Travel

Rome in Two Days

Day 1:

The Vatican

It is VERY important to get here early! The Vatican museums open at 9 am, but get there by 8. The line gets long fast and then you’ll be wasting your valuable Rome time looking at the wall. There will be two lines, one for people who already have tickets (bought online or groups) and one to buy tickets. You could buy your tickets online if you have access to a printer, but their is a 4 euro up-charge.  NOTE: There is a student discount if you have a valid student id and are 18-25 years old.

Also, make sure to be dressed modestly (knees and shoulders covered).

Once in the museums, take your time and see everything that interests you. The whole museum sort of funnels you toward the Sistine Chapel, main attraction of the museums. Make sure to end your tour here. The room will be super crowded, so make your way towards the middle. You’re not allowed to take pictures here and if the guards catch you they’ll come over and watch you delete it. But there are so many people in the room, so they can’t watch everyone at the same time. Be sneaky if you want a pic.

Towards the back of the room, there are two exits- one to the left and one to the right. The one on the left will take you back to the museum entrance and then you’ll have to walk around the outside to get in line to see St. Peter’s Basilica.  The one to the right, is reserved for groups, but as long as you don’t need to return an audioguide, you can sneak through. There’s probably no one even there to stop you. This exit will take you right into St. Peter’s Basilica and you won’t have to wait in any more lines!

While you’re waiting in line in the morning, lots of hawkers will try to sell you a “Skip-the-line” deal with the selling point of the Basilica exit, but now you know the secret and won’t need to spend the extra money.

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Historical Center Walking Tour

Head towards the Campo de’Fiori to start the tour. I’ve stolen this route from Rick Steve’s and he has an awesome audio tour to go along with it, which can be downloaded wherever you get podcasts.

His version includes more stops, but here are the highlights:

Piazza Navona: The famous piazza is a great place to grab some gelato and walk amongst the street artists. Make sure to take a look at the statue of Neptune at the end.

Pantheon: Old church with a hole in the center of the domed ceiling. NOTE: When looking at the Pantheon from the front, if you go to the right and walk along the side of the church, you’ll find a restaurant called Miscellenea.

Trevi Fountain: Make sure to throw a coin in to ensure a return visit to Rome, (The coins are collected every night to help Rome’s homeless.)

Spanish Steps: It’s a bit of a climb, but once you’re at the top, you can take a people watching break in the Borghese Gardens.

Day 2:

Colosseum/ Roman Forum/ Palantine Hill

Today is another early day, get to the Colosseum about 15 minutes before it opens to buy the combination ticket for the ancient ruins. Take your time while touring the Colosseum, right now they have an awesome exhibit about the time between the Gladiators and the tourists. IMG_1092

Then walk around the Roman Forum and Palantine Hill, try to see it all. There is another great Rick Steve’s tour for this.

Capitoline Hill Museum

Great museum full of Roman art. Make sure to go into the basement to get a great overlook of the Roman Forum.

Victor Emmanuel Monument

Finish out your day with some great views from the top of the military monument.

 

And of course treat yourself to gelato at every opportunity.

Salt Lake City, Utah

IMG_2285Last summer I attended  the National Speech and Debate Tournament in Salt Lake City. We were quite a large group and therefore stayed in a large house we found on airbnb. I would recommend a house to any one traveling in a group ever. It allowed for a common space to play board games and watch the NBA Finals(#Believeland), as well as drove down the price of food as we were able to cook for ourselves. However, if you are traveling with a smaller party it may not be fiscally wise. I loved the mountains, which were a nice breath of novelty compared to the ever flat Ohio.

Attractions

Temple Square

It was extremely beneficial to be traveling with a Mormon for this section of the trip, but if you don’t have your own personal Mormon, definitely stop in one of the visitor centers on either end of the square. They serve as de facto museums and insights into the Mormon Religion. Forewarning: if you are not a Mormon, you cannot gain access to the spectacular Temple, however the outside is worth a visit.

Bell Canyon Reservoir and Waterfall Hike

It was tough, but it was worth it. If you’re not looking for a major time commitment the hike up to the reservoir is about 20 minutes, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult (this is coming from a girl who never exercises). The lake has great views of the mountains and of Salt Lake City. If you’re in for the long haul it’s another hour and a half up to the waterfall. It’s worth it. The hike down is just a difficult, maintaining balance and stepping down rocks, but you’re left feeling very accomplished.

East High

This is where they shot High School Musical. It looks just like it. Take a HSM jumping picture. (“Zac Efron was HERE!”). You might be able to find a way inside. The group that went the day before us saw the cafeteria and gym, but we were stuck on the outside. And of course you have to take that HSM jumping shot.

Olympic Park, Park City

A 40 minute drive outside of the city, but well worth it. Olympic park is host to a range of adventuresome activities, of which we opted for zip lining.  There is only one zip line for $20, which is less of a deal than other zip lining excursions I’ve done (Vermont and Mexico), but it was fun nonetheless. Perhaps the most interesting was watching the ski jump training into a pool. We stood and watched them do tricks into the pool for a significant amount of time before heading to downtown Park City for some lunch and shopping.

Food

The Red Iguana

Truly authentic early civilization Mexican food, and very good. They’re famous for their Mole, but don’t skip out on the guac!

Sapa Sushi

I’m not a huge fan of sushi, but the boys of our group were. I ordered one of the Lunch Special Bento Combo boxes and was very pleased. It included rice and a beef curry dish, salad and some California Rolls. The Cali Rolls made me feel like I was adventurously eating sushi when I really wasn’t ( and one of the boys ate most of them anyway). This place was near East High if you’re looking for lunch around there.

In-n-out

I don’t eat fast food ever. But In-n-out was good, especially at 1am fresh off an airplane. If you’re not from the West Coast, this is a must.

Las Vegas

Hotels

MGM Grand

It is HUGE. This is where we stayed and honestly you could spend the whole week here without getting bored ( not that I recommend it). During our stay we saw the Cirque du Soleil show: Ká and David Cooperfield.

Ká is supposedly the first Cirque du Soleil show with a story line, but it wasn’t really clear what it was. It’s just like all the other Cirque shows with a little more connectivity. That being said it was still really good. The stage is really impressive; it’s attached to a hydraulic press and moves up and down and horizontally and vertically. If you’re going to see it, definitely get there early as the preshow starts about 15 minutes before curtain.

David Cooperfield: So you might think, like I did, that all magic shows are heavily geared towards kids and are kitschy at best. Well this one is not. Note, I’m not saying kids won’t enjoy it just that adults will too. He veers away from the traditional bunny-in-hat and saw-women-in-half magic favoring more spectacle feats. I won’t give anything away but my jaw did drop more than once. If you fear audience engagement, this might not be for you as almost every act involved someone from the audience.

New York, New York

You should take time to walk around, both inside and outside, of New York, New York which is right across the strip from MGM Grand. We had a snack at the Nine Fine Irishmen after arriving and it felt very authentically Irish. So authentic it felt more like a Disney Epcot version. Shopping here is also very good, we spent time looking at Stupid Idiot and Swatch.

The Bellagio

You can’t go to Vegas without seeing the fountains. They go off every 15 minutes. I would try to see them more than once since there is more than one show/song. We saw them dance to some Italian opera and some Uptown Funk. If you have time I would also suggest going inside to look at the flower show in the center lobby.

Caesar’s Palace

This one stressed me out. All casinos have bright lights and loud sounds but this one was particularly excessive. But, we also saw this one last after a long day of traveling and I might have just reached my limit. We did have a nice dinner at the Trevi Restaurant with some really good Italian food. I would recommend the non-alcoholic Italian Soda cocktails(my sister and I got the blackberry one).

The Venetian

Another great Italian food place. We ate at the Mercato Della Pescheria, which was really good but also pretty expensive. I would recommend trying to eat during the height of happy hour times (4-6) to get some half price apps and drinks. I got the mushroom risotto and the artichoke appetizers( who knew artichokes could taste good?). Also hit up the ghirardelli store to get yourself some chocolate covered strawberries, and watch the impeccable technique of the guy making them. And if you really feel like treating yourself go down the escalator and get yourself some gelato.

Paris

We ate at the buffet and it was worth it. Its divided by region of France with food from each region. Make sure to save room, a lot of room, for dessert namely, creme brûlée and macaroons.

Hiking in the National Parks

Red Rock Canyon

If you want to go to both parks, go to this one first. You’ll have to pay for the car to get into the park but other than that it’s free. Definitely go to the visitor center first to get recommendations for which hike suits your abilities/time restraints/preferences best. We did the Calico Tanks hike which was pretty difficult but well worth it for those views!

Fire Valley

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The hikes are shorter here so you can do more than one. If you only have time to go to one park, choose this one since it is so unique with the red/orange/white rocks. Wear shows you don’t mind getting sandy as the trails are all sand.

Hoover Dam

Get here early! Shoot for a half hour before the park even opens, that way you can guarantee an early tour and you won’t be waiting around the visitor center all day. The tour takes you down into the dam and a guide tells you how it all works. Don’t skip the introductory video since it gives great context to the importance and magnitude of the Dam.

Don’t Bother

Downtown Vegas

Unless you really want to see Sin City, avoid downtown or old Vegas. It’s basically just a strip club and a couple of bars. It’s not worth the drive.

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