Jordan

We had yet another long weekend in Dubai so we decided to make the most of it and book a short weekend trip. The flight from Dubai to Amman is a short 3 hours so Jordan was the winner!
Not only have I always wanted to see if I could float in the Dead Sea but Jordan was also a place my father was planning to visit but unfortunately never got to before he passed away.

We had looked at the option of hiring a car but heard it was pretty normal to hire drivers there so we ending up going down that route. We were collected from Amman airport and taken to Petra which is about a 3 hour drive. We were warned the roads were rough… but they were seriously rough. The layers of tarceel were visible, multiple layers on top of one and another which made for a bumpy ride. Not to mention a lot of the roads didn’t have lanes..  need I say more.

We stayed at the Movenpick in Petra after a recommendation from a family member. It was right accross the road from the old city so I highly recommend it for convenience.
We set aside a whole day to explore the old city as we wanted to cover the entire thing and were keen to climb some hills for a view! It blows my mind that Petra was around in the 1st Century BC, the build date being unknown.

When you initially walk into Petra the surroundings are breathtaking. The rock is beautiful and you start to get a small taste of the carvings as you get closer in.


Once you are about 15 minutes in that is when the wow factor hits. You reach the treasury, at almost 40 metres high it sure is impressive. The detail of the carving is astonishing and on the left side you can see little steps that were obviously created in order to get to the top to carve. 

We continued on through and decided to do the Royal Tombs track. There are a lot of stairs but the view from the top is worth it and if you make it to the end you get a view of the treasury from the top. 
When spoke to another couple on the way back down from this walk and was told that the Monastery was a must see, this meant another hill and more stairs but we were up for the challenge.

The monastery carving popped out more than the treasurey did so it was my personal favourite. Measuring 47m wide by 48.3m high with an estimated build date being early 2nd century AD.

The monastery
Cave bar near the old city

Day 3 we were picked up by another driver who took us from Petra to the Dead Sea. It is common for resorts to allow you in for the day so we paid a fee to go to Movenpick Dead Sea for the day, our flight was in the evening so we had the whole day there which we felt was ample.

Movenpick Dead Sea
Salt on the rocks
Salt stuck to the rocks

Dead Sea Mud
Floating in the Dead Sea

Floating in the Dead Sea was the most incredible feeling! I was literally bouncing up and down in the water like on a trampoline. 

Wales

Today we took a 3 hour ferry from Ireland to Wales. The ferry was a large one but wasn’t quite as good as the other ones we had been on as this one had no spa. We played UNO with part of our tour group for most of the time and the rest of the time we just surfed the free wifi so at least time went fast.

Once in Wales we drove to a town that has the longest place name in Europe. We were told that apparently it no longer holds the title of being the longest place name in the world.

The name of the town was:

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

The English Translation means:

The church of Mary in the hollow of the white hazel near the fierce whirlpool and the church of tysilio by the red cave.

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After visiting this town it was off to Llangollen where we were staying for the night. On the way we found this!

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Once in Llangollen we went with another couple from our tour and caught a bus out to the Pontcysylte Aqueduct which is a world heritage site. The aqueduct was a large roman looking bridge that had both a footpath and a canal running over it, the canal meant that boats could also go over this bridge. The bridge had about a 100m drop to the river under it so it was very high up! We walked over the aqueduct as well as checking out Trevor basin & the underneath of the aqueduct.

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After the aqueduct we went up to catch the bus home and after waiting 45minutes we decided we may need to find an alternative way home as we had dinner at 6:30pm and it was already 5:30pm. We had started to walk back when I decided to head into this tiny pub and ask if they knew when the next bus was. Once in there the guys were looking it up for me and some of the locals were talking to me, one asked how long we had been waiting and when I told him he said and you have only just come into the pub.. That’s yanks for ya! I then proceeded to tell him I wasn’t a yank and I was actually from NZ. He said I didn’t have a full New Zealand accent. Anyway long story short we were told to head back to the bus stop as there was meant to be another bus coming in 5minutes, once back there waiting for the bus a car turned up & told us to get in, it ended up being the guy who had called me a yank at the pub (with his wife sober driving him). His wife got out and said right the smallest can get in the boot, which was of course me! So I rode in the boot all the way back to our hotel.

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The next day we made our way to Cardiff, the capital of Wales. This was the final night of our tour!

After checking out our sweet hotel room we ended up going down to the Cardiff Castle which was only about a 10 minute walk from where we were staying. On the way to the castle we found a market so we went inside and had a look, they were selling all the traditional stuff that markets do including baking. So it was the perfect place for me to try a welsh cake, a welsh cake is like a flat scone with sugar on top it was pretty tasty! They are either fruit or chocolate chip so of course I got the chocolate chip one. After the markets we headed to the castle, the castle had huge stone walls around it and it was known for its great views from the viewing platform inside.

 

We went inside the castle grounds and we started by walking on the top of the stone walls, we were able to walk on the wall around the grounds and then we went down into the wall. So inside the stone walls were old war bunkers so it was interesting learning the history of that. We also went inside some of the rooms of the castle and we were able to go up the watch tower which was in the centre of the grounds. The tower was surrounded by a mote and back in the day it was heavily guarded. The top platform provided amazing views of Cardiff city.

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After the Castle we headed to a Vodka bar called Revolution, it was cocktail hour so we headed in for a few. This bar was amazing, we had been to one in Edinburgh as well so we already knew they did great drinks. As you guessed they do all sorts of vodka including a range of vodka shots ranging from bubble gum flavour to grandpas old mint flavour and pretty much most flavours you can imagine. The rest of our evening consisted of going for a group dinner and then we headed back to the Vodka bar! We ended up getting rows of shots to try the different flavours of vodka which were amazing (although the cocktails were just as good!)

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After the vodka bar we headed to a kiwi bar that we had spotted earlier in the day, a bar that was literally called the kiwi bar and had a massive NZ flag. Inside they had lots of NZ photos on the wall and they had a ‘North Island’ Bar and a ‘South Island’ Bar which was pretty cool. Shaun did have one complaint though, for a kiwi bar they only had one NZ beer!

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The next day we fitted in some last minute sightseeing before starting our venture back to London!

Republic of Ireland

On our way to Galway we stopped at 2 locations. One being the Giants causeway and the other Londonderry.

There was a massive motorcycle race happening in the area which meant that a lot of the roads were closed due to the high speeds of the race (they go up to 260km) and it also explained the motorcycle crash yesterday. The road closures meant we had to drive along the coast which was about an hour longer however it was very scenic.

Once at giants causeway we had to walk down and around a hill to actually get to it. The Causeway is northern Ireland’s only Unesco World heritage sites. The ancients didn’t think it was a natural feature as the rocks are in hexagonal columns and are closely packed together. The best way to describe the giant causeway is to say it’s like a whole heap of stepping stones and other rock formations. After many scientific tests it was confirmed that the causeway is naturally made and they say it was created by a cooling lava flow about 60million years ago which caused cracks in the rocks which then created the causeway. We explored the creations and carefully stepped across all the rocks (they were very slippery), we could definitely see why people would assume it wasn’t made naturally!

 

Our next stop was Londonderry where we learnt that this town was where the rivalry between the Protestant and the Catholic began. We saw the wall which separated both communities, it was the same concept as the one in Belfast except it was made of stone and it wasn’t as high. We also saw a really cool bridge which was curved, sort of in the shape of an S. Londonderry was our lunch stop so we also managed to find an ice cream shop that did some unusual flavours such as daim bar, skittles and peanut butter & jelly.

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Once in Galway we checked into our hotel before heading into town for a walking tour. We had a few issues with our room we walked in and it stunk like smoke! It turns out the wing our room was in was a smokers wing up until a few weeks ago. Luckily they had another room available so we moved rooms. The hotel had a pool, spa, full gym and a bar/restaurant.

It was pouring with rain but we did a bit of a walking tour around the city to see the main sites. We saw the Spanish steps, Latin quarter, the main cathedral and the lynches castle.

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Lynch’s castle
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Spanish Arches
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Galway cathedral

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Traditional beef and Guinness stew in Galway – delicious!
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9:45pm at night in Galway. The sky is still light!

 

The next day in Galway we went to Aran Islands which was a 45min bus ride then a 40min Ferry ride. The islands were beautiful, there was a small main village on the island which was where the main Aran sweater retailers were. The island had a very rural feel, there were lots of green paddocks and stone fences (yes all there fences are stone!). We decided we would hire bikes as we wanted to go to the other side of the island which was an estimated 2-3 hour walk. We planned to go to the cliffs on the island which was supposedly a 30minute bike ride however it took us over an hour as there were a lot of hills! We also went to the wormhole which involved biking off road through some stoney tracks then walking for awhile across rocks. Unfortunately the water levels were to low to see the full effects of the wormhole but it was still good.

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The worm hole

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We made a quick visit to the cliffs of Moher, typical UK weather meant it was raining so we tried our best not to get blown away in the wind!

Killarney: When we arrived in Killarney it wasn’t raining but unfortunately once we left the hotel it was! We walked into town as it was close to our hotel and went for a wander around. We found an ice cream store called Murphys which was a local place that handmade their ice cream. They have been voted one of the best ice cream places in the world so we had to try it! They had a variety of flavours including alcoholic flavours like gin, Irish coffee and baileys which tasted exactly like the alcohol! The gin was a new flavour and the owner was saying that they put a bit to much gin in it so when he had a bowl of it he felt like he couldn’t drive home. I had baileys and chocolate which was the perfect mix.

 

After the ice cream shop we found an outlet mall so we went in and found a Nike outlet shop that was having a sale. Shaun got some compression gear and shorts, I got some trackpants and flexi trainers.

We found a small local pizza place for dinner and headed back to the hotel, we invited a few of the girls from the tour back to our room and I drunk a bottle of Italian wine I got in Italy with them.

Dublin Day 1: Today was an early start, we had breakfast at 6:45am and we were off to Dublin at 7:45am. Our first stop was in Cork to visit the blarney castle which is famous for the ‘kissing the blarney stone’. Both Shaun and I kissed the Blarney Stone and we looked around the castle & gardens before heading to our next stop.

 

Our next stop was a city called cashel which is famous for the rock of cashel. This was a lunch stop, I finally tried baked potatoes (jacket potato) after seeing them everywhere in the UK!

In the evening we had an Irish dinner and show. The show included a band playing/singing traditional Irish songs and traditional dancers from a variety of world renowned dancing groups. Our group all wore green to the show, Shaun and I didn’t really have the right green so we went to an Irish souvenir shop and bought some tshirts. My tshirt said ‘why walk when you can crawl, Ireland’ and Shaun’s shirt was a st Patricks day one. The show went for about 2 hours, the dancers were amazing especially the male dancers who did a bit of a competition against eachother. After the show we went to a bar that did $5 cocktails, the bar was actually a 3 level bar with the bottom being the normal pub, 2nd level was a cocktail bar then 3rd level was the rooftop terrace bar.

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Dublin Day 2: Today started with a walking tour of Dublin, we walked around alot of the main sights and were told a bit of history about them. The sights we saw included the Dublin spire, Christ church cathedral, Bank of Ireland, the Oconnell statue, old Dublin post office, Dublinia, temple bar, penny bridge, the memorial gardens for the Easter uprising, the wall of fame, Trinity College, Dublin Castle and the tree of gold.

 

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After our walking tour we were off to the Guinness Storehouse for a tour and tasting session. The storehouse was a 7 level building with the bar on the top floor which had 360 views of the city. We learnt about how Guinness is made, saw the history of the brand advertising and we even got taught how to pour the perfect pint (with a certificate to prove it). After pouring our own perfect pint we headed to the bar at the top level for amazing views of the city. Anita managed to do the perfect shamrock in her pint.

After our pint we headed into town again to find lunch and check out the shops. We found a pedestrian street that had shops each side and street performers all down it. There were some really talented street performers including several bands and there were some dancers as well. We explored the shops and had our first taste of bubble tea! For those of you who don’t know what bubble tea is it’s basically cold tea with your choice of flavour then they add bubble lollies to it or jellies. We both got fruit ones which were basically watery with fruit flavours and the jelly like lollies at the bottom but you can also get milk ones. It was a very strange concept but Shaun loved it (I think that was because it involved lollies).

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Today we left Glasgow and headed for Belfast. To get to Belfast we needed to drive a few hours across Scotland to the ferry terminal in Cairnryan. Unfortunately we got caught in traffic due to a motorcycle vs car accident we were literally only 4km away from the ferry terminal but we were stuck in traffic for over an hour and a half! A helicopter came and collected the driver of the motorcycle and when we drove past the scene we saw the motorbike was literally in half.

The actually ferry ride took 2 hours 15min but the ferry was fully equipped with wifi, a cinema, bars, restaurants, lounge areas, a spa with a jacuzzi and massage services, Xboxes, a duty free like shop and there were multiple outside decks. We found it cool taking photos of Scotland in the distance then awhile later taking photos of Ireland in the distance.

Once in Belfast we checked into our hotel and went out for a black cab tour, we only had a day here so wanted to maximize it. The tour was in a traditional black cab and it took us to both a Protestant community and a catholic community as well as showing us the wall between the two and telling us the history of the rivalry.

Many years ago Henry the 8th changed all the Catholic Churches to Protestant and declared war against the catholic. British soldiers would take land off the Catholics and eventually there were even anti Catholic laws so they couldn’t be teachers or other particular occupations, couldn’t live in certain cities etc.

We were told that the Protestant call themselves British and catholic call themselves Irish so the conflict wasn’t because of the religion it was because of the nationality.

There is a peace wall dividing the 2 community sides and this is longer, thicker and taller then the Berlin Wall. The wall was first built in 1969 (the concrete section), the second section was built on top in 1994 and the last was built in 2004. It’s only a temporary wall until both sides decide that they want the wall down but at 15 metres high and up to 1 metre thick it is definitely robust. There is gates that lead into each side and they are only open for certain hours of the day so at a specific time each night they get closed.

We were told that there is Cabs on each side of the wall then ones that do both sides. The taxis that are only for the one community side work a bit different, they have a different coloured label on the back for starters and you rent a seat on them rather then the whole taxi so they are like buses that just do the same route.

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England stops part 1

Today we met with our next Topdeck group to start our second tour. We started the day by heading to Oxford, the home of the famous university and also the location where some of the Harry Potter movies were filmed. In particular there is a dining hall in the Oxford University that was used as the dining hall in the Harry Potter movies. Oxford had some pretty incredible libraries, one was a massive dome that currently holds all the science books and another has over 9 million books and over 170km worth of shelving.

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Oxford university
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Oxford University
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Oxford University
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Massive university that holds all science books

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Harry Pottery filming location
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Harry Potter filming location
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Tower in Oxford
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Old buildings in Oxford
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Colourful taxis are allover the UK!

Our next stop was Stratford-upon-Avon which was the home of Shakespeare. We visited the house where Shakespeare was born, Nash house where Shakespeare’s granddaughter lived and where his house also used to be. We also visited his grave site. We had lunch in Statford, I had a Cornish pasty from a shop that claimed to have the best Cornish pasty in the world. We also found a milkshake place that had about a hundred flavours with the concept that you choose a flavour for example Kit Kat and they then literally blend a Kit Kat with ice cream to make your milkshake and then you can also add additional toppings for the top and/or bottom of your cup. As you can imagine Shaun loved this place.

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Shakespeare’s grave
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Old chain ferry
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The house where Shakespeare was born

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Nash house in Stratford The house where Shakespeare’s granddaughter lived with her husband. This is also the location where Shakespeare had a house with his wife but the house is no longer there.

Our final location for the day was York. We arrived there late afternoon so after checking into our accommodation we went for a walking tour. We saw the York Minster which was an incredibly large gothic looking church, the remains of the York castle, a street called shambles which has buildings leaning into each other and back in the day it had 26 butchers down the street and they would literally empty the blood into the streets for it to go into the drain pipes so this meant the street is a bit wonky as it would need to be to drain the blood.

That evening we went out for dinner and ordered white bait fritters… what came out was what looked like deep fried bait fish! They were the size of our fingers. After that we went and did the original ghost walk of York, the tour was pretty good it also had an element of humour.

 

 

London

Well we had an extremely busy few days in London! We only had 3 nights and 2 full days so that meant fitting in a lot.

As soon as we checked into our apartment we did a night time walk through Hyde Park and saw the sites throughout the park including the Princess Diana memorial fountain, the NZ memorial site, the queen Elizabeth statue and we walked all the way through to Buckingham palace. After this we went through to trafalgar square and went to M&M world. There was a lot of merchandise in M&M world and there was big tubes of different colours/kinds of M&M’s so you could make your own mixture. During the day you can also see M&M’s being made.

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Day 1: We went to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. There were hundreds and hundreds of people waiting for the changing of the guard so it was quite hard to find a spot where we could see it happening. With a bit of pushing that we learnt in Italy we eventually got pretty close to the gates (only one person back). The whole thing took about 45minutes and then as soon as it was over everyone piled on out.

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We continued walking afterwards and went to St James Park to try find some squirrels which we successfully found. Unfortunately we had no peanuts on us so we were determined to head back when we had peanuts. We then went and saw Big Ben and Westminster abbey ( missed seeing the queen by 20min as she had just been at the Westminster Abbey at an order of the bath for some knights) after taking photos we headed over the Thames river to walk along the water front towards the tower bridge, we passed the London eye and also saw the building that has been melting everything, as the building is concave and glass the sun has been reflecting off it and burning stuff! We also walked past a old warship HMS Belfast, which is a floating museum now, then it was onto the tower bridge and the Tower of London. We walked over the Tower bridge which was pretty cool and we walked around the Tower of London. We also got a few flavours of Ben and Jerrys Ice cream phish food, strawberry cheesecake that also had cookie chunks in it and cookie dough.. Sooo delicious.

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Day 2: Today we went to Harrods to see what it was all about and then we headed back to st James park with peanuts to feed the squirrels, we shook the bag of nuts and heaps came running up to us, some even climbed up us to get to the nuts. The squirrels would grab the nuts, eat some and then they would run away and bury them in the ground and then return for more. All up we spent about an hour feeding them before we heading to Oxford circus for shopping. Once at Oxford Street we found a 5 level top shop which included 2 massive levels for men, they even had a barber shop in the store! We also went to Primark.. I went a little crazy as everything is dirt cheap there.

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We also saw all the main central area at night including trafalger square, Piccadilly Circus and convent gardens. There was a really good beat boxer performing in Piccadilly Circus so that was entertaining. We even went all the way down to Waterloo bridge to see the London eye at night.

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After going to Barcelona we actually came back to London and squeezed in a few more days.

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Venice & Verona, Italy

We left from Rome to Venice and stopped in Verona on the way. Verona is the home of the famous Romeo and Juliet so we went and saw Juliet’s balcony. The arch way that leads to the area that Juliet’s balcony is has graffiti on both sides so people put love letters and notes etc on the walls. There is also a padlock area and a statue of Juliet, if you touch Juliet’s boob it’s meant to be good luck.

In Venice we were staying a bit on the outskirts so we only had one full day in the actual city part of Venice. We were amazed at how there were no cars or bikes allowed on the main island of Venice and that everything is transported by boat. To get onto the island we had to catch a train but on the way back we caught a Waterbus which was like a taxi boat. Everyone had boats there so to get around the streets you either drive your boat, catch a water taxi, catch a gondola or walk.

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I didn’t realise there were so many canals in Venice, they are basically like side streets. There is the grand canal and then there is little canals coming off it in all directions and they all loop into each other etc. The smell of the streets and the water was really bad but the scenery was beautiful. We did a gondola ride and we found it amazing, our ‘driver’ was nice and was telling us about the sights as we went along. One thing I noticed was that the drivers of the gondolas are very muscly as they are literally just paddling the boat full of people, no motors!

We went to a lace demonstration in a lace school which is one of the few left in venice. The lady told us there used to be about 6000 lace makers in Venice but now there is only about 500. We got shown some pieces including a giant doiley looking piece that took 7 lace makers 8 months to make and comes with a price tag of 1100 euros. We were just amazed at how it was all handmade and the lace was done with just a needle and cotton so you can imagine how long it all takes! I actually bought my garter from here and kept it hidden away until our wedding!

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We also went to a glass demonstration which had a guy moulding glass with a hot torch and iron tongs. Looking at the show room was amazing as they even had a glass guitar! The prices were pretty extreme though, for 1600 euros you could get yourself a small glass horse.

To celebrate our last day in Italy we decided to do some shopping. I found some Gucci sunglasses that I loved so Shaun got them for me, he bought some puma shoes and we bought a few famous Venice masks for a party we were attending that evening.

 

Shaun was very happen when we found 1 litre cans of beer (that Shaun ended up buying, he liked the fact he could say “I am just having 1 beer”).

 

 

We found some interesting things while in Venice…

Shop fronts with displays out on the canal.

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A police station that just had police boats.

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Not to mention the delicious food and drinks. Until next time Venice

Vatican City

On our free day in Rome we went to the Vatican City in the morning, how crazy is it that the Vatican is considered it’s own country?

After an early start we made it inside the Vatican.

We saw a variety of old vehicles used for the popes, the common theme being there always seemed to be a an area they could sit and be visible to the public.

 

We explored the gardens, St. Peter’s basilica and we even went to St. Peter’s square where we found the pope was talking!! So unexpectedly we actually saw pope Francis. We wanted to see the tombs of the old popes but there was to many people around since the pope was speaking so unfortunately we missed out on that.

Below is where we were standing when the Pope was speaking.

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The walls and ceilings inside the Vatican were incredible, so detailed and elegant.