since dead. The entire area has an almost surreal feel to it, and believe it or not, an incredible sense of tranquility.
One site you will find very interesting is the Colosseum, near the Forum, at the metro/subway stop “Colosseo”. This huge amphitheatre seated 50,000 people and is almost 2,000 years old, a reminder of the ancient Romans genius for engineering and architecture. Believe it or not, this structure is made of concrete and is 4 stories high. It was the place where Romans went for entertainment, usually consisting of armed gladiators fighting each other (often to the death) or fighting wild animals such as lions and bears. If you watched the award-winning movie “Gladiator”, you have an excellent idea of how exciting, spectacular, and bloody these shows were. Inside the Colosseum you can see a maze of tunnels below ground. At one time a huge wooden floor covered this maze. The gladiators and wild animals would have walked through this maze on their way to certain death in the arena.
Some of the best pizza in the world is served in Rome. Take advantage of this: for lunch, go to a pizzerie and try Pizza Margherita, a thin-crust pizza made with tomato sauce, cheese, and basil. Or if you prefer to try something different, go to a tavola calda, which is similar to a cafeteria, serving a selection of ready-made dishes. One tavola calda that is popular for lunch is Caffe Pasticceria Dagnino (located on the street Via Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, near the “Repubblica” metro/subway station). It is well known for its Sicilian specialties, such as arancino, a rice ball made with peas and meat filling. Other popular lunchtime meals include: Frittata (an omelet), Polla alla cacciatore (chicken with tomatoes and mushrooms cooked in wine) or minestrone soup with freshly baked bread. If you are in a hurry, simply go to a nearby bar and have a panino sandwich. Most bars are also cafes.
During your stay in Rome, make sure to do as the Romans do: try the gelato ice cream. There are outlets all throughout the city. The best in town is supposed to be “Giolitti” (near the Pantheon). Ice cream in Italy is made with natural ingredients and real fruit, so be prepared for incredible, tasty flavors.
For dinner, try a wine bar (enoteche) where you can order a vast range of wines by the glass and snack on different appetizers. Try the traditional Chianti wine, from Northern Italy. After a day of sight seeing you may just want a relaxing evening sampling the local wine and food. If you want a larger meal, go to either a trattoria or ristorante. Be forewarned that a typical meal usually consists of appetizers, a first course (usually a plate of pasta), a second course (e.g. roast chicken with vegetables), and dessert. For something different, try Sambuca Romana, a star aniseed flavored liqueur, with your dessert. The food, in particular, in this city is incredible–you won’t be disappointed.
Make your way to the Piazza del Campidoglio, a spectacular square at the top of the Capitoline Hill, designed by the great artist, Michelangelo. It is located west of the Forum, behind the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II (a huge white marble building) near the Palazzo dei Conservatori. In the center of the piazza is a statue of the famous Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (who expanded the empire into Northern Europe). View the square from a higher location in order to see the amazing geometric design on the pavement.
Bordering this piazza are the Capitoline Museums, housed in the Palazzo Nuovo and across from it, the Palazzo dei Conservatori, which includes the Pinacoteca Capitolina. These museums hold one of the world’s oldest and most spectacular collections of art, particularly classical-era statues. Some of their famous collections include: the Capitoline Venus, the Wounded Amazon, the Dying Galatian, the She-wolf, the colossal Constantine, and the Room of the Emperors which contains 65 busts of Roman emperors arranged in chronological order. Amongst these busts, look for two very well known emperors: the Emperor Nero who deliberately burned Rome to the ground while he played a fiddle, and then blamed Christians for the fire. As a result, thousands of innocent Christians were either burnt at the stake or thrown to the lions in the Colosseum for punishment. The other bust is Emperor Caligula who achieved notoriety for his delight in killing whomever he wanted and for his depraved and sadistic sexual tendencies. Rome’s history is anything but dull!
Make sure to visit the popular Spanish Steps (Scalinata della Trinita dei Monti) which are set in the beautiful Piazza di Spagna (the metro stop is: Spagna). This monumental staircase is surrounded by beautiful buildings and is a popular place for Romans and tourists to meet. Nearby are some of Rome’s most fashionable shops, located on the street Via dei Condotti.
For relaxation, take a stroll through the Borghese Gardens (Villa Borghese), located in the center of Rome. Within the center of this park is the Borghese Gallery, a lavish mansion open to the public, full of beautiful art, especially sculptor by Bernini, such as his famous masterpieces “David” and “Apollo Chasing Daphne”.
The park is 6 kilometers in size with many trees, plants, and walking paths. It even has an artificial lake surrounded by an elegant garden. Romans go to the park to relax and at times to escape the unbearable summer heat.
Rome at night can be a very special place, as many of the piazzas’ fountains and monuments are lit up, giving this city an air of elegance and romance. Romans love to walk about their city—many of the areas at night are pedestrian only. One of the most magnificent sites is Piazza Navona with its grand baroque fountains. During the days of ancient Rome, it was the site for great chariot races, and in medieval times the piazza was flooded with water and used for mock naval battles (with real ships).
Another interesting place is the Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi). This huge Baroque-style fountain was completed in 1762. It was made famous in the movie “La Dolce Vita” when Anita Ekberg jumped into the fountain. At night it is beautifully lit. According to local legend, if you want to return to Rome you must throw a coin into the fountain. Go ahead and make a wish—your dreams may come true, especially if you are fortunate enough to come back to Rome!
Plan to spend some time outside the city, touring the beautiful countryside. Either walk or rent a bicycle and tour the legendary Appian Way (Via Appia Antica)—Europe’s first highway. If possible, go on a Sunday when cars are banned. The famous saying “All roads lead to Rome,” refers to the Appian Way—the highway into ancient Rome, build in 312 B.C. Believe it or not, it is still being used! This cobblestone road is lined with beautiful trees and monuments and is an unforgettable day trip. You can walk or ride your bike along the same road that Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony once rode on!
The Appian Way begins at Porta San Sebastiano, one of the entry points in the outer old wall that surrounds part of Rome. In ancient times, this highway used to be almost 350 miles (560 kilometers) long. It fell into disuse after the fall of the Roman Empire, but was later restored (to a considerably shorter length) by order of Pope Pius VI. Along the Appian Way within a short distance of Rome you will see many tombs (of once noble families) lining both sides of the road and catacombs—underground tunnels where Christians hid in secret and buried their dead.
As strange as it may sound, these catacombs are actually beneath the Appian Way itself. Early Christians hid (and lived) in miles of these underground tunnels in order to escape persecution from the Emperor. Church services had to be held here in secret, as to be discovered would mean certain death in the Colosseum. Thousands of Christians lived in an elaborate underground city connected by miles of tunnels and caves.
After you leave Porta San Sebastiano, your first important site is the famous Church of Domine Quo Vadis. It was here that Jesus Christ appeared to the apostle Peter and inspired him to return to Rome to face death by crucifixion, and achieve martyrdom. Further along the Appian Way you will encounter the Catacombs of San Callisto (Catacombe di San Callisto). Make sure to visit these underground catacombs, as they are the most famous and impressive of all the catacombs. These catacombs cover a distance over 12 miles (19 km.) in length, are structured (layered) in four levels, go down about 65 feet (20 meters), and have almost no natural sources of light. There are almost half a million tombs of early Christians in this site. Look at the walls and see if you can find any diagrams carved onto the walls: a fish is the symbol for Jesus, a Phoenix is the symbol for the resurrection of Jesus, and a ship’s anchor is an upside-down cross. It is unbelievable how these poor Christians must have suffered in order to worship Jesus—what incredible faith they must have had. These brave people are truly an inspiration to others!
After visiting these catacombs, continue along the Appian Way. You will pass the Catacombs of San Sebastiano and the Catacombs of Domitilla. The Appian Way itself has so much history. It was along this road, for example, that 6,000 slaves and their leader Spartacus were crucified. It is hard to believe that the Romans committed so much violence, even along this tranquil road. As you journey further along, you will come across sections of the Appian Way that are spectacular: beautiful pine and cypress trees line the road surrounded by miles of tranquil countryside, testimony to the fact that the violent past of ancient Rome has faded into history.
No trip to Rome would be complete without visiting the Vatican, the official residence of the Pope and the spiritual center for Roman Catholics worldwide.
The Vatican was built upon the grave of the first pope, St. Peter, also known as the apostle Peter. Its centerpiece, St. Peter’s Basilica, has been described as the most impressive church in the entire world. Its sheer size and grandeur was very accurately portrayed in the popular adventure movie “Angels and Demons”. The site covers 6 acres. The church itself is over 600 feet long and can hold thousands of worshippers. Make sure to walk up the stairs into the dome created by the famous artist, Michelangelo. You will have an incredible view of Rome from atop the dome.
In front of the basilica is Saint Peter’s Square (Piazza San Petro). In ancient Rome, it was the site of a racetrack and also the place where Christians were executed (for entertainment). Around 65 A.D. the apostle Peter was crucified nearby. It is little wonder that this location is sacred to many Christians.
Make sure to also visit the Sistine Chapel and view Michelangelo’s famous fresco “The Last Judgment”. On the ceiling, Michelangelo painted two frescos: “Original Sin” and “The Creation of Adam.” All three frescos are incredible for their size and powerful imagery.
You will notice as you walk about the Vatican that there are brightly dressed guards in renaissance-style clothing—these are the Swiss guards that are responsible for guarding the Vatican and especially the Pope.
Lastly, visit the Vatican Museums, housed in the palatial residence of the Pope. Its art collection is comprised of works from all parts of the world and from different time periods, everything from the statue “The Apollo Belvedere” from the days of imperial Rome to the paintings in the Raphael Rooms (Stanze di Raffaello) from the 1500’s.
Ancient Rome was famous for its great buildings. Unfortunately, all, but one, are in ruins. That exception is the Pantheon. As unbelievable as it sounds, it was built in 27 B.C. and is still in perfect condition—an example of the ancient Romans superior knowledge about architecture and engineering. It has been described as one of the architectural wonders of the world because of its incredible concrete dome. The only source of light in this church is the opening in the roof. The interior of this church is spectacular as well as its marble floors. According to legend, when the barbarians entered this church in the midst of their pillage of Rome, they were in such awe of its grandeur that they left the building perfectly intact. The bronze doors on the church are massive, each one of them weighs 20 tons. Also, take a look at the church’s granite columns: each of these huge columns was shipped from Egypt to Rome over 2,000 years ago.
Located near the metro/subway stop “S. Giovanni”, this church was built by the first Roman Christian emperor, Constantine. It became a popular place to worship due to the skulls of both the apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul, being buried here, making it an extremely important church for Christians. Strangely, the massive doors of this church were taken from the Curia, the ancient building where the senate used to meet in the Forum. When you look at the papal altar, you will notice a rough wooden altar table—the apostle, Peter, used it when he celebrated mass in the catacombs. Examine the incredible wooden ceiling and the beautiful mosaic floors of this church, both are incredibly rich in detail and design.
Of prime importance is to also visit the Scala Santa, the building beside the church. It houses the actual stairs that were taken from the palace of Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea (in the Holy Land), who condemned Jesus Christ to death. Jesus himself walked up these stairs to await his judgment. The mother of Emperor Constantine was responsible for bringing these stairs from the Holy Land to Rome. Many Christians and non-Christians come to this special site to pray for themselves and others. For hundreds of years it has been a holy site, reputed to work miracles upon those who come to ask for help and guidance.
Stay at a hotel that is centrally located. Rome is a very difficult city to get around, simply because it is so old and totally unplanned. There are only two metro / subway lines and the bus system is at times unreliable. Rome’s lack of modern design makes the city adventurous to visit, but at times it can be frustrating getting around. That is why your choice of hotel is of major importance, as you will have to walk to reach many of Rome’s sites and monuments.
One centrally located hotel, recommended by the well known travel writer, Rick Steves, is Hotel Oceania, via Firenze, 38. It is near the metro stop “Repubblica”, and the “Termini” train station (about 500 meters away). Important sites like the Forum and the Colosseum are within walking distance.
Another centrally located hotel is Hotel Cosmopolita, via di Santa Eufemia, 5. It is near the Forum, the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, and the Trevi Fountain. This hotel has received many positive reviews from travelers to Rome.
Rome is a relatively safe city. However, be careful of pickpockets and scam (con) artists, particularly around major tourist sights like the Forum and the Trevi Fountain. If someone approaches you and tries to give you something free (e.g. a rose), don’t accept it, as that person will then ask you for a “donation”. You can be easily swarmed by thieves if you are taking out and displaying money in front of everyone.
If you are overwhelmed by Rome’s layout (or lack of it), then sign up at your hotel’s front Reception Desk for day tours. Most tour companies will pick you up at your hotel and then drop you off later. It makes life much easier when you let someone who knows the city show it to you, especially for some difficult places to reach like the Appian Way and the catacombs.
Rome is a great city to use as a base in order to visit other nearby towns. Day trips are available to the famous town of Assisi, near Tuscany; the beautiful town of Sorrento, right on the Mediterranean Sea, on the famous Amalfi coast; and the ancient town of Pompeii (from the days of Imperial Rome), famous in antiquity for its burial by a volcano. There are several reputable tour companies available that can take you on these day trips. Go explore the beautiful countryside and have fun! Don’t worry if you miss some sights. If you have thrown a coin into the Trevi Fountain and made your wish, you will return to Rome again soon, exploring more of what this incredible city and its neighboring towns have to offer.
Written by: Eric Hamilton
©Copyright Eric A. Hamilton 2016
Originally published on the “globetales.com” travel website
Home to Al Capone and many famous gangsters! Everyone feared this place, even hardened criminals!
Would you pay to go to prison? Believe it or not, many people do when they visit San Francisco, California. Their destination is Alcatraz, America’s most infamous prison. With its isolated setting and violent history, Alcatraz has become San Francisco’s number one tourist attraction—over one million people visit it every year. You may even recognize the place from some of the movies filmed here, such as The Rock (Nicolas Cage) and Escape from Alcatraz (Clint Eastwood).
Touring this prison is like visiting hell in the midst of heaven. Strangely, it was purposely set up that way, a symbol of the government’s attempt to restore law and order in the midst of the Great Depression in the 1930’s, an era of gangsters and unprecedented crime. Operating in secrecy from the general public, the newspapers, and the courts, Alcatraz’s mission was to break its prisoners, not rehabilitate them. It held many of America’s most famous and violent criminals such as Al Capone; Alvin Karpis of the Ma Barker gang; George “Machine Gun” Kelly; Robert Stroud, known as the Birdman of Alcatraz; and Floyd Hamilton, from the Bonnie and Clyde gang.
You can only visit Alcatraz by boat, as the prison is on a small 25-acre island in the midst of San Francisco Bay, about 1.5 miles from the shore. Overgrown by wild trees and plants and surrounded by 130-foot high cliffs, the prison’s drab concrete buildings have an air of mystery and intrigue.
Wear a jacket, as even in the midst of July, frigid winds blow straight off the Pacific Ocean. The salty air has corroded everything: even the concrete buildings have turned brittle, and the wind’s high moisture content makes everything damp. When the fog rolls into the Bay, it causes the temperature to drop and it completely enshrouds the island, cutting it off from the mainland, at times for days. No wonder the turnover of prison guards was quite high. Many of them hated to be on this island. Alcatraz destroyed their health and turned many of them into alcoholics.
Everyday life for the prisoners was rough. Every prisoner was given a rule book, which laid out every aspect of how his life would be regulated: no talking in the Mess Hall, no reading a newspaper, no listening to the radio, no talking on the phone, no unapproved visitors, and no sending and receiving uncensored mail. No privacy whatsoever. Even the temperature of the bathroom showers was regulated: it had to be extra hot (100°F) so that prisoners could not accustom their bodies to cold temperatures. In case a prisoner escaped and tried to swim ashore, his body would not be able to sustain the Bay’s frigid temperature (34° F).
Prisoners were awakened at 6:30 a.m., locked up in their 8 x 4 foot cells at 4:50 p.m., and then left in the dark at 9:30 p.m. Segregation was common: the location of a prisoner’s cell was determined by his sexual orientation and race: gays were placed in the top tier (the block of cells with the best views of the harbor), blacks and other minorities in the middle, and white heterosexual men in the bottom.
Experience the hellish living conditions of the prisoners first-hand by taking the Cell Block tour. As you walk through the cell blocks (nicknamed Michigan Boulevard, Broadway, and Times Square), the dining room, and the exercise yard, you will feel how depressing it must have been to live here: confined to a small cell with nothing to do, surrounded by violent psychopathic prisoners, living with no hope for the future. The cold winds and fog would have made this place even more unbearable, like living in a refrigerator with a fan constantly blowing on you. No wonder Al Capone begged the government to release him. Until its closure in 1963 there was only one successful prison break—an incredible feat when you look at the layout of the prison and island.
Make sure to visit the Alcatraz Museum, the bookshop, and the restored historic gardens. Then, take time to explore the island and witness how nature has begun to reclaim the island. What was once a barren landscape is now covered with long grasses, wild roses and flowers, large cactus-like agave plants, and tall eucalyptus trees. Seabirds such as herons, cormorants, Western gulls, and brown pelicans have made this island their home. If possible, walk along the Agave Trail, usually open from mid-September to January. It’s about one mile in length. One part of the trail will take you right beside the ocean where you can observe sea lions and another part will take you through a bird sanctuary that has thousands of seabirds.
From different parts of the island you will have incredible views of San Francisco and the entire San Francisco Bay area, including the Golden Gate Bridge.
Alcatraz prison is open every day. Take the boat to Alcatraz Island from Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 33. It you want, you can spend the entire day on the island. You will need at least two hours to see everything. Take a self-guided tour complete with headphones and tapes, available year-round in several languages: it’s an experience you will never forget.
Written by: Eric Hamilton
©Copyright Eric A. Hamilton 2016
Originally published on the “globetales.com” travel website