Thursday, November 14, 2019

55 Things We Did In Europe

The obligatory 55 things to do in Europe having just been to Europe post. I've rated all the activities we did that seemed to stand out as "things" in their own right and left general exploring and eating as a score on the city itself, they're pretty close to being in the order that we did them. The first number on each of these is enjoyment and the second is value for money.

London 4 2

London was an okay city it had some of the best one-off things that we did(Hamilton and Alain Ducasse) but wasn't the nicest place to just wander around and definitely wasn't cheap.

Madame Tussaud's London 2 1

We thought there might be more of the history of Madame Tussaud's given it was the flagship but there was only really one small room. The wax models themselves are cool but not particularly exciting.

Tower of London 4 3

The tower of London has quite a lot in it. The crown jewels are impressive and the white tower is full of interesting stuff. I liked it for being almost exactly what I expected of a medieval fortress. 

Oxford 4 5(With an alumnus)

We went out to Oxford for a day. Luckily a friend of ours had just graduated and her alumni card allowed us into most of the colleges without having to pay. She was also an excellent tour guide who could share both facts about the history of the colleges and more recent gossip about which college had a feud with which. Without an alumnus, it would be both less entertaining and reasonably expensive as each college charges admission separately.

Highgate Cemetary 4 4

Highgate is a beautiful old cemetery that was allowed to fall into disrepair for many years. You have to go on a walking tour to get access to the most overgrown parts but it's totally worth it if you like wandering around weird old cemeteries. There are also some relatively famous graves like Marx and Douglas Adams if you're into that kind of thing.

Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester 5 4

We decided before the trip that we'd do one big splurge on a 3 star Michelin meal. We picked Alain Ducasse over Gordon Ramsey although they looked pretty similar in terms of what we would have likely ordered. At 125 pounds per head for 4 courses, it wasn't cheap but it also wasn't out of this world. The food and service were excellent with particular standouts being the beef and marrow, and the Rum Baba. They also snuck in so many little extras that we were too full to eat any of the little tarts they brought out at the end, which is apparently such a common occurrence they already had the takeaway bags with the tray.

Westminster Abbey 3 3

Westminster Abbey is an old church with a fairly large number of interesting sculptures and some nice tombs. If it had been the only church or set of old tombs we saw on the trip I'd probably rate it quite highly so if you're only going to London then do that. As it was it kind of blurred into all the other old churches and was by far the most uncomfortable to get around.

Shakespeare at the Globe 4 3

Shakespeare at the Globe was good. I think if the group that did the NZ pop-up globe hadn't done such a good job the last couple of years I would have been more impressed. 

We did get lucky in that the performance we went to had some deaf actors who signed their parts. Which was handled amazingly well so that everyone could understand what was going on regardless of whether they understood the signs.

Hamilton the Musical 5 5

Hamilton is a rap musical about Alexander Hamilton(one of the founding fathers of the US). It's excellent. 

British Museum 3 free

The British Museum has a lot of stuff in it. I'm not exactly sure what the logic is behind how they've organised said stuff.  Some of it is probably about due to be sent back where it came from(Greece has already built a whole museum in the hope that they can have some of the Parthenon back someday).

Paris 2 1

I didn't like Paris all that much. It was kind of dirty and frequently expensive. Luckily we had a day trip out to Giverny where we went to Monet's House and a cool chateau. As soon as we got out of the city it was clean, the people were friendly, and things stopped being quite as overpriced. So I came away with a feeling that I don't like Paris but the rest of the country seems nice.

Crazy Horse 3 3

Crazy horse is similar to the Moulin Rouge although slightly more naked. The show was well choreographed although dragged at times. Unexpectedly, my favourite act was two guys doing a comedic tap routine

Catacombs 4 4

The catacombs are a weird place, I knew a bit about the structures and history so was keen to explore. I hadn't realised before getting there that the famous bit with all the arranged bones was actually genuinely made as a tourist attraction a while after they'd started using the catacombs to store bodies. It's totally worth the visit although I would like a chance to see more of the areas that were used during wartime or some of the other bits that became popular for raves during the '80s.

The Louvre 4 4

The Louvre is huge and full of interesting things and tourists. We found some good advice that going on the late-night Wednesday would have fewer crowds and this was definitely true. We did most of the museum and then headed up to the Mona Lisa around 8:30 by which point the crowds had thoroughly thinned. My favourite part was Napoleon's stunning apartments.

Monet's House 4 4

Monet's House is beautiful and the garden is amazing. If you like Monet's art at all this is totally worth the visit. If you happen to be in a very small set of people who don't like Monet but do like gardens then it's probably still worth a visit.

Chateau la Roche Guyon 5 4

This Chateau has everything: an Orangerie, a medieval fortress on top of it, great views, a bunker from that time the German's took it over, some curiosities, far fewer tourists than the more famous sites, and a very surprising final couple of rooms.

Versailles 3 3

I was expecting more of Versaille but after the Louvre I had seen plenty of art and Napoleon's apartments had shown off the splendour. Versaille was also even more packed with tourists than the Louvre had been. The park itself is very nice and traipsing down to the Trianons is worth it as they give a better picture of how people actually lived. 

Eiffel Tower 4 3

The tower is worth doing once, make sure you buy a timed ticket so you don't have to join a long queue. We elected to take the elevator all the way to the top and then walk back down the stairs which let us look at the construction which was a good decision. 

Eat Cheese and Bread 4 5

Going to a supermarket to buy cheap cheeses and bread was good. This isn't a surprise but really it's one of the key things to do in Paris and is definitely worth it.

Lisbon 5 4

I didn't have many preconceptions about Lisbon but it ended up being my favourite city of the trip. It's warm, the people are friendly, the food is good, the food is cheap, and the city itself has plenty of interesting history.

Eat at the parks with kiosks 5 4

Every few blocks we would come across a park full of people. There were always tables of old dudes playing cards, kids playing, and a generally friendly atmosphere. There was also always a kiosk that sold a good range of reasonably priced food and drinks so you could just hang out under a tree and escape the heat.

Lisbon Science Museum and Botanical Gardens 5 4

I really liked this science museum, although I'm not sure everyone would. It was pretty simple but contained a lot of old stuff ranging from having kept the original labs and teaching areas from when it was an academy through to having kept a gruesome set of wax models of diseases. 

Lisbon Cemetary 3 free

The Lisbon Cemetary is a pretty fancy cemetery with interesting tombs and good views.

The Castelo de São Jorge 4 4

Lisbon has its own castle. That's pretty cool to start with but it's also on a site which has had habitation from at least the 8'th century BC. It's a lovely place to sit and watch the sun go down. Bring a bottle of wine and some snacks.

Banksy Exhibition 4 4

We happened to be in Lisbon when a rather good Banksy exhibition was on. I doubt it'll be there when anyone else goes but if you come across one I recommend checking it out.

Tile Museum 2 3

The tile museum has a lot of examples of the ceramic tile art that Lisbon is famous for. It's interesting but I felt more satisfaction wandering around the city and just seeing all the cool tiles on actual buildings than I did at the museum.

Grenada 3 4

Grenada is a nice city we may have missed some of it because our hotel was a little further from the centre than most of the other cities we stayed in. It was the only place where we bought the standard visitor card thing as it happened to match up well with the activities we wanted to do and covered some public transport.

The Alhambra 5 4

The Alhambra is an excellent palace with amazing carving throughout. Much of the work was done under the Nasrid Dynasty and the difference of approach made it really stand out against the various other old things we went and saw during the trip. MC Escher found the carving and tessellations in the design inspiring and it's pretty easy to see why.

Flamenco Show 3 3

We went to a flamenco show while we were there the ones that run regularly are pretty clearly set up to cater to tourists. The music was actually very good but the dancing was clearly more in the demonstration category than full performance. Probably worth doing if you don't think you'll be spending time somewhere where proper performances are likely to happen but not stunning.

Cathedral 3 3

The cathedral is very large and worth walking around. The audio tour is exceptionally tedious.

Royal Tomb 3 3

The royal tomb small and definitely worth looking at if you got the visitor card as it's included. The audio tour is truly astonishingly bad - for a tomb dedicated to some really interesting historical figures it spends most of the time telling you what every single painting is and overuses words "dynamism" in explaining them. 

Rome 4 4

Rome is actually quite a nice city to hang out in so long as you avoid the main tourist areas which are luckily quite small. The public transport was probably the most unreliable of anywhere we went though.

Trevi Fountain 3 Free

The Trevi fountain is overrun by tourists but is a very pretty fountain.

Spanish Steps 1 Free

The Spanish Steps were famous for being full of tourists. Unfortunately, it was recently made an offence to sit on the steps and multiple officers are making sure people keep moving. Although this has made them more functional as steps it's made them significantly less unique and interesting.

Pantheon 4 Free

The Pantheon is another of the very old places you can wander into for free(The version in Paris costs 9 euro). We were lucky in that it rained while were there and the big open hole in the centre of the roof letting rain in while every watched it come in was one of the more memorable moments of the trip.

Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary 5 Free

Rome has so many ruins that it spared one for a cat sanctuary in the middle of the city. If you like cats you should visit the cat sanctuary - hopefully, this is obvious.

Colosseum and Roman Forum 4 3

The Colosseum is old and huge and exactly what you expect. The Roman forum is a connected set of ruins in various states of repair. You should at least visit the forum to buy your ticket as it'll be much faster than buying at the Colosseum. However, Pompeii is far impressive that the forum when it comes to seeing a connected set of ruins so if you're making it out there it's probably fine to skip or just do a quick walkthrough of the forum.

Pompeii 5 4

Pompeii is amazing, I totally underestimated just how much of the city had survived. You can wander up and down streets and there's enough of the buildings left to be able to work out just from context which are shops and which are homes. It also has the oldest "beware of dog" sign.

Capuchin Museum 4 4

The Capuchin Museum starts with a good selection of interesting trinkets and bits of history of the order but the main reason everyone comes is the crypt. The crypt makes the ordering of bones in the french catacombs look amateurish. Apparently, a friar one day decided that the best way to make people contemplative was to take the bones of dead monks and arrange them to create art. It turns out that he was right.

Altare Della Patria 3 free

You'll go past the national monument a bunch of times in Rome and it's quite impressive. We went in expecting a particular museum that apparently closed a while ago and has been replaced with a rather strange exhibition to Italian patriotism.  

Non-Catholic Cemetary 3 4

The non-catholic cemetery has some interesting graves(Keats among others) and also quite a lot of cats.

Castel Sant Angelo 4 4

The Castel Sant Angelo was originally Hadrian's mausoleum before being used as an apartment by various popes. While most of the displays are pope focussed the various bits of history are still addressed and I found the combination fascinating.

Venice 4 3

Venice is a bit of a tourist trap. Definitely worth a visit but not a long one.

Wander around Venice 4 free

Visiting Venice could be almost entirely justified just to wander around for a day. The little alleyways, canals, and old buildings are all great to explore. Particularly if you've got the time to just head in a direction and see where you end up. There are obvious thoroughfares that are full of tourists and generic shops but it's pretty easy to nip down an alleyway and go in the same direction without having to deal without so many of the crowds.

Doge's Palace 5 4

Wow, so palace. I love the history it has and how the history of each room ties so close to the history of the Republic of Venice as one of the longest-running governments in history. It also connects directly through to the old prison over the bridge of sighs. The prison absolutely looks like the kind of thing you expect from a prison in a period drama including the graffiti scratched into the walls.  

Other Museums 4 4

You get a pass to another "three" museums with the Doge's Palace ticket. They're worthing visiting but they're all connected and the day we were there only one entrance was actually open so I'm of the opinion that it is actually "one" museum that you get free with the Doge's Palace.

Athens 4 4

Athens is in an interesting place, the effects of the financial crisis are clearly still being felt in terms of general maintenance and higher quantities of homeless people than we saw elsewhere in Europe. We weren't there for long enough to really get a feel for if things are getting better or not.

National Archeological Museum 5 4

The national Archeological museum is a good size and has some really old stuff. With plenty of Cycladic art and figures, it covers finds dating back to at least the 3rd millennium BC. 

Keramikos 4 4

Keramikos is one of several old things that you can get on a single ticket and then wander around Athens looking at. It has a good mixture of ruins and a surprising number of tortoises. A highlight was watching a father try and avoid explaining what was actually happening when his two young children ran up to him and told him two of the tortoises were "fighting".

Ancient Agora 4 4

The Agora is probably the best set of ruins in Athens that you don't have to climb a hill to get to. It's also on the way to the Acropolis so you may as well stop by.

Hadrian's Library 3 3

Hadrian's library is also on the ticket that gets into the other places, it's a bit smaller and you could probably just glance over the fence as you walk past.

Acropolis 5 4

The Acropolis is huge and includes multiple old things that would justify a visit all by themselves. The Parthenon at the top, as well as the odeon and the theatre of Dionysus around the base, are all worth the trip to see.

Acropolis Museum 3 3

The Acropolis Museum has a few good items and an excellent sublevel display of excavated buildings. Unfortunately, its main display is missing. The entire top floor is dedicated to the sculptures from the Parthenon, which are still in the British Museum.

Berlin 3 3

We had limited time in Berlin and it was a shock to be back in a city with cold weather. This was the only place I really bought anything on the trip as I went to Uniqlo and bought a very warm sweater. I am however a convert to currywurst and the general act of shaking curry powder over various foods.

Berlin Walking Tour 3 4

We did a Sandeman's walking tour of Berlin. It was a solid way to walk around and see a good range of buildings with some context as to their history. If we'd had more time in Berlin it would probably have seeded the things we would have chosen to do on the following days.

Sachsenhausen 4 4

Our other day in Berlin we went out to Sachsenhausen which was a concentration camp under the Nazi and then the Soviets. While it isn't the most famous of the camps it was large and being close to Berlin gives it a key place in history as a training camp and original home of many political prisoners. 

Amsterdam 3 3 

Amsterdam should probably be a four but I'm docking it a point for raining on us and being generally cold. The city is walkable and pleasant. It doesn't take too long to stop noticing the weed smell.

Amsterdam Walking Tour 4 4

We did a Sandeman's walking tour in Amsterdam as well, it was well worth it as everything is tightly packed but confusingly laid so getting a bit of guidance at the start made getting around easier. 

Anne Frank House 5 4

The Anne Frank house is absolutely worth walking around and has a great audio tour. Do be aware that even with timed tickets they absolutely max out capacity so you're looking at a slow shuffle around the building.

Micropia 2 3

Micropia is a museum of microbes, it has a few interesting exhibits but is quite small. There are definitely bigger science museums where it would count as a single exhibition in a bigger context.

Weed Shop 4 4

Go to Amsterdam, buy some weed. I was particularly interested in this given the prospect of a cannabis referendum in New Zealand next year, overall the environment was friendly and prices were low. The main thing I saw the security type guy doing was reminding people that they couldn't use tobacco in the shop.

Red Light District 3 3

The red light district is something that I find interesting to walk through but also weirdly anachronistic. Once upon a time, Amsterdam was viewed as a moral cesspit due to its existence whereas now it's just a bit odd really. 

Body Worlds Exhibit 2 2

Body Worlds do a rather extensive set of bits of the human body to examine, it's interesting but I wasn't amazed. Probably good for kids.

Van Gogh Museum 3 2

The Van Gogh museum was okay. If we'd gone at the start of the trip I might have liked it more but we'd seen a lot of art at this point. I also preferred both Monet and Banksy when it came to single artist related activities.

Best Old Thing - Pompeii

Best Activity - Hamilton

Best Meal - Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester

Best City - Lisbon