WATCHING THE SUNSET FROM MOUNT BONNELL // AUSTIN , TX

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If you know, you know how I feel about sunsets and sunrise. There is something about that time of day that calms me and centers me and leaves me of awe. While I was preparing for the Austin trip - Mount Bonnell was one of the most recommended things to do - the opportunity to get some workout in and also watch the sunset was a no brainer. After an afternoon exploring congress street ; the state Capital building (which is one of my favorite architecture); the botanical garden - it was time to unwind for the day. In the summer months, the sunset is quite later in the day so I had to wait about an hour after completing the hike. Keep that in mind if you are headed this way and want to do a sunset hike.

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There are stairs to get you to the top but once you are up there, there are some rocky parts if you want to wander off the main viewing ledge. I did a silly thing and forgot to pack appropriate shoes, so I had to do in hike in sandal (don’t judge); I paid for it for days but the hike was still worth it. If hiking or sunset/sunrise (or both) is your thing then you should add this to you itinerary plus you will be rewarded with a great view of the hill country - which I thing is a pretty spectacular reward.

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WEEKEND GUIDE TO AUSTIN <> AUSTIN, TX

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Nine years, two weeks and a day  - that is how long I lived in Texas before making a proper trip to Austin. Only three and half hours from Dallas and filled with all the things that make my wanderlust heart sing - how is it that I lived in this state for nearly a decade and was only just exploring Austin - shame on me. I had such an incredible time in Austin and can say without hesitation -  it will make my top twenty list of favorite cities in the world.

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Getting There. Flights to Austin can be expensive. It is only four hours from Dallas but airfare from Dallas average $350. If you live in Texas, i recommend driving. If you don't live in Texas and are looking for ways to save on your trip - you can fly into Houston or Dallas and get a rental car to drive to Austin or hop on a mega bus. You can also use a private jet on wheels service line Vonlane if you departing from Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth or San Antonio.

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Getting Around. I had my car to get around but had a challenge finding parking especially in the downtown area. Make sure you have change on hand to pay for parking. If you are flying in and don’t want to rent a car; it is worth noting Austin has an odd relationship with Uber and Lyft (and there have been times they are not available in the city). Austin has several alternatives including Ride Austin and Fasten - be sure to download the app before you go. It works sort of like Uber and is quite reliable.

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The Best Time to Visit. Texas summers are legendary and although Austin is not like most Texas cities, it is still very hot in summer. Texas dwellers are used to it (mostly), but if you have flexibility visiting in spring or fall, that will be my preference. If you are heading this way in summer, make sure to stay hydrated.

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Where to Stay. Having a car means you can stay away from downtown and more expensive hotels. I stayed in a hotel about twenty-five minutes from the center and with a car, that was not inconvenient; parking, on the other hand, is another story. If you want to stay close to center - I recommend: Four seasons Austin; Aloft Austin Downtown; Doubletree university area.

What to do.The beauty of Austin is that it has something for everyone. If you are in search of a weekend of food or just nightlife - you will not be disappointed. If you prefer history or culture or the outdoors - again there is more than enough for you to see and do in Austin.

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  1. Visit the Texas State Capital. One of the most impressive capital you will ever visit.

  2. Hike up to Mount Bonnell for an incredible view of Lake Travis. Also, sunset views from Mount Bonnel are stunning

  3. Visit the Zilker Botanical garden - do not miss the Japanese garden

  4. Visit Bullock Texas State History Museum for a wealth of history.

  5. Take a stroll down Congress Avenue (South Congress) lined with shops and restaurants - I recommend Jo’s coffee (the coffee is excellent but their Tacos are even better); and Amy’s Ice cream. There are also some murals in this area to look out for - including the “I love you so much mural” by Jo’s Coffee and “Willie Nelson for President” mural.

  6. Visit the Umlauf Sculpture garden for quiet statues and water lilies. You might even catch a wedding while you are there.

  7. Explore the Hope Outdoor gallery for some of the best murals/street art you will ever see. If you can maneuver your way to the top, you will be rewarded with some amazing views of the city.

  8. Get your photograph taken by the “Greetings from Austin Mural.

  9. For the nightlife - clubs; bars; live music - head to the sixth street.

  10. Stop by the Austin Farmer’s market. Market opens at 9 a.m. on Saturday.

  11. If you have time, take a tour of the University of Texas camp

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Where to Eat. As much as Austin is known for culture and music, it is also a foodie town. A few spots I will recommend

  1. Franklin’s Bbq. Get there early and plan to wait up to 2.5 hours to place your order. Some days, the line is so long, the sold-out sign goes up before the restaurant opens. Plan accordingly.

  2. Blenders and Bowls for amazing acai bowls and smoothie blends. I recommend - The O.G.! bowl.

  3. Jo’s Coffee. One of the best coffee shops in Austin and from my Travels. It is the only place I will order an iced dirty chai because they have set the bar so high. They also serve amazing breakfast tacos.

  4. Hillside Farmacy. One of two of my favorite brunch spots in Austin. I love the ambiance and the weekend brunch menu delivers. I recommend the Green onion biscuit and gravy with a side of scrambled eggs.

  5. Paperboy. This is my second brunch spot recommendations. The stationary trailer is open till 2 p.m. I recommend the B.E.C (bacon,sunny egg, and pimento cheese on buttermilk bun).

  6. Voodoo Doughnut. The vegan glazed doughnut, always.

  7. Lucky Robot. Amazing traditional Japanese dishes

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Day Trips. If you have got more than a weekend to spare. Then you should consider taking a day trip to one of these locations

  1. Waco. Visit Magnolia | Tour Baylor Campus | Have the best ice cream at heritage creamery

  2. Hamilton Pool. All the waterfalls you want. I hear the pools have been around for thousands of years.

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A [LONG] WEEKEND GUIDE TO VISITING NEW YORK CITY

[All recommendations are in bold font and italicized]

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I have been spending part of summer in NYC for the last five years and it never gets old. Whether it is the 1st or the 20th visit, the city will always have something in store and old favorites will remain intriguing. On one of my visit to the city, I was joined by my brother who had never visited New York. I got a chance to play tour guide for the weekend. I arrived about 36 hours before he did so it was more of a long weekend for me. We had a packed itinerary but I will have it no other way when visiting NYC. Here is what we got up to during our time in the city.

WHERE TO STAY. I have been lucky to have friends who live in the city so I have not had to shell out for accommodation in NYC the last few years. When friends ask what neighborhood to stay in the city, I generally recommend Mid-Town ; Soho or Brooklyn. Some hotels I will recommend - 11 Howard ; NoMad ; Ace Hotel ; The time square hotel.

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GETTING AROUND. You can go the route of Uber and yellow cabs or you can save your pennies and use the tube and buses. Get a metrocard from any of the train stations; I recommend loading it $20 increments to make sure you don’t have a lot left on it when the weekend is over. When you can, go by foot.

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WHERE TO EAT. I wish I was one of those people who picks up groceries while on holiday because I will have a lot more money in my bank account now. However, I find that exploring the food scene in a new place is a significant part of the travel experience for me. During our time in the city we dined at:

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  1. Blue ribbon sushi bar and grill. The rooftop bar is excellent for drinks and I prefer the bar menu to the restaurant menu especially when it features the Duck meatballs soba noodle bowl.

  2. Bluestone Lane (and Cafe). There are multiple locations around the city including locations in the upper east side; west village; upper west side. Order the green baked eggs and the Aussie iced latte.

  3. Dough for Doughnuts the size of your face and incredibly delicious

  4. Shake Shack for the milkshakes and burgers. I have a preference for the chicken burger and malted peanut butter shake

  5. Two Hands Coffee. The Acai bowl; Avocado toast, always.

  6. Grimaldi’s Pizza Brooklyn. Cash only and the wait for a table can be as long as an hour.

  7. EggLoo. Hong Kong style waffle and ice cream spot. It is one of my favorite dessert spots in the city.

  8. Sweethaus cafe and Devicons coffee in Williamsburg

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WHERE TO EXPLORE. Because it was my brother’s first vist, we did the usual tourist thing you will expect, but there is no part of New York that gets old. We started out tour at Time Square, we arrived early to beat the crowd because it becomes a zoo as the day progresses. Then it was off to Bryant Park for stroll around and people watch before stopping by the historic New York Public Library. Next, we visited Grand central station. We are both fans of design and architecture and wanted to check out the whispering wall at Grand central station. There are a lot of secrets at Grand central - the most known is the whispering gallery located in front of the Oyster bar and restaurant. Basically, If two people stand at diagonal arches and whisper; they can hear each other’s voice. We had a lot of fun with that one.

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As fans of design, there are few buildings that enchant like the Flatiron building on fifth avenue, so we had to visit (and take hundreds of pictures). While we were in the area we visited Eataly - the Italian grocery store is a destination in itself; there is so much good food and I cannot stop recommending the Nutella bar. We had lunch at Shake Shack and got dessert from Dough before heading over to the Meatpacking district to kick off a trek across the highline. Before we kicked off the trek across the highline, we stopped Gansevoort market. The indoor market is housed in a building that dates back to the 1800s and home to some of the trendy NYC eateries. We started our trek across the from the Whitney Museum. The highline is a railway transformed into a public park with Public art; it runs from Gansevoort to 34th streets. We trekked the full length of it. I was sore for days. A tip if you choose to do this trek - wear comfortable shoes and carry water with you.

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Day two. Our day two itinerary was a bit disjointed but it worked - I advise reworking the order to suit your itinerary. We kicked off day two in SoHo. We stumbled on the bleeding hearts mural at Mott Street Soho on our way to breakfast at two hands coffee. Then it was off to catch the Staten Island ferry. The ferry is free and a great way to see Lady Liberty (without paying) and on the ferry back - you get a great view of the city (all without any cost to you). The round trip took about an hour; we arrived back in the city and made a stop at the 9-11 memorial on Greenwich street before starting on a trek across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklynn. We explored DUMBO and took all the required tourist picture with the Manhattan bridge in the background. We had a late lunch at Grimaldi’s before returning to the city on the metro stopping by in Soho for a spot of shopping and Laduree. Our trek across the Brooklyn Bridge was the perfect excuse to treat ourselves to dessert from Eggloo in Chinatown - possibly the best part of the trip. Every time we discuss NYC, we always come back to the Hong Kong waffle and ice cream from Eggloo. We stumbled on the “you are loved” mural in the process. We wrapped up the day exploring Central Park.

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Our final day in New York was very laid back and slow paced. We did not kick it off till late afternoon with a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City (“the MET”). The exhibit that year was the Manus × Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology exhibit - one of my all-time favorite MET exhibits. After visiting the exhibits, we made our way to the MET rooftop garden bar which offers an amazing view of the city and ended the evening strolling down the fifth avenue for window shopping and a stop by Radio city.

Like I said I arrived a day before my brother, during my day alone, I decided to explore life outside Manhattan. My destination was Williamsburg (which I cannot recommend enough); I spent most of our time on Bedford Avenue. We had coffee at Devicions Coffee and lunch at Sweet Haus cafe. More of our time in Williamsburg here.

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Lady Liberty
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Williamsburg
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Until next time NYC.


















A COMPLETE GUIDE TO SPENDING 36 HOURS IN BARCELONA <> BARCELONA , SPAIN

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Park Guell

My time in this city was too short and I cannot wait for an opportunity to do over. I spent about forty hours in Barcelona. It was just four days after the Paris attacks of 2015 and the city like the rest of Europe was on high alert. Getting off the aero bus airport shuttle bus at city center - it was impossible to miss the tribute to those who died in Paris and the armed military and police strolling the city (more so than they normally would).

I was very apprehensive to visit another city after having just being in France and Paris - everything in me wanted to run back home and never travel. Somehow, I talked myself into the trip and I am so glad I did. Barcelona reminded me that the best response to such events is not to hide away in fear; it was to step out and do more ; live more and refuse to let fear rule. Given my limited time in the city, I opted for exploring with a tour Company on my only full day in the city. The tour Company was Barcelona day tours and I thoroughly enjoyed the itinerary they put together. More of that later.

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The trip did not start off great. I arrived in city center and could not navigate myself to my hotel. The trek from city center to my hotel was supposed to be ten minutes; I spent an hour and half going round in circles. I eventually gave up and hailed a cab. I arrived at the hotel only to be informed that although I had confirmed booking and prepaid; there was no room for me. I was sent to a sister hotel which was not up to par the hotel I booked. The language barrier made my compliants futile. They apologised and offered me a decent bottle of Malbec. I am not sure if it was the frustration of the hotel situation or the events of the days leading up to my arrival in Barcelona; but I had a very good cry after checking into my room and just wanted to pull the plug on Barcelona. After pulling myself together, I talked myself into leaving my hotel to explore the area. I was staying in one of the popular neighborhoods in Barcelona - La Ramblas. There is quite a bit to do in La Ramblas, but it was my time a La Boqueria market that stuck with me. You can read my guide to La Ramblas here. The best way to explore the area is to stroll around the neighborhood - keep an eye out for the market ; Canalizes Fountain; Casa Bruno Cadres; Gran Teatre de Lice.

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After my time exploring La Ramblas - there was still a lot of day light left and although the tour I booked included a stop at La Sagrada La Familia; I could not wait to see the Gaudi masterpiece - I made a quick stiop there; there were no tickets for the day so I walked around the exterior before making my way to the other side of town to visit Camp Noud - possibly one of the most famed football statdiums in the world. My tour the next day kicked off at 7 a.m. so I called it a night after Camp Noud.

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DAY 2

I signed up for a tour with Barcelona day tours using my British Airways Avois points (the tour currently costs 99 euros). They managed to pack all the good things into one day. My tour package included tickets into Park Guell and a trip out to the Monastery in Montserrat.

The tour started at city center with a stop at one of Gaudi’s masterpeice - Casa Mila (La Pedrera). Our tour guide was incredibly knowleagable about the city and its history and also Gaudi and his works. We were constrained for time so we did not go into the building. Next, we visited the site of Sagrada Familia. It was still early but the lines were already forming. I was able to get closer to the structure than the day before and our guide pointed out some details on the structure I will have otherwise missed. We were off to a great start.

Casa Mila
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We continued the tour at Park Guell. Park Guell is one of Gaudi’s major works. It is a public park with gardens and architecture. It is said to be the project that captures all of Guadi’s architectural genius and innovative ideas. Because I am a Guadi fan girl - I have written a Park Guell post. We spent about an hour and half exploring the park before we began the journey up the the mountain to visit the Monastery at Montserraut.

We arrived at Montserraut around mid day just in time to hear La Escolania – the famous European boys’ choir perform and it was beautiful. We saw the spiritual black Madonna and spent a few hours exploring the grounds of the Monastery including the farmer’s market. This is a day trip I recommend if you are in Barcelona. All about my time at Montserraut here.

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We drove back to Barcelona to continue the tour. Back in Barcelona we made stops at Montjuic which offers an incredible view of the city and the port. Next stop, Plaza Espanya the most impressive plaza in Barcelona with its monumental fountain. The tour stops also included the national museum of art (Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya) which is an impressive building with great views. The tour did not include a visit inside. If you are a fan of architecture, you will be well satisfied seeing the exterior. The tour also made stops at Port Olympic ; the olympic rings; Passeig de Gracia and a stop to view Mount Tibidabo.

The tour ended at city center. I took the opportunity to walk around Plaza Catalunya - the famous plaza in city center before heading to dinner at La Boqueria.

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Plaza Espanya
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DAY 3

Last day in Barcelona. I had a flight back to Paris at noon and although I wanted to stop by one or two of Gaudi’s buildings; I chose to sleep in with only enough time for breakfast and one final stop at Plaza Catalunya for a bit of people watching before catching the bus to the airport. There is a shuttle bus from Plaza Catalunya.

Getting to and from the airport. There is a aero shuttle bus that runs from both Terminal 1 and 2 to city center. If you are staying in the La Ramblas area, the aero bus pick up and drop off is around the edge of Plaza de Catalunya (typically outside El Corte Ingles department stort). If you heading to the airport, make sure to get in the right bus for your terminal. It is about a half hour ordeal trying to get from T1 to T2 (and vice versa)

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ROME CITY GUIDE - WHERE TO STAY AND EAT | WHAT TO SEE AND DO

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Italy !

I have so much love for this Country. I will never tire of visiting it. We spent a week In Italy - mainly Rome and surrounding areas. We checked into a wonderful four star hotel in the heart of the city near Piazza del Popolo and Piazza di Spagna - Hotel Piranesi. We were in walking distance of lot of the monument and short 10 minute walk to the train station. It was the perfect location - . Here is everything about our trip - where we stayed ; ate ; explored and all the things we got to see including the day trips on our itinerary.

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DAY TRIPS FROM ROME: One week in Rome seemed like a lot of time to spend in one city (or so we thought); we added some day trips to the itinerary. Our first trip was on our second day in Italy - we took the train from Rome to Pisa via Florence. After spending the morning in Pisa, we returned to Florence for an incredible leisure afternoon. I will not recommend doing what we did because I think we did ourselves a disservice by rushing through it. If we had to do it over again - we may have picked one or the other (not both). You can catch up on our time at Pisa and Florence, here and here. We intended to go to Amalfi coast and Pompei for our second day trip but considering the weather and how much there was to see and do in Rome - it was unrealistic to try to make the trip. Instead, on the recommendation of locals - we visited Ostia and Tivoli in the same day. Due to the proximity of these cities to Rome -it was easy and hassle free to pull off in a day; Unlike our Pisa/Florence excursion a few days before. Ostia is an ancient city with building dating back to the period before Christ (mind blowing). We visited Tivoli mainly to visit Villa d’este and left wishing we spent a full day here. That is the thing with Italy - it leaves you wanting more - Always ! If you are interested in our time in Ostia and Tivoli - you can read the post here and here.

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GETTING AROUND: We arrived from different parts of europe about 8 p.m. hour. It was cheaper for us to split the fare for a taxi from the airport to our hotel. I don’t remember having any issues paying with a credit card, but I always recommend having cash on hand just in case. Once we arrived at our hotel, we mainly explored on foot and if transport was needed we opted for the trains. Because we lucked out with accomodations, we were within walking distance of most of the sights. For the few occassions we needed the trains, we found it easy to navigate and the ticketing system is similar to other European cities. Leaving Rome, we had enough time so we took the train to the airport instead - it was significantly cheaper than the taxi.

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WHERE WE ATE: On our first night we found a Pizza spot just around the corner from our hotel and we ate at least one meal there daily. The Pizza capricciosa from Brillo Restaurant at Hotel Valadier was delicious. The meal at Santa lucia is one of the best ever had and why this is one of my favorite restaurants in the world - get anything on the menu and owe me one forever. For coffee - Italians know their coffee and anywhere you find locals, you can bet your money it has decent coffee. I quite enjoyed the offering at our hotel. I also throughly enjoyed the coffee at Brassai cocktail bar. On our last night, we wanted something formal and fancy - our conceirge recommended Ristorante da Edy - the lamb dish was incredible. Gelato is a must in Rome and the offerings at Gelateria del Teatro was the best we had during our time in Rome.

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WHERE TO EXPLORE. Rome is a collection of the coolest neighborhoods and my best advise is to explore as much of it as possible. If I had to recommend neighborhoods to explore - I will recommend Monti ; Trastevere; Prati ; Pariola or Tridente. We stayed in the Tridente area. From our hotel, we were close to Spanish steps; Trevi fountain and one of the major shopping street - Via Condotti. There was an abundance of accomodation and restaurants.

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WHAT TO DO. It is hard to see everything in one visit and why should you. You always need an excuse to return to the city. Because our day trips required (very) early mornings and (very) late nights; the days we were in Rome - we took our time exploring. It was out first visit and we decided to visit the usual suspects - the spots that make you think Rome ! And unless it was more than thrirty minutes on foot, we walked everywhere.

We spent a day at the Vatican city including St peter’s square ; St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine chapel. You can read more about our time at the Vatican here. If you pace yourself, a visit to the Vatican can be a day trip in itsself.

Other days we walked around the city without a set path. One of the days, we started from our hotel to Trevi fountain and the Spanish steps. From the Spanish steps we decided to throw out the itinerary and just walk around the city and that was the best destination - we stumbled on some real Rome gems that were not on the itinerary like Galleria Borghese with its gorgeous classic antique art and baroque sculpture. We also found one of my favorite cathedrals to date - Basilica Di Sain Ambrogio E Carlo (on Via Del Corso). I mean just look at the ceiling work….

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Via De Corso is Rome’s main historic street and it cuts the length of the city from Piazza del Popolo to Piazza Venezia. The street has got a lot to see - all the (window) shopping and dining you want and need. We stayed in the Tridente area which is known as a high fashion and haute couture destination in the city - we had our fill of (window) shopping. The area stretches from Piazza di Spagna , Via Condotti till Piazza del Popolo.

Piazzas - Rome has got a lot of those and everyone has got something fancinating to see - in addition to Popolo ; Venezia and Spagna, we also visited Piazza Barberini and Piazza Navona.

During one of our wanderings around the city, we stumbled on Galleria Nazionale D’Arte Antica. The gallery is excellent but it was the architecture structure that got me. We could not leave Rome without visiting the Pantheon and the Colleseum. We arrived at the Collesum late afternoon and did not want to deal with the crowds. We walked around; took our pictures and headed to lunch before going in search of the wedding cake building. If you have been around these parts of a while - you know how I feel about architecture and I heard the wedding cake building was one to see in Rome. The building is actually called Altare della Patria or Monumento Nazionale and it was worth the trek to get to it.

On our last day, we visited the Roman forum and palatine hill - The Roman forum ruins gives a glimpse into the past and was one of the most memorable sights we saw during our time in Rome. We also explored the area of Pont San Angelo which has incredible views of Tiber river and Castel San Angelo.

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