From guest writer Mark (an Indy native)~ Headed to Indianapolis for the Indy 500 or a conference? Looking for something else to do besides sit through another boring PowerPoint presentation? If you’re looking for other activities in town you’re in luck because there are many unique things to do in Indianapolis.

Newfields: Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gardens and More

Indianapolis Museum of Art, LOVE statue. Photo courtesy of Visit Indyphoto courtesy of Visit Indy

If you’re looking for a some culture, you can find a wide array of it at Newfields. This vast complex contains several terrific points of interest. The Indianapolis Museum of Art boasts a collection that spans the world and millennia and includes over 100 acres of nature park and estate gardens. The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres is exactly what the name implies and Oldfields  Lilly House & Gardens is a historic 26-acre estate filled with gardens, fountains & statuary. You can spend a whole afternoon wandering the grounds without ever making it inside the museum.

Mark’s tip: Grab some barbecue from Hank’s Smoked Brisket down the road on MLK Drive and have an impromptu picnic. Best part is that general admission to the museum and the grounds is free.

See the “reel” life Hoosiers at Butler University’s Hinkle Fieldhouse

Hinkle Field House, Butler Universityphoto courtesy of Mark from The Time to Go is Now

Butler University is located near the Indianapolis Museum of Art and is a great place to wander around. Stop by the Holcomb Observatory & Planetarium and take a gander through their telescope. (Yes, we still say “gander” in Indiana 😉)

Go see a basketball game at the historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, home of the Butler University Bulldogs, decades of Indiana high school basketball history and the climactic scene of the movie Hoosiers. Hinkle Fieldhouse is to basketball what Lambeau Field is to football and Fenway Park is to baseball. Hyperbole? Not to Hoosier basketball fans.

Try a Pork Tenderloin Sandwich

Pork Tenderloin sandwich, Things to do in Indianapolisphoto courtesy of Mark from The Time to Go is Now

The word “tenderloin” is usually associated with beef except in Indiana where it refers to pork. (Okay, and San Francisco but that’s not food related.) Indiana has been one of the top pork producing states since the 19th-Century. While other places took their pork to the smoker, we took ours to the fryer. The Indiana pork tenderloin sandwich features a cut of pork tenderloin pounded thin, breaded and fried (think schnitzel) and then served on a bun. Darn near every restaurant, diner and bar has one on the menu but not all are created equal. I’m not offering any favorites because I’m not starting an argument here, but a Google search will help you find one.

Gangsters and Presidents at Crown Hill Cemetery

Crow Hill Cemetery-Things to do in Indianapolisphoto courtesy of Mark from The Time to Go is Now

Crown Hill Cemetery is one of the largest cemeteries in the United States. Its elevated vantage point offers great views of downtown. The wooded grounds create a park-like setting to stroll or ride a bike on the twenty miles of roads. It is home to a who’s who of Indiana history including president Benjamin Harrison, Col. Eli Lilly (founder of the pharmaceutical company that bears his name), and Depression-era gangster John Dillinger.

Race Over to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Indy 500 Trophy, photo courtesy Visit Indy

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a monument to fast cars. If you’ve never been to a big time race the Indianapolis 500 is the one to attend. It’s held every year over Memorial Day weekend, and tickets are available and affordable.

If you can’t make it to race weekend, check out the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, which is open all year. There you can see race cars from open-wheeled racing’s glory days when speed, safety and sanity were pushed to—and in many cases beyond—the limit. (photo courtesy of  Visit Indy)

Take a Hike at White River State Park & Canal Walk

White River Canal Park, Things to do in Indianapolisphoto courtesy of Visit Indy

On the west side of downtown Indianapolis, White River State Park offers several attractions in a very small area, many of which are connected via the strollable Canal Walk. For history and culture, check out The Indiana State MuseumThe Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art and the Indiana Historical Society; all are accessible via the Canal Walk.

For more active pursuits, cross the pedestrian bridge over White River and visit the Indianapolis Zoo and White River Gardens. Catch an Indianapolis Indians game at Victory Field, a wonderful stadium to watch AAA baseball. Interested in music? The Farm Bureau Lawn at White River Park hosts a summer concert series. Traveling on the cheap? Pack a picnic and find a spot outside. You may not see the band, but you’ll hear the whole show.

Beer Here

Black Acre Brew Pub-Things to do in Indianapolisphoto courtesy of Visit Indy

Indiana was once home to a thriving brewery industry (we are in the German Triangle after all) only to have it virtually wiped out by Prohibition. In the last twenty years Indianapolis has gone from having a couple of dedicated brew pubs to several brewers putting out many lines of quality beers. Sun King, Black Acre, Flat 12, Fountain Square, Bier, Broad Ripple Brewpub, Brugge Brasserie, Oaken Barrel, Triton, Planetary there are more, but that’s a good start.

Tour Monument Circle and War Memorials

Things to do in Indianapolis-War memorials and Monument Circle

Like a smaller version of Washington, D.C., Indianapolis loves its war memorials. The Soldiers & Sailors Monument on Monument Circle is right in the middle of the original city plan.  Dedicated in 1902 the monument houses a Civil War museum and observation desk that offers a nice view of downtown. If you’re feeling energetic you can climb the 331 stairs for free or pay $2.00 to take the elevator. A short walk north will take you to the Indiana World War Memorial Plaza and the American Legion Mall featuring more walkable green spaces with parks, fountains, monuments and memorials. photo courtesy of Visit Indy

Bike the Indianapolis Cultural Trail

photo courtesy of Visit Indy

Six years in the works, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail is a network of bicycle and pedestrian paths that connect the various cultural districts of downtown Indianapolis allowing for quick and safe movement around the downtown area. It also features several installations of public art. Rent a bike for the day and explore downtown. Venture out to the Massachusetts Avenue & Fountain Square cultural districts. There are more than enough restaurants, bars and shops to keep you occupied.

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The American city of Indianapolis offers many interesting sight beyond the famous auto race.

Mark and Julie-The Time to Go is NowGuest writer
 Mark and his girlfriend Julie quit their jobs at the end of 2013 and embarked on a 12 month round-the-world backpacking trip. His blog, The Time to Go Is Now, documents their trip, and travels beyond.




Changes in Longitude Larissa & Michael Milne at Arctic Circle

Larissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our travel newsletter.

We’re experienced world travelers but that doesn’t mean we don’t occasionally make stupid mistakes. From flushing frogs down the toilet to being mistaken for a dominatrix, here are our top ten travel mistakes, so far: Read more

Christmas in New Zealand and Australia comes in the summertime so it was a bit different for us, northerners raised with visions of a “White Christmas.” In Auckland, we stood on the sidewalk waiting for the Santa Parade and took in the crowd around us; it was the usual mix of families, old-timers and teens traveling in packs. One thing was different though for a December activity, almost everyone was wearing t-shirts and shorts under the watchful gaze of palm trees and sunny blue skies.

Christmas in New Zealand Santa in Auckland parade

It’s beginning to look a lot like . . . wait, what?

Due to the balmy weather Christmas Day traditions include firing up some shrimp on the “barbie”, sailing on the turquoise tinged waters of Waitemata harbor or playing a game of cricket in the park. That may not be much different from warm places in America like Miami or San Diego; but we doubt that the highlight of those cities’ Christmas Parades is a giant balloon of a Kiwi bird wearing a Santa Claus hat.

Christmas in New Zealand Kiwi bird Auckland parade

A Christmas tradition in New Zealand, the kiwi bird.

A “White Christmas” even in summer

We joined the crowd in cheering on the floats featuring beach and surfing scenes. But when it came time for the big guy, Santa himself, the palm trees were just a memory. His float was covered in white with “snow” covered trees and a castle. Even Down Under, the dream of a White Christmas lives on.

Many smaller towns host Santa Parades as well. Dunedin on the South Island featured that old Christmas chestnut, Snoopy and longtime nemesis the Red Baron engaged in a blocks long dogfight down the main drag. We’re not sure what it had to do with Christmas but the kids seemed to eat it up.

Run, Santa, Run

Christmas in New Zealand Santa run for charity

Santas and surfers come together in New Zealand.

A new event is the Santa Run to raise money for the KidsCan charity. The race takes place in seven cities throughout New Zealand. For a donation each runner is given a Santa suit to wear. Race veterans often show up in homemade outfits as elves or reindeer. The run in Dunedin takes place on the beach with the starting line just across from the local pub. It’s easy to find affordable hotels in Dunedin close by. There was clearly a party atmosphere but fortunately the race, if it can be called that, was mercifully short so casualties were few.

Dunedin santa run on beach

Cue the “Chariots of Fire” music. 

New Zealanders also include customs of the first settlers of this land, the Maori. Christmas cards and decorations bear Maori motifs while many dig into a Maori treat called a hangi. Similar to a Hawaiian luau, hot stones are placed in a hole in the ground and then lamb, potatoes and whatever else strikes the chef’s fancy are placed on top of the stones to bake. A warm Meri Kirihimete is wished: that’s Maori for Merry Christmas. Not so different from the Hawaiian Mele Kalikimaka.

Maori float Auckland Christmas parade

A tribute to the original island people, the Maori.

Christmas in Australia

Across the Tasman Sea the Aussies have put a unique spin on Santa’s flight path. Apparently it’s too hot in the Outback for reindeer, so Santa is propelled by six white “boomers,” also known as kangaroos. One bush country resident, innkeeper Deb Wright, said, “It’s so hot that we usually have cold meats and salads for the main meal and much beer is also consumed due to the delirious heat.”  Despite the weather, stores are decorated with snow-filled winter scenes.

Queen Victoria building Sydney Christmas tree

The Christmas tree at the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney is the only one we’ve seen that visitors can walk under.

Christchurch recovers

The holiday season was a poignant time in Christchurch last year. The city suffered a devastating earthquake that destroyed the downtown and killed 181 people. There was talk of cancelling the annual Santa Parade due to the traditional downtown parade route being closed off for safety reasons. However, the parade was rerouted and went on.

Over 100,000 people, one-quarter of the town’s population, turned out for the event which provided a much need lift to local spirits. We spoke with one woman, a nurse who was preparing a patient for surgery at St. George’s hospital when the quake struck. “It’s certainly been a challenging year,” she said. “But we’ll survive and rise above it.”

Christchurch Angel Gabriel

In Christchurch a message of hope for the New Year.

The international symbol of the devastation wrought on the city was the heavily damaged Christchurch Cathedral. At Christmastime last year three larger-than-life sculptures of angels were hung from the rafters. However, due to the quake the building was rendered unsafe and will eventually be demolished. This year the angels are being suspended from construction cranes that are assisting in the rebuilding. The angels represent consolation, comfort and hope. What fitting symbols to watch over the residents of Christchurch during this season of birth and renewal.

Santa Ballantynes Christchurch New Zealand

You’re never too old to pose with Santa Claus, here at Ballantynes in Christchurch.

And if you are planning to visit New Zealand, don’t make the same mistake we did and make sure you have a roundtrip ticket. We almost got deported flying to New Zealand on a one-way ticket.

We’ve been traveling around the world as global nomads since 2011. To receive free monthly updates and valuable travel tips from us sign up here.

Lake Como in northern Italy is one of the most gorgeous places in the world; which helps explain why celebrities like actor George Clooney live in villas overlooking its aquamarine waters with the Alps forming a snow-capped backdrop. The lake itself is shaped like an upside-down “Y” with its namesake town of Como located at its southwestern tip.

Como mountains in distance
Como, with its dazzling waterfront and medieval buildings, provides a convenient year-round base for tourism in this enchanting corner of Italy. Its location at the base of Mount Brunate provides an excellent jumping off point for touring other sights along Lake Como’s coast.
Como Italy

Como is located only 30 miles from Milan, making it an accessible destination for visitors. Due to low airfares on Emirates, we’ve used Milan as a gateway city to Europe lately, so a visit to Lake Como is an easy trip from destinations all over the world. Como boasts a restored medieval section that provides charm, shopping and restaurants.

Como piazza

An interesting spot in Como for science lovers is the Tempio Voltiano, a museum devoted to local boy made good Alessandro Volta. If that last name sounds familiar, it’s because the electrical scientist was an early pioneer with batteries and gave us the terms “volts” and “voltage” to  measure electrical power.

38799796 - the volta temple in como town, italy,

One of the best choices for lodging in Como is the Park Hotel Meublè. The 3-star hotel is conveniently located only 200 meters from Lake Como. While you’re staying there, the hotel can arrange a unique tour of Lake Como–viewing  it from above via a seaplane excursion. Maybe you’ll even wave to Mr. Clooney out on his veranda.
Park Hotel Meuble Como Italy
Any way you experience it, Lake Como is a spectacular destination for visitors. We may be a bit biased here, but since it’s also in Italy, the Lake Como region offers some of the best food in the world making it an ideal place for a holiday.

Greece is known for its sun-drenched, historically significant islands. But perhaps the most famous and popular is the large island of Crete, a varied, culturally captivating destination that in ancient Greek mythology was the birthplace of Zeus. Book a holiday here and you’ll find so much to see and do — here are six fantastic activities to get you started;

Visit the Heraklion Archaeological Museum

Only recently reopened after a long renovation period, the Heraklion Archaeological Museum is one of Crete’s most popular tourist attractions. The 1930s building is home to thousands of exhibits, some of which date back to the Neolithic period, and is a key center for Greek antiquities.

Wander through Knossos

The Palace of Knossos is 3 miles south of Heraklion. It’s the largest Bronze Age site on Crete, and may be the oldest city in Europe. Excavated in the 1870s, the site is made up of a ruined complex of rooms and courtyards and was the setting for the Minotaur myth. It’s particularly popular with tourists so for the best (and quietest) experience, it’s advised that you visit before 10 a.m or later in the afternoon after many of the tourists have departed.

Visiting Crete

Photo by Skuds

Take a boat to Spinalonga

The intriguing island of Spinalonga was once part of Crete. But during the Venetian occupation of the island, Spinalonga was separated from the mainland for defensive reasons. A large fort was built there, and the island later became home to a leper colony, which only closed in the 1950s. If you’re planning on visiting this intriguing spot, head to Elounda or Agios Nikolaos where you can take a ferry to the island.

Stroll through Chania’s Venetian Harbour

There is plenty to see and do in the Cretan city of Chania, but one thing you shouldn’t miss is a tour of the Venetian Harbour. The narrow lanes and pastel-fronted buildings make for an elegant and inviting atmosphere, and the nearby historic Venetian lighthouse is a definite must-see.

Sunbathe on Elafonisi

Elafonisi is another tiny island off the coast of Crete, but unlike Spinalonga, Elafonisi is accessible by foot. The tip of the island is connected to Crete by a sandbar, and the warm shallow waters and gorgeous golden sands make it a little slice of sunny paradise.

sunbathing in Crete

Photo by Franco Vannini

Marvel at Samaria Gorge

Samaria Gorge is a biosphere reserve and a national park. It’s located in southwest Crete and is famous for its 10 mile hiking trail. The area is also home to some unique wildlife species, including the endangered kri-kri goat. A trip to Samaria Gorge is definitely a must if you’re into your outdoorsy activities, but just don’t forget to bring sturdy walking boots.

The beauty of a trip to this wonderful island is that you can adapt your stay perfectly to your budget, timings and interests. Crete holidays are popular for a reason!

The Venetian resort town of Bibione is a beautiful destination for a beach getaway. The gold sand beach hugs the crystal clear waters of the upper Adriatic Sea, providing a lush backdrop for a sun and surf vacation. The beach has been awarded the coveted “Blue Flag,” an award given to beaches that are managed with great care for the environment.

One of the things that impresses visitors to Bibione is just how much beach there is, stretching over six miles with a depth of almost a quarter-mile in spots, providing plenty of space for frolicking in the sand, sunbathing and recreational activities. Families love that their children can play in the abundant sand, always finding an activity with newfound friends.

During the summer the water temperature reaches 77 degrees Fahrenheit (around 25 degrees Celsius) creating a perfect swimming environment. For landlubbers there are hiking and cycling paths (20 miles worth) along the beach.

Venice is only an hour from Bibione. Bibione is conveniently located only 35 miles from one of the world’s most magical cities: Venice, just one hour by train. For those days when you want to add a little culture to your beach vacation, head over there to stroll its romantic byways and canals and perhaps take a sunset gondola ride with the sun casting its golden rays over the Grand Canal.

The Pineda ApartHotel in Bibione, Italy

An excursion just around the corner from Bibione is the Lagoon at the Valle Vecchia (Old Valley). Venice is famous for its lagoon but Bibione also offers this treat with nature. Coastal pinelands abound with more than 150 bird species, making it a birdwatcher’s paradise and providing a tranquil idyll during your stay in Bibione.


One of the best options for staying in Bibione is the Pineda ApartHotel, which is located just a block and a half from the beach. When we travel we like stay in places with a kitchenette. It’s easier to prepare some of our own meals and also provides a better value while in vacation. The apartment units at the Pineda ApartHotel offer kitchenettes along with terraces to catch sea breezes. A short stroll away is the Bibione Thermae, where massages and beauty treatments turn your getaway into a spa holiday.

Pineda ApartHotel in Bibione, Italy

Overall Bibione provides the ideal combination of sun, sand, culture, nature and sports activities.

This post has been provided by the Pineda ApartHotel.

Tet, the Lunar New Year in Vietnam, is the most important holiday of the year. For me it is also the prettiest. There are displays of blossoms throughout the city, along with fireworks displays on New Year’s Eve. In Ho Chi Minh City the crowning glory of events is the Tet Flower Festival right in the center of town.

Tet Flower Festival-Ho Chi Minh City

Every year during Tet, Nguyen Hue, the main street in the central business district is transformed for one week into Nguyen Hue Flower Street. During this time traffic is banned on the wide boulevard and the central islands are decorated with magnificent floral displays. Throughout the week Vietnamese of all ages stroll through the impromptu park snapping photos and having fun.

Nguyen Hue Flower Street-Ho Chi Minh City

“Eternal Spring” was the theme of the festival for 2012, also the Year of the Dragon. All along Nguyen Hue the eponymous dragon was displayed, in both floral and paper mache versions.Nguyen Hue Flower Street-Ho Chi Minh City-Dragon

At the head of Nguyen Flower Street the statue of a benevolent “Uncle Ho” floating among lotus blossoms presides over the festival.Nguyen Hue Flower Street- Uncle Ho

Family photos are a popular souvenir with the beautiful floral displays as a background. Here one of the official event photographers organizes a family for their portrait by the dragons.Nguyen Hue Flower Street-Ho Chi Minh City-Family

Hotels enter a competition for best flower arrangement, interpreting the theme of “Eternal Spring”. This entry from the New World Saigon Hotel features anthuriums, pussy willow, orchids, roses, lilies and an unusual accent of winter cabbage.Nguyen Hue Flower Street-Ho Chi Minh City- Hotel Arrangement

Notice how the dad in this family is wearing a “Florida” shirt while his family mugs for the camera. . .Nguyen Hue Flower Street, Ho Chi Minh City-family with Florida shirt

Of course, a big event like this brings out all the celebrities, including this uber-chic little miss in her sassy pink dress!Nguyen Hue Flower Street-Ho Chi Minh City-Sassy little girl

For 2013 the Nguyen Hue Flower Street Festival will run from February 11-16, celebrating the Year of the Snake.  Anyone who will be in Vietnam on those dates should plan to visit Ho Chi Minh City to see this beautiful exhibit. And as the Vietnamese say:

Chúc mừng năm mới! (Happy New Year)

Nguyen Hue Flower Street-Ho Chi Minh City-pretty little girls

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A museum dedicated to the Man in Black opened in Nashville, Tennessee. The Johnny Cash Museum, a block off the fabled Broadway music district, almost brings the man back to life through artful displays of recordings, artifacts and memories.

The first display is a series of pylons devoted to each decade of Johnny Cash’s musical career; an imbedded iPad allows visitors to select four different music videos for each decade, allowing one to watch Cash’s career progression from up-and-coming star to American legend.

johnny cash museum nashville interior

One poignant video in his last decade highlights one of his last performances with his wife, June Carter Cash. It’s clear that they both are ailing, but once the music starts they each start swaying to the beat and belting out the song, revealing their decades of professionalism.

Interesting tidbits of Cash’s life are shared. Among them, in the 1950s he was a radio operator monitoring Soviet military traffic for the United States Air Force while stationed in Germany, and was the first Westerner to relay the news of Stalin’s death.

Cash’s deeply religious feelings are on display including a copy of his personal Bible and a documentary film he recorded in Israel. Snippets of this film are shown in a 20-seat theater along with clips from his brief movie career.

johnny cash museum nashville guitar

The museum accesses a treasure trove of Cash’s personal memorabilia, including outfits he wore on stage, guitars and notes from his songwriting. He is the only person to be enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Country Music Hall of Fame and Songwriting Hall of Fame.

On September 12, 2013 Johnny Cash will have been gone for ten years; but at the Johnny Cash Museum in Nashville, the Man in Black still looms larger than life.

Visiting the Johnny Cash Museum

Address: 119 Third Avenue South, Nashville, Tennessee 37201

Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

Website: For further information go to the Johnny Cash Museum.

Time to allow: About an hour.

Who should go? Lovers of country music, roots music, rock and roll and Americana.

Is it worth it? At $17 for most adults it’s not cheap, but that’s the going rate for attractions in Nashville. However, the museum is thorough in its storytelling and offers a depth of personal memorabilia related to June Carter and Johnny Cash that won’t be found elsewhere.

What’s your favorite Johnny Cash song?

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As the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris depicted, the City of Lights has a long history of attracting fascinating characters. All those people eventually have to end up somewhere, often at Pere Lachaise and Montparnasse Cemetery. Paris has become one of the few cities where visiting the dead is a popular attraction.

Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Opened by Napoleon in 1804, the Pere Lachaise cemetery with its 300,000 graves is the largest in Paris. It’s a beautiful, even romantic, spot for a stroll. The visitor can get lost for hours among the serpentine tree-covered paths. While it’s the final resting place for many famous people, a quiet area can usually be found away from the celebrity crowd.

Pere Lachaise path

Go and explore on the miles of cobblestoned paths.

Pere Lachaise cemetery man reclining

We just love the look on this gentleman’s face, “Okay, I’m done. Can I just take a nap now?”

Pere Lachaise cemetery woman weeping on tomb

There are many graves with women weeping in agony but we didn’t see one of a man doing the same thing.

Pere Lachaise Rossini grave

The original grave of Rossini, the Italian composer of the stirring William Tell overture, is typical of the style of the mid-19th century. These mini-mausoleums provide a private chapel inside to pray. (Later his remains were moved to the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. He’s in some illustrious company there with Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli.)

Pere Lachaise cemetery Jim Morrison grave crowd

Despite all the Napoleonic-era generals, famous composers and other luminaries, the most visited tomb at Pere Lachaise is still that of former Doors lead singer Jim Morrison. Forty-plus years after his death he’s still drawing standing-room-only crowds.

Pere Lachaise cemetery Jim Morrison tomb graffiti

You probably wouldn’t want to be buried next to the former rock star. The headstone next to him attracts quite a bit of graffiti, including the expression above. It’s now surrounded by a fence and a guard is on constant vigil.

Pere Lachaise Oscar Wilde grave

Much like the person, Oscar Wilde’s grave has had a long and sordid history. The lifelike genitalia on the angel were stolen while the slab itself attracted graffiti and lipstick kisses. The governments of France and Ireland recently restored the tomb and put up a glass barrier around it. Now those wishing to leave a kiss behind must plant one on the wall instead.

Pere Lachaise root pushing headstone

In a macabre tableau, some of the headstones are being toppled by tree roots which look eerily like skeletal arms pushing up from below.

If you visit, climb up the hill and walk around the older sections that are in a somewhat tumbledown condition. Some areas look they haven’t been touched in a century.

Pere lachaise Auschwitz memorial

There are about a dozen Holocaust memorials that are truly heart-wrenching.

Here are some interesting books about Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

Montparnasse Cemetery

After a black-and-white day at Pere Lachaise, we were in the mood for a bit of color at the Montparnasse Cemetery. It’s also more accessible than Pere Lachaise due its flat, compact size.

Montparnasse cemetery Pigeon grave bed

One of the more well-known graves is of Charles and Sophie Pigeon who are still in bed looking like they just happen to be discussing the day’s events. Monsieur Pigeon made his fortune by inventing the non-exploding Pigeon lamp, which sounds like it could be something totally different, that he exhibited at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair.

Montparnasse Cemetery Man Ray

Influential photographer and painter Man Ray was born in South Philly. His headstone on the left says “unconcerned but not indifferent” and is signed by wife Juliet. Hers says simply “Together Again.”

Montparnasse Cemetery Man peering behind ivy

This man peering out from behind the creeping ivy is trying his best not to be forgotten.

Montparnasse Cemetery Alexander Alekhine chess

Former world chess champion Alexandre Alekhine of Russia has a chess board imbedded in front of his tomb. I wonder if any of his fans ever play a match on it.

Montparnasse Cemetery Sartre Grave

There is a tradition of leaving Metro tickets on the grave of French philosophy couple Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

Montparnasse Cemetery Sartre Simone de Beauvoir grave metro tickets

I can’t find out why that is. Does anyone know the answer?

Montparnasse cemetery cherubs with cross

Have you ever visited a cemetery on vacation?

Like it? Share it . . . Pin it!Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris is a hauntingly beautiful place where you can visit the the grave of rock star Jim Morrison, along with many other famous artists, writers and musicians.

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

When we departed Philadelphia in 2011 we thought we’d explore the world for a year and then figure out what we wanted to do when we grew up. We started writing stories about our journey on this blog and for a new series called “A Year in the World” for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Somehow we branched out to other media outlets and became bona fide travel writers.

But for all the destinations we explored and wrote about on six continents, we didn’t cover the city we knew best, Philadelphia. After seeing so many exotic places when we returned to Philly we approached it with fresh eyes, as if we were discovering it as first time visitors.

Then a funny thing happened. In late January, 2014 Globe Pequot Press, a major regional travel guide publisher in Connecticut, contacted us. They asked us if we’d be interested in writing a book about Philadelphia. They had enjoyed our stories about other places and figured we’d do a good  job writing about our hometown.

You see Boston, which has more sports championships than Philly but in our humble opinion has way less historic sites, has had something called a Freedom Trail for over 50 years. It’s a well-marked guide to Boston’s revolutionary sites. But Philadelphia has nothing similar that connects the sites where America was founded, so we had to create one. Oh, and our deadline was four months. Piece of cake, right?

Philadelphia Liberty Trail-an informative and quirky travel guide to the city's historic districtI turns out a deadline is a good thing for us! Last month Globe Pequot published the result of our efforts: Philadelphia Liberty Trail: Trace the Path of America’s Heritage. This 224-page book takes a fresh approach to the founding of America. It’s part historical narrative and part travel guide that goes beyond Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell to immerse visitors in history right where it happened.

During our research we unearthed little known historical tidbits such as: Benjamin Franklin’s Electric Turkey Experiment; Lydia Darragh, the Quaker woman who saved the American army from destruction; the church that in the 1790s was the precursor to the modern Civil Rights movement; and the home where soda was first introduced to America in 1807, by a doctor no less!

We also talk about unusual events like America’s first dumbest criminal. In 1798 the first bank robbery in America took place at Carpenters’ Hall in Philly. The man behind it, Isaac Davis, was arrested when he started depositing large sums of money in the very same bank he had just robbed. You really can’t make this stuff up.

Philadelphia Liberty Trail-Ben Franklin "Key" statue, funded by school children

The trail we created is about four miles long but we’ve broken it into several segments. Easy-to-follow maps guide the visitor and since this is a book we wrote, there are also Pit Stops to rest weary legs and get a cookie (always important for Michael) or other treat. Complete with lodging, dining, family-friendly options and practical travel information, Philadelphia Liberty Trail is the indispensable guide to exploring America’s most historic square mile.

Here’s how you can buy Philadelphia Liberty Trail on Amazon.

If you get a chance to read the book we really hope you enjoy it. It was a lot of fun to write and discover our hometown once again.

Oh, that guy at the top of the page? He’s Matt O’Connor, the CFO (“chief flag officer”) at Humphry’s Flag Company, right across from–you guessed it–the Betsy Ross House.

Note to Philadelphia area readers: We are speaking at Penn State’s Great Valley campus in Malvern, PA on April 8th. Topics will include the Philadelphia Liberty Trail and travel tips from our 3+ years on the road. Here is the information for this free event: Penn State lecture. We’ll also be signing books at the Visitor Center at Independence National Park on Flag Day, June 14th, 2015 from noon to 4 p.m. Hope to see you there.

Locals warned us to be alert on the Buenos Aires subway, or  “subte,” because the city is the pickpocketing capital of the world. Most major cities have petty crime so we were careful, as we are anywhere, but also wouldn’t let it affect our plans to go out and explore the vibrant city.

On our very first day riding the subway we managed to get a little too close to one pickpocketing and even had an encounter with one of the thieves. We had just stepped off the train at the crowded 9 de Julio station and were part of the scrum headed towards the exit.

Suddenly a man wearing a dark blue t-shirt bumped up hard against my left shoulder. I was ready to give him a Philly elbow back to clear some space when the man abruptly stopped in front of me. This set off my antenna.

Then I noticed that another man wearing a green hoodie, about three feet in front of me, had a white liquid dripping on his shoulder. A common ruse is to squirt something on the potential victim. This marks him to the pickpocket gang, which usually consists of three people, and sets up the next part of the con.

Buenos Aires subte subway two people

Passengers like these know to be extra vigilant.

One of the thieves said to the man that his sweatshirt was stained and started wiping it off to distract him. I tried to warn him but Larissa was standing right next to one of the pickpockets and I wasn’t sure if the whole thing was just a diversion to get to her. I called out “Riss, Riss!” and waved her over to me.

Meanwhile, as the victim was turning to look at his stained shoulder his wallet was lifted by the third man. A woman a few feet away noticed this and yelled at him that he has just been pickpocketed. The man who had bumped my shoulder agreed and pointed down the platform in the opposite direction of where his partner was running towards the exit. I finally managed to convince the victim that the guy pointing was in on it too so he finally ran up the stairs after his wallet.

In the meantime I grabbed the shoulder of the thief who was still there and yelled in my best high-school Spanish, ‘Polizia! Polizia!” Unfortunately I sucked at Spanish and people just stared at me oddly. The thief looked stunned to be accosted but recovered enough to say in his best movie English, “Fu** you!”

I was out of Spanish expressions at that point and called the crook a shrimp (he was pretty short) holding my fingers an inch apart for emphasis. Since no police were forthcoming (for all we know I yelled for a plumber, but we didn’t see anyone running up wielding a plunger either) I parted ways with the criminal.

Buenos Aires subway subte mural

 The tile murals on the subte are gorgeous, just don’t get too distracted by them.

A “charity” mugging in Paris

This was the second time we’d come across a pickpocketing on this trip. In June we rode the Eurostar train from Paris to London. On board we met an Australian couple who had been robbed just outside the Gare Du Nord station in Paris. When they got out of their taxi they naturally reached for their wallet to pay the driver. This let potential thieves know which pocket their wallet was in.

As they walked away from their cab they were approached by several young women with clipboards who said they were getting petitions signed for a charity. We see these people everywhere, including our fair city of Philadelphia. Most are legitimate but the British have come up with a great name for them, chuggers, as in charity muggers.

The woman held the clipboard up to the tourist’s chest and used it as camouflage for her hands to pickpocket him. We hadn’t heard of this scam before and thought we’d pass it along so you can be aware of it.

What scams have you seen in your travels?
28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Oh to be present at the first Thanksgiving in the Americas; a hearty feast to celebrate surviving a difficult ordeal, indigenous people looking on, and settlers clad in Spanish conquistador helmets . . . wait, what? The Pilgrims wore shiny metal helmets? Read more

We’ve been on the road since 2011 with no home and no fixed address. Whenever we meet people they are surprised that we are true nomads. The first question we often get is, “How do you live a nomadic life?” Here are some tips for wandering the world.

How to live a nomadic life

how to live a nomadic life bedouin camp

1)      Give it up — If you have a house, sell it: if you have stuff, get rid of it; if you have an office-based job, leave it. If you’re going to wander the world, you don’t want to be weighed down by things back home.

2)      Put yourself in a box — Life sometimes intrudes on the fantasy of chucking it all. You’ll need a place to receive the occasional mail. Set up a P.O. box or use a trusted friend or relative’s address.

3)      You can bank on it — The Internet that is. Set up banking and paying all your bills online. The good thing about a nomadic life though, there are many less bills to pay. No cable, WiFi, mortgage/rent, home insurance, real  estate taxes, utilities; well you get my drift, it’s a lot cheaper to be  a nomad.

4)      To store or not to store? — That really is the question. Although we got rid of most of our possessions before leaving, we still had enough junk left over to fill a 10’ by 10’ storage unit. We thought it was stuff we’d still need or want. Guess what? We were wrong.  After returning to the U.S. we got rid of the remaining items.

5)      The telephone game — I got rid of my cell phone before leaving in August, 2011 and have lived without one ever since. It’s remarkably freeing. Set up a Skype account so you can still keep in touch with those you want to call. Think of all the time you just freed up by not checking voice mail or texting all day.

6)      Book it — Libraries are a wonderful resource on the road. Almost every town has one, they offer free Wifi and are quiet, air-conditioned places to hang out. We skim through the used book rack to buy $1 books. If we stay someplace for a week or more we get a library card so we can check out books and DVDs for free.

7)      Playing doctor — Health insurance is a major issue. Check into plans for travelers but be aware that some of them require you to have a base health insurance policy first. Many nomads get minimal coverage or go places where health care is so cheap they travel without insurance. We have a basic policy and skip things like medical evacuation coverage. We had our own health insurance for years before we started our nomadic life. Unfortunately under the ACA the price has gone up. You’ll have to choose the plan that works best for you.

8)      The world is flat — Skip the hotels and rent flats or apartments. They are a cheaper option for long-term travel. See our tips for long-term apartment rentals. During our journey Airbnb has become our default rental site to the point that we now live in “Airbnb World.”

9)      Go the extra mile — When we were traveling around the world we rented a car where we needed one. Back in the U.S. that got expensive so we bought a car. You’ll put on many miles as a nomad so skip the gas guzzler and get a car with great gas mileage.

10)    Take a break — Constantly moving from place to place can get tiring. We try to stay a minimum of a week anywhere. We’ll also set up firebreaks where we’ll stay at least a month or two to recharge our batteries and catch up on our writing. When that happens Larissa even makes the investment of buying a bottle of ketchup. I’m concerned though that it could be a gateway condiment and the next thing I know she’ll be buying mustard and relish.

Bonus tip: Don’t worry, be flexible — Every place you stay may not be as comfortable or as nice as you like. We’ve had relatively good luck in this department, mostly due to Larissa’s thorough vetting of our rentals. But the beauty of living a nomadic life is that if you don’t like an area, you’ll soon be moving on. And if you do like it, then you can stay longer.

Any questions you have or tips you’d like to share?

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Despite all the globe-hopping and monument seeking, the best aspect of travel is the people we meet along the way. They’re the ones who provide us the stories that make travel a more enriching experience.

This came into sharp focus at a recent Airbnb stay outside El Paso, Texas. Our host Carey casually mentioned that his father is a D-Day veteran who happened to live up the street. Not only was his father a D-Day veteran, he was one of the Pathfinders, the paratroopers who were dropped behind enemy lines the night before D-Day and later made famous in Band of Brothers. They were the sharp end of the spear and the precursor to today’s Special Forces.

As a student of military history who absorbs anything about World War II I couldn’t resist. Meeting a D-Day veteran has been a dream of mine but many veterans are reluctant to relive their wartime experiences so I nervously asked, “Would it be okay to meet him?”

“Oh sure,” Carey replied, “he loves talking to people.”

The next day we met former First Sergeant Maynard “Beamy” Beamesderfer, a veteran of not only D-Day, but also Operation Market Garden (depicted in A Bridge Too Far) and the Battle of the Bulge. Beamy was a sort of Zelig of World War II European battles.

d-day veteran military medals

He’s 89 years old now, but still retains the upright posture and quick-wittedness that enabled him to survive a war where most of his unit was wiped out. Along the way he earned several Purple Hearts and was a POW for a week before escaping.

He grew up with his lovely wife Mimi in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. I asked if they were childhood sweethearts to which Mimi quickly replied, “Oh no. He was four years older than me and kind of bossy. I was scared of him.” Well she finally tamed him.

In true heroic veteran style, Beamy was matter-of-fact about the rigors of war that he and his fellow soldiers of the 101st Airborne, the famous Screaming Eagles, endured. When his unit, the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, took off for the D-Day mission (after two false starts because of bad weather) each of the paratroopers was burdened with 90 pounds of equipment including: explosives wrapped around their legs, extra ammunition and food supplies, in case the seaborne invasion failed and they became stuck behind enemy lines.

“We were hoping that wouldn’t happen,” Beamy said.

d-day clicker

If you’ve seen classic D-Day film “The Longest Day” you’ll recognize the object in the center of this photo. It’s the clicker the Pathfinders used to identify themselves after they landed.

During Operation Market Garden Beamy and a group of fellow soldiers were captured by the Germans.

“They were tired and never searched us,” Beamy said. “We carried banjo wire with wooden handles on the end, one night when they were sleeping we were able to overcome them and escape.” For their efforts, on the way back to the frontlines they were mistaken for German troops and shot at by U. S. troops.

During a much-deserved rest in Paris the German counter-offensive that became the Battle of the Bulge began, it was Germany’s last gasp at victory. Enduring frigid conditions the 501st went back into the maw of battle.

“It was the coldest winter ever recorded in Europe,” Beamy recalls. “We couldn’t wear our overcoats because they were too bulky to fight in.”

The unit held its position but lost so many soldiers that it was disbanded. Beamy himself was severely injured several times, his whereabouts unknown to the point that his mother was notified that he was missing in action.

Beamy leafed through his well-read scrapbooks where he maintains a history of his unit, noting photos of his fellow soldiers. He also pulled out a military map of the D-Day invasion and pointed out in exquisite detail where he landed and how his unit achieved their objective of capturing a canal lock. It was hard not to marvel at the courage it took to land behind enemy lines to support an invasion that may, or may not, have succeeded.

Beamy says, “We were just teenagers. We thought we could do anything.”

airborne patches d-day

Part of Beamy’s impressive collection of military unit patches.

Today former First Sergeant Beamesderfer is an active member of the 82nd Airborne Division Association in El Paso, Texas. Their business card is the only one I’ve ever seen that included “Bar Open” hours on it. Although as Mimi told us, “He doesn’t even drink or smoke. During the war he did pretty well trading his cigarettes.”

It’s said that 1,000 World War II veterans die each day, a cadre of oral historians that are irreplaceable. Tomorrow is Veteran’s Day, if you can, seek out these last living monuments to the Greatest Generation. For me it was an unforgettable experience.

My heartfelt thanks to Mimi and Beamy Beamesderfer for sharing so much of their life experiences with us.

meeting a d-day veteran

As you know, we practically live in Airbnb world. Here’s how to get $20 off your first stay at Airbnb.

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Maybe it seems unusual to visit a dusty old library on vacation. But because my dad was a dusty old librarian himself it doesn’t seem odd to me at all, particularly when it’s the Old Library at Trinity College in Dublin. Dating back to 1592 it’s the largest library in Ireland with over 3 million volumes.

Pride of place is given to the Book of Kells, an illuminated gospel manuscript dating from the 9th century. (The library building itself was built between 1710 and 1732 so it’s almost a toddler in comparison.) While the Book of Kells would be justly famous for its age alone, it’s renowned for its spectacular artwork.

It was painstakingly written by a group of Columban monks around the year 800. After a Viking raid which killed many members of their community they moved inland to Kells, County Meath about 70 kilometers northwest of Dublin and continued work on the book.

The Book of Kells is displayed at the end of an exhibit titled “Turning Darkness into Light” which provides historical context for the manuscript.  The famous manuscript is actually four separate bound volumes of the four gospels. Two of the books are always on display and open to show a particularly resounding work of calligraphy. (These rotate throughout the year so you’ll see different pages if you go at different times.)

Trinity College Long Room bigger Irish Welcome ToursThe Long Room. Photo courtesy Irish Welcome Tours

Considering how the Book of Kells is such a national treasure, if there are no large tour groups present you’ll get to spend a fair amount of time perusing the Latin scrollwork and curlicued art.

Visitors stroll along the Colonnade and the appropriately named Long Room (it’s over 65 meters long) where 48 marble busts of notable historical figures including Aristotle, Shakespeare and Irish satirist Jonathan Swift mark the way. The Long Room also holds over 200,000 of the most revered books in the collection.

Manuscripts aren’t the only thing to see though. There’s a 15th-century harp, reputed to be Ireland’s oldest, and a rare copy of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic, which was read outside the General Post Office during the Easter Rising.

In addition to the Book of Kells, there are always a few temporary exhibits. A current one called “Emperor of the Irish: Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf (1014)” relates the tale of the first king who ruled over the entire island of Ireland and the Battle of Clontarf in which he vanquished Viking invaders. It sets the tone for Ireland’s long tumultuous history.

Visitor Information

Location: On the campus of Trinity College. Enter the campus at Nassau Street near Sraid Dasain Street.

Website: Visiting the Trinity College Book of Kells

Admission: You must purchase a ticket to visit the Old Library. Adults €10; students & senior Citizens €8; children under 12 free. Tickets may be purchased online.

Hours: Monday through Saturday 9:30 am to 5 pm; Sunday (May through September) 9:30 am to 4:30 pm; Sunday (October through April) 12 noon to 4:30 pm. Closed the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Note: Most guidebooks recommend going early to avoid the crowds. As usual we offer the opposite advice, go later in the day when you are more likely to avoid groups tours and all the people who got their early to avoid the crowds.

blue crabs at sydney fish market

The other day I read an article that highlighted the 12 worst tourist traps in the world. One of them was a place we were due to visit the following day, the Sydney Fish Market. We thought about not going there but were we really going to let something we had seen online influence us? (Said the two bloggers.)

I was wondering how a simple fish market could be a tourist trap. To do so it would have to meet certain criteria I’ve developed over the years:

1) It strays from its original purpose to sell trinkets, doodads and “arts-and-crap” items that are usually made in China and can be found anywhere in the world.

2) The number of t-shirt stores outnumbers every other kind of merchant (hello Key West).

3) There has to be at least one chain restaurant whose theme has absolutely nothing to do with the destination, preferably located next to a Madame Tussaud’s outpost, and

4) It’s a required stop on the tour bus route, Pier 39 in San Francisco comes to mind.

tusk fish at sydney fish marrket

I’m pleased to report that the Sydney Fish Market met none of these criteria. Half of the market is taken up by wholesalers who sell to retail outlets in the Sydney area. That seems pretty authentic. The remaining retail side was made up of fish vendors and restaurants. There were a few businesses that were not seafood related, but they would help you put together dinner for the evening. These included a baker, a produce market, and a cheese shop; hardly the stuff of tourist trap legend.

The fish stores were incredible. The goods on display were as fine as I have seen in any fish market anywhere, and we had just been at the Pike Place Market in Seattle only a few months earlier. Part of what makes the Sydney Fish Market so intriguing for a Northern Hemisphere person like me is that there were so many types of fish that I had never even seen before, let alone heard of.  In fact, it’s the largest fish market in the Southern Hemisphere and second only to Tokyo’s in the world.  We had read about Barramundi, the most popular fish in Australia but what exactly are Painted Sweetlips, Blue Throat Wrasse or Venus Tusk Fish?

Sydney fish market Swordfish (800x602)

Each fish outlet had a separate sashimi counter where a variety of sushi grade fish was being delicately sliced for discerning customers. What really caught my eye however was a giant swordfish sitting on a table of crushed ice. A sharp filleting knife was impaled into the ice beside a sign that read “Cut to Size.” It looked just like a steamship round-of-beef carving station that is the signature item at hotel buffets.

We’ve mentioned before how we prefer to rent apartments when we travel rather than staying at a hotel. Touring the Sydney Fish Market affirmed that decision. We wanted to buy everything we saw so we could take it back to our flat and cook it. For our first purchase we settled on Barramundi, a seemingly ho-hum choice but we figured we’d start with the most popular one. The next time though we’ll wade deeper into the depths of the fish market for a more exotic species.
By the end of our visit we decided that the Sydney Fish Market is definitely not a tourist trap. Here’s a link for more information about the Sydney Fish Market.
sydney fish market
We do offer one caveat if you go to the market. If you plan on eating there, then do so inside. Outside there are tables and umbrellas overlooking Blackwattle Bay. The dining area is under invasion by so many seagulls and other flying scavengers that sometimes it appears like a scene out of the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds. They quickly swoop down on unsuspecting diners to snatch part of their meal, but that’s not the worst of it.
The umbrellas are covered with so much gray guano that you could probably write your name on them. People dining under umbrellas with bird crap dripping off of them is one of the most disgusting sights we have seen; and it’s got to be some kind of health risk. So while we loved the market and would go back, we ate our food inside and recommend that you do the same.

That said, what tourist traps have sucked you in on your travels?

Interested in food? Click the link for more posts about food.

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If you are planning a holiday to Sofia it is worth checking out some of the gems that are tucked away in this beautiful city. The Bulgarian capital is increasingly popular with tourists from Europe, so if you want to avoid the crowds on your travels, a visit to these attractions should be on your itinerary.

Hike Vitosha Mountain

Vitosha Mountain hiking trail
Photo by Leon Hart

Sofia developed around the foot of Vitosha Mountain, providing a picturesque backdrop for the city. A taxi ride from the center of Sofia to the mountain costs around 10 leva ($7 USD). From the base you can hike up well-trod trails to exploring the beautiful wooded mountain. One highlight is Golden Bridges, where a small cafe provided a good stopping point for a quick snack and a look at the view.

The Boyana Waterfall is also located on the mountainside. It’s a difficult climb to reach the top of this stunning waterfall so it’s only recommended for serious hikers.

Brush up on your Socialist Art

sofia lenin statue museum of socialist artPhoto by Times of Malta

Hidden away behind a shopping center right in the middle of Sofia is the Museum of Socialist Art. Formally known as the Museum of Totalitarian Art, the gallery and open-air courtyard house relics of Bulgaria’s Communist past, offering visitors an intriguing glimpse behind what Winston Churchill called “the Iron Curtain.”

It’s surprising that the relics on display were not destroyed following the fall of communism in Bulgaria. A must visit for all fans of 20th century history and a fantastic view of propaganda.

Ring the Bells Monument at Kambanite

Sofia Kambanite bellsPhoto by Wikimedia

Conceived in 1979 as a lasting monument to the United Nation’s designated Year of the Child, the Bells at Kambanite offers a very different experience from most other tourist attractions. The bells represent children and children’s organizations from around the world, and while the bells are only supposed to be rung by children, you’ll see many adults unable to resist temptation.

Roam to the Amphitheatre of Serdica

If you love ancient history, then visit the ruins of the Roman Amphitheater of Serdica. The city of Serdica was an important outpost of the Roman Empire, acting as a key political hub. The amphitheater was uncovered during construction of another building in 2004. Further architectural detective work followed and the full extent of the discovery was revealed.

This amphitheater is the only one which combines the classic amphitheater layout with a Roman theater, making this a must for any fans of ancient Roman architecture.

 Slither to the Snail Home

snail house bulgaria
Photo by Wikimedia

Amid the usual tourist attractions in Sofia are a few unique spots, none more so than the Snail Home. Given the name, you might think it’s a museum devoted to snails. But it’s far more interesting than that. Built in 2009, the Snail Home is an apartment building designed in the shape of a snail. Don’t miss this one on your itinerary; but you can take your time getting there, it’s not going anywhere soon.

One of the biggest misconceptions of travel is that everything to do in famous cities is very expensive. But with a little exploration, a visitor can find free things to do, cheap eats and low-cost stays, even on a long weekend in Venice.

So how do you keep costs to a minimum on a holiday to this glorious Italian city, while still enjoying everything that short breaks to Venice have to offer?

Venice canal St Marks towerVenice is world famous for the large network of canals that wind their way across the city, and while you have to pay to ride in one of the city’s historic gondolas, walking the canals is a free, and perhaps more interesting, way to wander along them.

There are more than 150 canals in Venice, the most famous and largest of which is the city’s main boulevard, the Grand Canal. There are many canals to choose from, including some that are so small that walking past them is perhaps easier than navigating them by boat.

An almost free gondola ride in Venice

If you really had your heart set on a gondola ride but blanch at the expense, consider a short hop on a traghetto. It’s a black gondola that travels back and forth across the Grand Canal in several places. The cost is 2 Euros, while it’s not quite free you can say you’ve been to Venice and ridden a gondola.

Unleash your inner explorer

Although the city is known for its canals, there are many more narrow passageways, piazzas and bridges that will introduce you to Venice’s beautiful architecture. Some streets are so narrow that you can reach out and touch buildings on both sides when you stroll down them, in a few your hips will brush up against the walls on both sides. Intrepid explorers should just start strolling, although bringing along a map is not a bad idea. At night a flashlight on the darkened streets is a must.

Must see sights, for a bit

st marks square veniceReferred to as “The Drawing Room of Europe,” St Mark’s Square is the heart of Venice, locals and tourists alike gather there to meet, talk and people watch. It’s less crowded in the evening after day-trippers from cruise ships have left, but avoid the cafes if you’re on a tight budget as they are rather expensive. Instead head somewhere quieter for coffee, like a traditional “bacaro,” where you can usually get a cheap meal or drink standing at the bar, Venetian-style.

If you’re heading to the Grand Canal, take a slight detour and cross the Rialto Bridge, the main crossing over the water. Completed in 1591, the bridge houses many unique shops. Beware that the Bridge can get very crowded at midday.

Make sure to stop by the adjacent Rialto Market, a food market that some say has been here for a millennium. It’s a great place for the freshest fish. While you probably won’t be firing up an oven in your hotel, check the salumeria and bread vendors to pick up items for an impromptu picnic.

In the first ghetto

A stroll through the Jewish ghetto is poignant. It’s the first use of the term ghetto in the world to designate an area where members of a minority group were forced to live; it’s believed the term comes from an adjacent iron foundry. Several synagogues are still active in this disappearing piece of Venetian and world history.

Saintly art

15 churches have combined in a group called a “Chorus,” to allow visitors to view their buildings and artwork. Over 1,000 years of Venetian art history is represented including works by Tintoretto, Donatelli,  Titian and more including the only Venetian painting by Rubens. Admission to each church is 3 euros per person, or you can buy a pass (valid for one year) to visit all 15 churches for only 10 euros per person.  To see so much art it’s a bargain.

Elevate your view

venice view from san giorgio maggiore

Take the vaporetto to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, perched on its own little island. While other visitors are queued up to ascend St. Mark’s, you can smugly skip the lines. Don’t let the 6 euro fee for the elevator ride put you off. You’ll want to view Venice from on high and this is one of the best places to do so. Just remember to cover your ears when the bells ring.

venice rialto bridge (640x407)

As a town that lives for festivals, Venice offers many free events, including concerts, for locals and tourists. Many are offered during Culture Week (which is usually in April) but if you’re there during other times of the year look out for posters advertising free concerts, as many choirs and bands tend to play around the city for free on any given day.

During Culture Week admission to almost all of the city’s museums and galleries is free, not just in Venice, but all around Italy, so it’s worth checking into this opportunity to view some of the world’s most beautiful artifacts and art.

Whether you’re thinking of booking short breaks to Venice or a longer trip around Italy, there are ways to save money on your trip; avoid shopping at tourist traps, pick up a few items at a food market for a picnic lunch and put on your walking shoes to take the time to know Venice on your own terms.

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