Oregon Coast

We did a fairly short 4 day trip of the Oregon coast, while traveling from Seattle to San Francisco in August 2020. The beauty of the coast was stunned us! This was our first trip in the middle of the pandemic, so quiet Oregon coast was the perfect choice. I understand that 4 days is hardly enough to scratch the surface of the Oregon coast, but we are glad we traversed the entire coast and got to see a huge variety of places on the coast. We now know our favorite spots on the coasts, and since we live in Seattle, we can make regular visits to the coast.

Itinerary

Day 0: Drive to Astoria, stay overnight.

Day 1: Canon beach, Cape Meares, Lincoln Beach, Newport, stay at Waldport

Day 2: Visit Cape Perpetua and Yachats

Day 3: Drive to Gold Beach stopping at Bandon on the way, Samuel Boardman corridor rest of the day

Day 4: Drive to California, stopping at Brookings and the Redwood forests on the way

Favorite picks

  • Yachats: Thor’s well and Cape Perpetua
  • Gold Beach: Whaleshead beach, several beaches off the Samuel Boardman Corridor
  • Bandon and the road to Gold Beach
  • Depoe Bay: beautiful views of the ocean and waves, nice walkway, all the view points before and after the town
  • Newport: beautiful views of the ocean along several spots before and after the town. Yaquina Head is great, the walk up the hill has amazing views. Moolack beach is great.

What would I do differently:

  • While we just wanted to scratch the surface of the coast, I recommend spending 2 – 3 days at each of the destinations, unless you are sure you are never visiting the area ever again
  • We stayed at motels all the while, which did the job, but there are some really good properties along the coast with gorgeous views
  • Edit: we visited the central part of the coast, spending a lot of time around Depoe Bay and Newport.

Favorite hotels

  • Clarion Surfrider resort: excellent beachside rooms, not the best kept resort, but great value for money. Views are hard to beat.
  • Moolack Shores Inn

Destinations and Reviews

Cannon Beach: A gorgeous beach indeed, however, significantly crowded. Sunsets are a great time to visit. You must walk the entire beach to see all the rock formations. Off the leash dogs were a nuisance. A great beach to visit nevertheless. But it’s just the beginning of the amazing Oregon coast. Ecola State Park is close by with beautiful views of the Cannon Beach, however, we did not find parking when got there.

Cape Meares: The drive down from Cannon Beach was particularly beautiful. Several view points to stop by. The drive to the beach at Cape Meares is very beautiful, the beach itself is pretty solid, and very few crowds when we went. The lighthouse was unfortunately closed when we went. The entire area is very quiet and worth spending an entire weekend.

Drive down to Yachats: The drive all the way down to central Oregon coast is stunning. So many beautiful sights, I really wish I had stayed for longer and visited each of them. Our favorite spots were the Depoe Bay and the Devil’s Punchbowl. Several unnamed beaches on the way as well.

Yachats and Cape Perpetua: Thor’s Well and the surroundings are brilliant, best visited around high tide. Cape Perpetua lookout is brilliant, the lookout is best visited early in the day, and at sunset as well. Beaches close to Yachats are pristine, some of them beautiful feeding grounds for migratory birds. Another place worth visiting while in the area is Heceta Lighthouse. Beautiful views, but slightly crowded. There are a few interesting trails in the area, which I would like to visit some other time.

Gold Beach: Another spectacular drive all the way up to Gold Beach, passing through the towns of Bandon, Port Orford, all having spectacular views on the way. Each of them deserve a weekend trip on their own. Our main destination was the Samuel Boardman Scenic Corridor. Several beautiful viewpoints on the way, and several beaches, most of them accessible by a small hike or a gravel road drive. We visited one of the beaches, which was almost like a private beach. Very quiet and pristine. Pistol River scenic point has views of beautiful rock formations.

Favorite places to eat:

There have been several great meals, but here are the ones I remember:

  • Georgie’s, Newport
  • Side Door Cafe, Glenden beach, near Depoe Bay
  • Jack sprats Bayfront, Newport
Cape Meares
View from near Devil’s Punchbowl
Thor’s Well

One of the beaches close to Yachats
Close to the Heceta Head lighthouse
Bandon
On the way to Gold Beach
Whaleshead Beach

The three apostles
Somewhere on the coast

Verul and Ajanta caves

Verul ( Ellora) and Ajanta caves are treasures form ancient India

Itinerary:

Day 1: Drive from Pune to Aurangabad, visit Bibi Ka Maqbara, followed by Daulatabad fort. Stay near Daulatabad at Hiranya Resort.

Day 2: Spend the entire day at Ellora / Verul caves.

Day 3: Drive to Ajanta caves, spend several hours, drive to Jalgaon, stay

Day 4: Return back to Pune

Where did we stay?

I would recommend staying close to the Ellora caves. We stayed at Hiranya Resort, close to Daulatabad. The location and food at the resort was really good, especially their hurda and gavran ( rural) menu, which is available in the winters. There is a MTDC resort close to the Ajanta caves.

Reviews

Ellora caves

Absolutely stunning, even an entire day felt short on time.Must visits are the Jain caves and the Kailasa temple, the Kailasa temple is to be seen to be believed. A government certified guide is great to have, who can guide you through all the caves and educate you on the history and background of the caves, several details engraved and their significance and get some perspectives on various philosophies which emerged out from the ancient times and how they relate with the caves. The details would make you appreciate the caves even more.

Most of the caves and the temple is best visited early in the morning before the crowds pick up. Later in the afternoon and evenings are great for photographing the Kailasa temple.

Daulatabad fort

Another gem in the area. The impregnable fort which has almost never been conquered towers over the landscape. I would recommend getting a guide here as well, who can navigate you through the sophisticated protections built within the fort. The last climb up to the top of the fort is a bit steep, however, the views from the top were worth it. Plan to spend at least a few hours here.

Ajanta caves

Beautiful caves in a pristine setting. The paintings are to be seen to be believed. The paintings have lost a lot of colors in the last few decades due to misuse, but now are being cared for well. We found several caves to be very interesting, about 3-4 caves have well preserved paintings, and a couple of them have some beautiful carvings. About 3-4 hours was a good amount of time to spend at the caves. There are no government guides available and vendors are pushy, but the caves are impressive and deserve a visit.

The restaurant at the MTDC right at the beginning of the caves serves pretty good food.

Aurangabad

We visited the Bibi Ka Maqbara. While it’s often compared to the Taj, it’s actually beautiful in it’s own right. Definitely worth the detour into Aurangabad.

Where did we eat?

  • Shelke mama dhaba: close to Daulatabad, spicy and tasty local food, try their patudi in kala masala
  • Hiranya Resort: Their restaurant is alright, however, their hurda party menu is as authentic as it can get. The other “gavran” menu they serve is brilliant as well, dal batti, pithla, bhakri, bharit, puran poli and so on.
  • MTDC Ajanta caves: good, simple food
  • Bhel at Pandharicha Pool, between Aurangabad and Ahmednagar
  • Rajasthani thali at Bhoj Thali, Aurangabad, absolutely delicious

Kailasa Temple before sunset
One of the caves at Verul
Kailasa again
Verul caves
Deogiri Fort, Daulatabad
One of the well preserved caves at Ajanta
Ajanta
Ajanta
Just a fraction of the entire set of Ajanta caves
From the top of the Deogiri Fort
Making of hurda
Hurda eaten with chutneys and jaggery
The gavran menu at Hiranya Resort

Big Island – Hawaii in 8 days

We traveled to the Big Island in the Thanksgiving break, here’s a snapshot of our trip with some reviews of places we visited.

Itinerary

Day 0 : Land in Kona

Day 1: Explore Kona, farmer’s market, pick up rental car, drive to Airbnb in Waikoloa village, stopping at Kua Bay, Manini’Owali white sand beach, sunset at Anaehoomalu Beach

Day 2: Drive to Polulu Valley, hike down to the beach and back, spend evening at Mauna Kea beach

Day 3: Hapuna Beach, spent most of the day here. Afternoon drive to Waipo lookout, evening at Wailea Bay/ Beach 69

Day 4: Mahai’ula white sand beach, followed by evening at Waikoloa beach

Day 5: Drive to Green Sand beach, hike one-way. Evening again at Waikoloa Beach

Day 6: Early morning snorkel with Hawaii Oceanic at Captain cook (Kealakekua Bay), evening at Hapuna Beach.

Day 7: Drive to Hilo, stopping by Akaka Falls, lunch at Hilo, explore Farmer’s market, drive to Volcanic National Park: Holei Sea Arch and Kilauea Overlook, dinner at Pahoa and drive back to VNP late at night, view lava, stay in Hawaiian Paradise Park

Day 8: Hear the crashing waves at Maku’u Point, lunch in Hilo, some time at the Carlsmith Beach Park, drive back to Kona, late evening flight back to Seattle

Favorite places/things to do

  • Snorkeling at Captain: not to be missed, we went with Hawaiian Oceanic, and loved the tour. Great introduction to the coast and the island geology with the guides.
  • Lava flow: A surreal, one of it’s kind experience. We walked from the Devastation trail lot, starting at 10.30 PM, a 2 mile RT straightforward trail.
  • White sand beaches of Kohala coast: many of them were really good, some better than others. Favorites were Mahai’ula beach and Hapuna beach.
  • Hamakua coast: this felt like “real Hawaii”, with it’s greenery, cliffs, black sand beaches, rough ocean, fruit stands.
  • Green sand beach: Beautiful hike to the beach, all along the ocean. The beach itself is smaller than I expected, but is still worth the drive and the hike. There are 4WDs you can use to get to the beach, however, it’s illegal and not recommended, also we found the hike to be very pleasant and fairly easy, so it’s just better to walk to the beach.
  • Fruits and fresh catch: several fruit stands with amazing fruits all along the Hamakua coast and some near Kona as well

Beach Reviews

  • Hapuna beach: One of the finest white sand beaches on the Kohala coast, great waters for swimming. One of the non-rocky beaches in the area.
  • Mahai’ula beach and Makalewena beach: A super rough drive off the highway, however, doable with a 2WD if you are slow enough. You pass 3 beaches, with Makalewena beach being the last one. All the beaches are really good. The water was the clearest and the most turquoise blue in this part of the island. Relatively less crowds.
  • Manini’Owali white sand beach: A beautiful beach which is easily accessible, slightly crowded, but not too bad.
  • Waikoloa beach: a bit crowded, but great at sunset, explore the strip of beaches along the coast
  • Mauna Kea beach: restricted access to only 40 cars at a time, worth trying in the morning or early afternoon, beautiful sandy beach with moderate crowds
  • Spencer beach park: Less crowds, but less sands and more rock.
  • Green Sand beach: beautiful views, some crowds, great hike to get there, if it’s not too sunny, rough ocean, care advised while swimming in the ocean.
  • Polulu Black Sand beach: Great hike, rough ocean, beautiful views of the cliffs
  • Carlsmith beach park, Hilo: rough oceans, some rocks, moderate crowds, but good swimming
  • We found the beaches near Kona way more crowded than the beaches on the Kohala coast

Places to eat

Kona: we found more restaurants suited for our tastes in Kona than in Waikoloa

  • Journey Cafe: Great vegan food, good jackfruit dorias and vegan pizza
  • Patricio’s Tacqueria: good fish tacos and vegetarian mexican food
  • El Maguey: flavorful mexican food
  • Swami’s : ok-ish south indian food
  • Kamana: decent, indian food with good views
  • Quinn’s: good fish sandwiches
  • Shaka Tacoz ( Captain Cook): brilliant tacos, both fish and vegetarian
  • Herbivores: decent vegan food
  • Farmer’s market: brilliant fruits, especially passion fruits, mangoes, pineapples

Waikoloa and Waikoloa village: more high-end restaurants, however, we did find a few places for our likings

  • Pueo’s Osteria: excellent Italian food, particularly the fresh catch
  • Los Trex Mex: decent mexican food
  • Island Lava Java: great breakfasts
  • Charley’s Thai: good thai food

Hamakua coast: some really good fruit stands, one near Polulu lookout, another near Akaka waterfalls ( one of the best pineapplues and sugarcane we had), one near Waipo valley, where we had good custard apples

Hilo and Pahoa: we really liked the restaurants here

  • Hilo Bay cafe: great views, good fish, several vegetarian dishes
  • Island Pineapple Fresh cuisine: great fresh catch, good pasta and a really well done lilikoi ( passion fruit) pie
  • Ning’s Thai: amazing thai food
  • Pele’s Kitchen: really good breakfasts
  • Southernmost Bakery, not close to Hilo, but near the Green sand beach: great pineapple and guava buns ( malasadas).

Tips:

  • Volcanic National Park: for lava flow, it’s better to go later in the night, plan on reaching at least after 10 PM, later the better
  • Hit the beaches early in the morning, 8 – 9 AM is the best time
  • Ideally, if you can, split your stay between Kona, Waikoloa and Hilo. The beaches are the best near Waikoloa, snorkeling and a few attractions near Kona and the VNP and the Hamakua coast near Hilo.
Polulu Valley
On the way to Makalawena Beach
Green sand beach
Holei Sea Arch
Live eruption on Kilauea

Tuscany : San Gimignano and Montefioralle

San Gimignano

Started the day with a good breakfast at the Mercato Centrale, left for the bus to San Gimignano, the town was pleasantly quiet. The beautiful sun lit town was well over the fog, everything looked so misty and mysterious from the top. One of my best moments of the trip. I walked all across the town, was very beautiful and medieval(if you choose to ignore the swanky branded-ish shops). The views from top of the castle like structure were great.

I then walked over to the Via Veccia and walked for atleast a mile along the road admiring views of the entire town,, the road passed across several vineyards. Came back to the town, had a good lunch at one of the few places open, again strolled around the town, went to the sunset spot for a good sunset. The bus going back was at around 5 PM, and it didn’t look like the towers would be illuminated. So I left by the bus, returning back to Florence at 7 or so. Had a good dinner at OSteria Santa Spirito, good, but not the most favorite of my meals on the trip.

A little more Tuscany, Montefioralle and a little of Bologna

I had about half a day before our flight back from Bologna. So I got the bus to Greve-in-Chianti, got down just before the town, walked along the road for atleast a mile or so. The road was quite pretty, it was a little uphill along vineyards. The houses, vineyards all were very pretty. Finally I reached the village, it was really really small, but pretty. Walked round the village, walked till the other side of the village, Montefioralle looked like a nice, imposing castle-village. We walked around the private vineyards wherever I could find paths, finally hit a road which got us back to Greve.

Came back to Florence, had a quick lunch at Zaza Trattoria, mostly some truffle based dishes, which were pretty good. Did some quick food shopping at Mercato Centrale, I bought pesto, truffle cream and some pasta. I got a high speed train to Bologna, the journey was pretty drab, though the countryside was beautiful, most of it was through tunnels so I couldn’t see anything. I had a couple of hours at Bologna before the flight, so quickly parked our luggage at the train station, walked till the main squares which were absolutely amazing, they were big, busy, red and very aesthetically built. Sat around for a while and came back to the train station and left for the airport by the shuttle. And so ended the trip.

San Gimignano Towers as seen from Via Veccia

San Gimignano Towers as seen from Via Veccia

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Morning fog around San Gimignano, classic tuscan landscape

Morning fog around San Gimignano, classic tuscan landscape

Morning fog around San Gimignano, classic tuscan landscape

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Town of San Gimignano

Town of San Gimignano

Morning fog around San Gimignano, classic tuscan landscape

Morning fog around San Gimignano, classic tuscan landscape

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Vineyards around Montefioralle

Village of Montefioralle

Village of Montefioralle

Greve in Chianti

Greve in Chianti

Vineyards near Montefioralle

Vineyards near Montefioralle

On the way to Montefioralle

On the way to Montefioralle

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Tuscan countryside around San Gimignano

 

Pisa : Great half-day trip from Florence

Got a really good Pesto-mozarella sandwich at one of the stalls at the Mercato Centrale, Cantuccini at one of the specialty cantuccini shops. The journey was quite good, the walk to the tower from the station wasn’t bad and there was a Christmas market on the way.

The Pisa Complex was excellent, the white marble, and the green lawns made a good combination. The battistero’s a very attractive building, and so is the cathedral’s façade. I didn’t go inside,  just checked out the cathedral, walked around the complex and walked back to the station, took a train to go back. The return journey took a long while, the train took a longer route to get back to Florence.

On returning I checked into Hotel Montreal, went for dinner to Ristorante Caffagi, the Ravioli and Risotto I had were really good, and so were the desserts. Took a long stroll along the river and ended the day.

Leaning Tower of Pisa with the Cathedral

Leaning Tower of Pisa with the Cathedral

Pisa Battistero

Pisa Battistero

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Siena

Did Siena as a day trip from Florence.

Siena’s no less, the red buildings, the Cathedral, the Tower, the Plaza, views over the countryside make it another star destination. I left by the early morning bus from Florence. The old town certainly makes you feel as if you’re in a different era. The Piazza Del Campo was outstanding, one of the best squares I’ve ever seen. The entire had fascinated me by now. Went up the Tower ( Torre Del Mangia), the climb was quite a bit, but the views of the surrounding area and the town was totally worth it. Next was the Cathedral and the Duomo. The cathedral is probably unlike any other you would see in Italy, so richly decorated, huge and dark. Very different from the ones in Rome and Florence. I got the combo ticket for the Gates of Heaven. The Gates of Heaven tour takes you up the cathedral and you walk all around the cathedral, so you get to see the entire interiors of the cathedral from a good height. Later, visited the Picolomini Library, the paintings were really good and well restored. It’s also well lit and the lighting goes well with the color of the paintings.

Now it was lunch time, headed to Osteria Al Grattacielo, a very local place. Had a good vegetarian plate, with several unique items like barley in pesto sauce, cauliflower-cheese cake, potatoes with basil, aubergines, ribolita, all done very well.

Post lunch headed to the Battistero of the Duomo, another wonderful and grand building, then walked up the Campanile of the Duomo, to get beautiful views of the town and the tower and Piazza. The surrounding countryside too looked really good. Siena from here looks like straight out of your dreams or the movies. Then walked around the town looking for views of the countryside, but couldn’t find any, however the park down the town is worth a visit. Quite a green change from the red town.

Picked up a gelato, wandered around the main square and got an evening bus back to Florence. Had dinner at a place near Santa Maria Novella, had a colossal mozzarella salad, unfortunately I don’t have the name of the place, but it’s one of the well rated ones.

Piazza Del Campo

Piazza Del Campo

Siena

Siena

The town of Siena

The town of Siena

The main square in Siena

The main square in Siena

Gates of Heaven, Siena

Gates of Heaven, Siena

Siena Cathedral

Siena Cathedral

Piccolomini Library

Piccolomini Library

Piccolomini Library paintings

Piccolomini Library paintings

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Meal at the local restaurant, Siena

Meal at the local restaurant, Siena

Inside the Battistero, Siena

Inside the Battistero, Siena

Siena Cathedral

Siena Cathedral

The Torre Del Mangia

The Torre Del Mangia

Tuscan countryside at the horizon

Tuscan countryside at the horizon

Piazza Del Campo

Piazza Del Campo

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Streets of Siena

Streets of Siena

Florence

First of all, a note of my favorite places to eat:

  1. I Buongustai
  2. La Cantinetta in Borgo
  3. Gusta Pizza
  4. Ristorante Caffagi
  5. Ristorante Zaza
  6. The sandwich guy who sells pesto-mozarella sandwiches inside the Mercato Centrale.
  7. Cantuccini Al Borgo, for their cantuccinis, a pastry.

Florence-A Dream.

I had prebooked an early morning high-speed train seat for a pretty good price(20 EUR). The journey was smooth, most of it was through fog, so couldn’t see a lot outside. My hotel, Veneto Residence was close to the Academia Gallery, left my luggage and set out to explore the town. I had booked for 10 AM with the Uffizi Gallery(turns out I didn’t need to book, since you could just go in,there were no lines). The piazzas looked great, especially the Piazza Signoria, the Duomo looked fantastic, but the light wasn’t enough for it to glow, the Ponte Vecchio too looked superb.

Later, spent several hours at the Uffizi. You need to several rounds, one to look at the murals, another to look into the rooms, another to look at the sculptures in the passage, I could do just one in every round. Views over Florence and the river bank were pretty good. View of the Duomo were good from the café, but you can see just the Duomo, not the entire cathedral. Had lunch at I Buongustai, bruschettas(one with walnuts and cheese on top),and pasta in Pomodoro Sauce, all cooked to perfection, and really cheap!

Visited the Bargello museum, went up the Duomo, have really no words to express the marvel it is from both the inside and the outside, the paintings-murals were so real. Views from the top were absolutely fabulous. It was late afternoon, there was light mist and the sunlight was soft. Florence couldn’t have looked better at any time, very dreamy, out of this world. But I didn’t linger here for long, went to the Palazio Vecchio, got a ticket to go upstairs to the battlements and the tower. Views over the entire cathedral, the Duomo, the town were fabulous. Waited almost till sunset, when the lights came up on the cathedral, was quite a sight. Later walked all around the old town, all lit up and beautiful. Had dinner at Gusta Pizza on the other side of the river. The pizzas are Neapolitan and really good, the crowds attest to that. So make sure you’re there before 7, because there’s a queue to get in.

More Florence

Visited the Academia wandered at the David for quite sometime, the details are mind-boggling. Rest religious paintings are certainly worth a look. Proceeded to the Duomo area, had a look at the Duomo museum, a really well done and well lit modern museum with some really good sculptures. The Baptistery leaves you spell bound. That was one of my most favorite buildings in Florence. Had lunch again at I Buongustai, their Risotto was really well done, while their desserts didn’t impress me enough.

Climbed up the Giotto Bell Tower, the views are just phenomenal. The Duomo’s scale is even more evident when you go up. Walked up to the Santa Croce, didn’t really go in, walked around the Square and the markets and proceeded towards Piazza MichaelAngelo.

Views from the top are fabulous in the evening! Yes, it’ a little crowded, but certainly worth it. The Basilica San Miniato Al Monte was absolutely great, a bit dark inside but really beautiful, infact one of my favorite basilicas in Florence, the light outside had become very dreamy and evocative. All shades of colors possible, red, pink, orange..headed back to the Old Town after it got dark stopping by the Pitti Plaza. Had dinner at La Cantinetta in Borgo, a pear stuffed Ravioli and a spaghetti in Truffle Sauce, both very well done. The truffle dish was smelt so good, everyone looked towards the dish when it arrived. So ended my second day in Florence. There were several places I hadn’t seen, the Pitti Palace or the Medici tombs for example.

The Florence Cathedral

The Florence Cathedral

Florence from the Bell Tower

Florence from the Bell Tower

Duomo from Palazio Vecchio

Duomo from Palazio Vecchio

The Florence Cathedral

The Florence Cathedral

The Florence Battistero

The Florence Battistero

Duomo again

Duomo again

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Uffizi Painting

Uffizi Painting

Paintings at the Uffizi

Paintings at the Uffizi

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

Santa Croce

Santa Croce

 

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Rome

Here’s an account of my 3.5 days in Rome:

Arrived in the morning, quickly got a 14 EUR train ticket to go to Termini, although the significantly cheaper bus would have done as well. But I wanted to get all the daylight I could, so I took the quicker option. Italy was unlike any other part of Europe I had seen before, it looked very Mediterranean, with palm trees, terraced houses, it was also quite warm and sunny. Reached the train station, I quickly located my hotel and settled in.
Began exploring Rome with the Santa Maggiore, which was definitely very impressive, very different from the Renaissance art I would see in the rest of my trip. The streets of Rome were busy, with vespas, a little honking and plenty of people, tourists as well as non-tourists making it a very lively place. The area around Termini wasn’t really a very likeable one, but as you walk away from it, walks become nicer.
Had lunch at an outdoor place outside the Maggiore church, really good Gnocchi in Pomodoro sauce, the weather was great, sunny and warm(yes, even in December, global warming or just a heat wave or just temperature difference, I don’t know). Had a nice stroll towards the Roman Forum area. The Trajan Market building was absolutely beautiful! And vibe on the streets reminded me of Istanbul. Climbed up the Capitoline Hill to get brilliant views of the Forum. While it looked beautiful, I just wish more had survived. Then I got a ticket to enter the Forum, went in, looked around, trying to remember and recreate mental images from the book “History of Rome”, It was definitely fascinating, but again, very little remains. Palatine Hill tuned out to be the star attraction for the day. Everything up there was impressive. Walked and saw as much as I could, enjoyed views of the Forum, the place was very “Roman” indeed. And there were trees loaded with oranges as well. Got down as it tuned dark, it was barely 4.30 PM. Now I had several hours to spend before I had dinner. I got a gelato from a shop, was pretty good and cheap.
Walked all the way upto the Spanish steps stopping by the Trevi Fountain and Piazzas on the way. Christmas decorations were at their best, and crowds were high. Repairs are on at the Spanish steps, which was a disappointment. Had an early 4 EUR pasta dinner at Pastifico, making up my mind never to have pasta at pasta on the go places. Had a good tiramisu at Pompi, right infront of Pastifico. Walked back to the hotel, again, walking through empty streets in Rome is a pleasure, especially at night. Slept off, tired from the walking and jetlag.

The Roman Forum

The Roman Forum

Trajan Market, close to the Forum.

Trajan Market, close to the Forum.

More Ancient Rome
Had breakfast at a Pasticceria, not the healthiest, but pretty tasty, quick and cheap. Went straight to the Colosseum. And wow! It was phenomenal. Crowds were less, since it was a winter morning and a little fog was still around. As the sun went up, crowds went up, but the colosseum looked even better. The area around the Colosseum looked pretty neat from up there. Spent a couple of hours exploring the building, then walked to the San Clemente church. The church was really pretty, the underground portions too were really interesting, you go several levels below the ground. Later, had a big lunch at a restaurant just outside the church, their vegetable fritters and Ravioli in pomodoro were fabulous.
Next on the list was the Pantheon. The sheer size of the temple amazed me, from the outside it looked very beautiful with all it’s Greek columns and Latin and it’s cylindrical rear portion. Around the Pantheon were several interesting buildings which included basilicas, restored buildings with greek columns and so on.
Now the plan was to go to Gianicolo Hill, but then GoogleMaps guided me to a deadend lane just below Gianicolo, and the only way to get to the hill was a long walk, so I decided to skip it and go to the Castel Angelo. Turned out to be a great decision, sunset was fabulous, and views over the Vatican and Rome were great from the terrace. Had dinner at a pizzeria near Santa Maggiore, Zaza Pizza, which was pretty good.

Colosseum

Colosseum

Pantheon

Pantheon

A little More Ancient Rome and some Baroque Rome and Rome at Night
Took a bus to the Carcalla Baths, was quite awestruck by the huge surviving ruins, walked around what would have been grand baths. Walked further to the Pyramid of Cestius which was a short pleasant walk through residential neighborhoods. The pyramid was certainly quite a sight. Got a metro ride to the Spanish steps, had to take the mandatory walk up the steps, although a lot of it was closed.
Took a long walk across all piazzas, stopping at each for a fairly long time. Bought fruits from Piazza Campo Di Fiori’s farmers market, gelato from Piazza Navona, wish I could get a good aerial view of the Piazzas. Had lunch at one of the touristy restaurants with fixed menus, turned out to be pretty good. Arrived near the Colosseum to get pictures of the Colosseum after dark, which was superbly lit, but the restoration work had hit the most photographic features of the building.
Next on the plan was looking at the Pantheon all lit up. The Pantheon ofcourse looked great, the square was much busier than what it was during the day. Had a good Ravioli with Porcini mushrooms and an artichoke dish at a restaurant whose name I don’t remember, unfortunately, it was pretty close to the Pantheon though. So ended my 3rd day in Rome.

Baths of Carcalla

Baths of Carcalla

Colosseum at night

Colosseum at night

Vatican, A different world altogether.
I had booked for the 9 AM slot, I reached there at about 8.30 and I could get in easily. Entrance and security was quick, and I quickly reached the museum. The grounds and gardens were interesting, the Gallery of Maps blew me away(and there were hardly any people!), the Raphael Rooms were stunning, I spent more than an hour looking around. Sistine Chapel was obviously the best of all, I didn’t particularly know a lot about the paintings, but the audio guide helped to a good extent. Again, I spent a large amount of time just looking up and walking around. You just can’t have enough of it. Tour groups came and went, and crowds went up and down accordingly. I would definitely call a visit to the Sistine Chapel as something close to a life changing event. I just wished they allowed photography, and it’s impossible to “cheat” and click pictures in off season, the chapel isn’t packed, which is a great thing since you can really take in the place.
Stepped out of the chapel, walked through endless corridors with good murals, passed through the iconic spiral staircase and stepped out of the museum. Had lunch at a Pasta place near the St.Peter’s square, one of the cafes ripped me off with a 14 EUR cake(that was the sit-down price, the take away price was 5 EUR, so always check the menu when you sit down). St.Peter’s square was quite busy,so I got into the cathedral, and wow! I wasn’t prepared at all for the grandeur and the scale of the building. Spent a super long time in side the cathedral(make sure you go in when it’s atleast fairly bright outside, everything glows). Then took the stairs upto the dome, was quite a climb, but worth it. The views of the Square, of the Vatican, of the countryside around, of Rome all were fabulous. Came down when it started getting a little dark, roamed around St.Peter’s square for a pretty long time, watching the lights come up, the skies were beautiful as well.
Came back to “main Rome”, the streets to the main piazzas were beautifully decorated, had one of my best dinners in Rome, at Alfredo E Ado, had an artichoke lasagna and an Eggplant parmigiana, all made to perfection. Spent some more time hanging around at the Pantheon, returned back home to get up early the next day.

Inside St. Peter's, Vatican

Inside St. Peter’s, Vatican

Raphael Rooms, Vatican

Raphael Rooms, Vatican

On the top of St. Peter's

On the top of St. Peter’s

St.Peter's

St.Peter’s

Gallery of Maps, Vatican

Gallery of Maps, Vatican

 

Behind the Colosseum

Behind the Colosseum

Behind the Colosseum

Behind the Colosseum

Palatine Hill

Palatine Hill

Pantheon

Pantheon

The iconic Vatican museum exit staircase

The iconic Vatican museum exit staircase

View from Castel Angelo

View from Castel Angelo

Castel Angelo

Castel Angelo

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