Free Things to Do in London

We'll be braving the bank holiday traffic today as we head from Paris to London on the Eurostar. Perhaps we'll hit some sites while all the locals are off at the Nottingham Carnivale. In the meantime we leave you with a few of our favorite ideas of free things to do in London. The full list is on the National Geographic website.

From David Bowie and Beckham to Charles Darwin and Dickens, London has captured the world with legendary figures since its founding in the first century A.D. But it's not only the city's celebrities rising to the top—the British pound is rising, too. Don't get knackered looking for cheap deals across the pond—London has heaps of free museums, attractions, and activities to delight all types of travelers, from posh, to business, to budget.

It's impossible to see all 330,000 pieces at the National Portrait Gallery at one time, but the museum's free admission is a good excuse to go back again and again. See classic portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, 207 portraits of Queen Victoria, 38 portraits of Paul McCartney, and 44 portraits of Diana, Princess of Wales.

The Tate Britain houses British works from 1500 to the present. Admire works by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), William Blake (1757-1827), George Mason (1818-1872), and Francis Bacon (1909-1992). Best of all, visitors can see them all for free. Check out "Late at Tate" on the first Friday of every month, when the gallery is open until 10 p.m. (free), and admission to special exhibitions is half price. Plus, peruse the Tate Modern's free collection of world-class contemporary masterpieces—including works by Picasso, Matisse, Dalí, Miro, Pollock, and Warhol.

Since first opening on January 15, 1759, with 71,000 objects collected by Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), the British Museum has only closed its doors twice (during the two World Wars) in almost 250 years. Today the museum houses thousands of artifacts, from ancient Mesopotamian jewelry to Chinese jade from 5000 B.C. Admission to the museum's collections is free (fee for some special exhibits).

Don't miss the Ceremony of the Keys, a 700-year-old tradition in the Tower of London. Every evening, the Chief Yeoman Warner locks the main gate to the tower and brings the keys to the Resident Governor. Plan ahead: Tickets are free but should be booked at least two months in advance. Apply for tickets by writing to the Tower of London (see website for specific instructions).

The crowd-pleasing Changing the Guard has been a British tradition since Henry VII (1485-1509). The handover is accompanied by music as the red-tunic-and-bearskin-hat-clad guards change shifts around Buckingham Palace. Best of all, visitors and passersby can watch at no charge. See the Guard Mounting at 11:30 a.m. daily May-July, and on alternating days August-April. To avoid the crowds at Buckingham Palace, see the Changing the Guard at Horse Guards Arch on Horse Guards Parade (11 a.m. Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. on Sundays) or at Windsor Castle (11 a.m. Monday-Saturday April-July, and on alternate days, except Sunday, the rest of the year).

Learn about Britain's involvement in war at the Imperial War Museum on Lambeth Road. Highlights include permanent exhibits on the Holocaust, World War I, and World War II. Check out the Secret War exhibition, which details the Special Operations Executive and secret government agencies MI5 and MI6 from pre-World War I to the present (think invisible ink used by German spies, codebooks, and secret radios). Admission to the permanent exhibitions is free.

If you can plan ahead, check out the BBC and apply for free tickets to tapings of radio (Hear and Now, BBC Symphony Orchestra) and television (Coming of Age, Strictly Come Dancing) shows. Our favorite BBC show Top Gear was booked for tickets 3 years in advance so we won't be sitting in on the taping. Perhaps we should book now and hope to return near the Olympics?

Overseas visitors can catch a debate and question time in both houses of the U.K. Parliament. Free tickets are given to U.K. residents to see the House of Commons, but overseas visitors can wait in line (up to two hours outside the St. Stephen's entrance) to be admitted for free if there is space available during the "summer opening." The Commons has a very lively Prime Minister's Question Time that is well worth the wait (especially to political enthusiasts and to those wanting to hear some of the best British profanities).

Used as hunting grounds by Henry VIII in 1536, the free 350-acre (142-hectare) Hyde Park now has a playground, sports facilities, and the Lookout, an education center where kids can learn about nature. Be sure to stop at the Diana Memorial Fountain, erected in 2004. The design of the fountain reflects the Princess of Wales's life: The fountain's water flows in two directions before it meets a calm pool.

On a sunny day, stop by the 18th-century Kenwood House by Hampstead Heath. The house served as Lord Mansfield's home during the 18th century, and its lavish gardens are worth a visit. While there is a fee to take the guided tour, exploring the house and grounds on your own is free. Pathways wind through butterfly gardens, and the site's woods are home to ancient trees, woodpeckers, and rare species of insects.The Romans built the London Wall around their port town of Londinium when they occupied Britannia from A.D. 50 to 410. Parts of the wall are still standing and can be seen (at no cost) near the Museum of London, Tower Hill, and Barbican Estate.


Free Things to do in Paris

Today we arrive in Paris, city of lights. We'll most likely be train-lagged from our overnight train from Rome last night. But, before we even get to our hotel, we'll be hitting the ground running taking a Chocolate Tour to discover why Paris is famous for dark chocolate. Since we're far too busy stuffing ourselves silly to post, we'll leave you with our list of favorite free things to do in Paris. A full list can be found on the National Geographic website.

Even though traipsing around pricey Paris might sound like serious damage to your wallet, not to mention your holiday joie de vivre, that's only if you don't know where to look (and when to go). Indulge in some of the City of Light's sweetest luxuries—gratuit—from hidden nooks of authenticity to world-class museums and sights.

Admission is waived at the Louvre, Mona Lisa's home—and one of the most well-known buildings in the world—the first Sunday of each month as well as Bastille Day (July 14). Guests 25 and under get in free on Friday nights from 6 to 9:45 p.m. (except for exhibitions in the Hall Napoléon). Bear in mind: The Louvre is a popular attraction, and lines on free days are predictably extra long.

Explore the greatest hits of Impressionism at the Musée d'Orsay, a tourist-favorite art museum housed in a former train station facing the Seine, for free on first Sundays (always free for kids under 18). On the top level, navigate the crowds to discover world-class paintings by Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Degas, Manet, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Seurat, and Matisse.

Centre Pompidou, a gaudy architectural exclamation point designed to look like a building turned inside out first opened in 1977 and reopened in 2000 after an extensive renovation. Free first Sundays for everyone and always for those under 18, the Pompidou Center's huge collection spans the 20th century and is a must-see for contemporary and modern art lovers. Plus, the adjacent square by the quirky Stravinsky Fountain is a dynamic spot to bask in Paris's sprawling cross-section of culture.

France's centenarian department store at Galeries Lafayette holds free weekly fashion shows on the seventh floor. Paris is teeming with aspiring artists who are more than happy to display their works to you free of charge, both on the streets and in beautiful art galleries. Art lovers need look no further than the streets surrounding major museums, especially in Montmartre and near the Musée Picasso and Centre Pompidou in the Marais. A few highlights: Galerie Yvon Lambert (108 rue Vieille-du-Temple, tel. +33 [0]1 42 71 09 33 ) for minimalism and conceptual art; and Galerie Maeght (42 rue du Bac, tel. +33 [0]1 45 48 45 15 ) for more traditional art in St-Germain-des-Près. Revel in French fashion Fridays at 3 p.m., March through December, on the seventh floor of France's centenarian department store at Galeries Lafayette's weekly free fashion shows. A team of models flaunt the latest high-couture trends during a 30-minute presentation. Reservations required (e-mail welcome@galerieslafayette.com, tel. +33 [0]1 42 82 36 40 ).

Just across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower, the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris exhibits art movements from the 20th and 21st centuries—including Fauvism, cubism, Dadaism, surrealism, abstractionism, and more—in the free permanent collection that boasts works by Matisse, Picasso, and Chagall.

Each first Sunday of the month, Auguste Rodin's famous bronze and marble sculptures, including The Thinker and The Kiss, are on display free of charge at the Musée Rodin in the quiet 18th-century Hôtel Biron and its manicured garden.

The free Musée Cernuschi, in a recently expanded and renovated mansion, houses ancient Asian pottery, jade, bronzes, and more bequeathed to the city of Paris by philanthropist Cernuschi in the late 19th century.

Scaling the Eiffel Tower, Paris's most famous icon, has a price, but the view from below is spectacular in its own right, and a perfect backdrop to a leisurely picnic in the surrounding grassy area. Be sure to visit the tower at night when it sparkles each hour with an awe-inspiring ten-minute display of 20,000 glittering white lights.

Cinching Paris in the midsection is the Seine River, which divides the city into the Left and Right Banks. For true romance, slowly stroll the riverbank; for quirky souvenirs, browse the book stalls that line the Left Bank on street-level.

Notre Dame Cathedral (6 Parvis Notre Dame, Place Jean-Paul II, tel. +33 [0]1 42 34 56 10 ) is the historic heart of Paris. All distances from Paris to elsewhere in France are measured from the square in front of the basilica. Snap a photo of your feet planted on the plaque at point zero before entering the cathedral, the masterpiece of French Gothic architecture and one of the most-visited sites in Paris (no admission charged). Be sure to walk the perimeter to glimpse the flying buttresses that support the structure as well as the famous gargoyles. On each first Sunday from October through March there's no fee charged to climb the 387 steps of the North Tower.

Tucked behind the walls of the Palais de Justice on the Île de la Cité, the awe-inspiring Gothic Sainte-Chapelle's walls consist of 15 exquisite panels of stained glass and a large rose window. Admission waived on the first Sunday of the month from November through March and always for kids under 18.

In the shadow of the Sacré-Coeur basilica and near where Picasso lived and worked, Montmartre's Place du Tertre square is a lively spectacle teeming with aspiring artists selling souvenir-ready artwork and drawing tourists' portraits.

In the Marais, Paris's impressive Hôtel de Ville (City Hall, 29 rue de Rivoli, tel. +33 [0]1 42 76 43 43 ) features a fountain-laden square and free admission. Much of the grandiose building is off-limits for security reasons, but Parisian exhibits and free information are available in the lobby. See the city from the Promenade Plantée, an elevated railway viaduct leading east from near the Bastille, which is one of the few such linear parks in the world. Steps along the path lead to tiny parks and arcades with public art, people playing sports, and gardens.

Located in the heart of the Latin Quarter, the domed Panthéon was commissioned by Louis XV in the 18th century as a church, but the landmark was converted into a secular mausoleum dedicated to the great men of the French liberation and is known best for its dark marble interior and Corinthian columns. Admission is free first Sundays October through March.

Blow off steam in one of the city's public parks, where grassy knolls are sprinkled with playgrounds and carousels, like the Park André Citroën, Jardin des Tuileries, Jardin du Luxembourg, Parc Monceau, Square Willette (in front of Sacre-Coeur), and Jardin des Plantes. Le Petit Ney (10 avenue de la Porte Montmartre, tel. +33 [0]1 42 62 00 00 ), a literary café in Montmartre, organizes a board-game night the first Saturday of the month starting at 7 p.m. Most games are for teenagers and adults, but they always have something appropriate for little tykes as well. No cover charge.

Plot your path through the Père-Lachaise Cemetery with the online virtual tour of the graveyard's celebrity residents, from Oscar Wilde's lipstick-smudged grave to Jim Morrison's modest plot.Established in 1798, the Montmartre Cemetery (20 av. Rachel, tel. +33 [0]1 53 42 36 30 ) hosts the graves of artist Edgar Degas, film director Francois Truffaut, and many more. Pick up a free map near the entrance.

Walk through Montparnasse Cemetery (3 blvd. Edgar Quinet, tel. +33 [0]1 44 10 86 50 ), established in the 1700s, and wend your way past the final resting places of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, writer Simone de Beauvoir, and car maker André Citroën. Free maps are available at the main entrance.

The sprawling grounds of Jardin du Luxembourg, a landscaped garden in the Latin Quarter in the 6th arrondissement, features an 1861 Medicis fountain, several 19th-century statues, and locals relaxing on pleasant afternoons.

Grab a free copy of the bicycling map, "Carte Vélo à Paris," at any tourism office and most bike rental agencies. The map provides help in navigating the city's maze of bike lanes and establishing the most scenic routes.Paris Rando Velo leads free Friday night bike tours of the city, meeting at 9:30 p.m. in front of the Hotel de Ville. Each ride lasts from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. The group also hosts similar rides on the third Sunday of the month at 10:30 a.m.


Free Things to Do in Rome

We're in Rome Today (assuming we caught our train). You'll have to wait for a more personal update with photos and other goodies, but until then we figured we'd share our favorite free things to do in Rome. A full list can be found on the National Geographic website.

Rome may be a city of high fashion and expensive tastes, but its rich history and art offer plenty of culture that won't cost you a dime, including churches and most monuments. You don't have to look far for free activities in the Eternal City.

The oldest standing domed structure in Rome, the Pantheon was built in 27 B.C. as a temple honoring all the Roman gods, then was converted in A.D. 609 to a Christian church. The famous architect Brunelleschi used it as inspiration when designing the cupola for the Duomo (cathedral) in Florence. Its most striking feature is the oculus, the open-air aperture at the top of the dome that lets in natural light. It is the burial place of several famous artists, including Raphael. Mass is held here Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 10:30 a.m.

Stroll through the ruins of what was once the center of a powerful empire at the Foro Romano, the former commercial, governmental, and religious center of ancient Rome. It contains the remains of several temples and judicial buildings, and was the site of some of Rome's most important events. The Arco di Constantino, located near the Colosseum, is Rome's largest arch. About 65 feet (20 meters) high, it was built in A.D. 315 to commemorate Emperor Constantine's triumph over Maxentius, after which he allowed the practice of Christianity in the Roman empire.

See the "wedding cake," as locals refer to it: Il Vittoriano, the large white-stone monument on Piazza Venezia near the Capitoline Hill, was constructed at the turn of the 20th century to honor Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of unified Italy. The building houses the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where an eternal flame burns. The massive monument is topped by a statue of Victor Emmanuel on a horse, accompanied by winged depictions of Victory. A museum inside details the history of the Italian Reunification. The large white columns around the building are sometimes called the "false teeth."

Test your luck at La Bocca della Verità ("The Mouth of Truth"). This grotesque sculpture of a wild-eyed face on the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin has a macabre reputation, made famous by Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. Legend has it that if you put your hand in its gaping mouth and tell a lie, you'll pull out nothing but a stump. 18 Piazza Bocca della Verità.

Walk off that gelato: The Spanish Steps in Piazza di Spagna make up the longest and widest staircase in Europe. Originally proposed by the French, this grand staircase leads from the Piazza di Spagna to the church of Trinità dei Monti (they became the "Spanish" steps after the Spanish embassy moved to the square). Once a hangout for artists, the steps are now abuzz with students, tourists, shoppers, and portrait sketchers.

The world center of the Catholic Church and the largest Roman Catholic building in the world, St. Peter's Basilica is also an astounding work of art. Entry to the main floor is free. The outside colonnade and the 90-foot-tall (30-meter) baldacchino, the staggering bronze canopy that shelters the Papal Altar, where only the pope may celebrate Mass, were designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, one of the greatest baroque sculptors. Don't miss the "Pietà," one of Michelangelo's most famous statues (now sheltered behind glass after an attack by a hammer-wielding maniac), and make sure to rub St. Peter's well-worn foot for good luck as you pass the bronze statue. There is a six-euro charge to climb up to the dome, designed by Michelangelo.

The Vatican Museums are free of charge on the last Sunday of every month, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. (the last admission is at 12:30 p.m.). +39 06 69 88 33 33 .

Rome's national museums and other major galleries have deals that change constantly. Check with galleries individually before you go for any special admission prices. For a listing of museums in Rome, visit http://activitaly.it/musei/.

Visit the gardens at Villa Borghese. One of the most expansive and beautiful set of gardens in Rome, this park is a great place to stop for a picnic; adults can relax and kids can explore. The adjoining Galleria Borghese is worth a visit, but admission is not free. Or you can try Villa Sciarra, which has a playground located next to an exotic-bird aviary. You can feed the birds if you bring your own bread. And at Villa Ada, several organizations (like the World Wildlife Fund) offer free activities for children. In addition, the city holds free exercise sessions for adults at the pond on Sundays.

Piazza di Spagna, one of the most well-known piazzas in Rome, was once home to poet John Keats, who died in an apartment that looked onto the square (his quarters are now a museum). The square also sports the famous Fontana della Barcaccia ("fountain of the boat"), designed by Pietro Bernini and his son Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The shopping around the Piazza di Spagna is some of the best in Rome.

Designed by Niccolo Salvi, the Fontana di Trevi is perhaps the most famous in Rome. The immense fountain was completed in 1762 and is the largest and most intricate of the baroque fountains of Rome, combining sculpture, nature, and architecture. Legend has it that if you throw a coin in over your shoulder, you will return again to Rome. Piazza Navona was originally a center for sporting events, including horse races, and then became the location of a major market. The main market has since moved to Campo de' Fiori, but the piazza is still a central location for street fairs, parades, etc. It also contains some of Rome's most famous artwork: Borromini and Rainaldi's Sant'Agnese in Agone Church and Gian Lorenzo Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi), where each figure represents one of the four main rivers known at the time—the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube, and the Rio de la Plata. Two other fountains on the square, the Fontana di Nettuno and the Fontana del Moro, were designed by Giacomo della Porta.

The Campo de' Fiori square is known for its morning flower and vegetable market, and its evening bar and restaurant scene. The name, given in the Middle Ages, means "field of flowers," referring to the fact that the square was once a meadow.For an authentic Roman walk, stroll through the trendy neighborhood of Trastevere. This area's narrow streets and numerous squares are reminiscent of classical Roman and medieval times. Once the home of artisans, fishermen, and merchants, Trastevere became known for its immense villas and beautiful gardens, which belonged to Julius Caesar. After hours, the area is known for its nightlife.

Starting at 7 p.m. every night, Irish-operated Angel Tours offers a free 30-minute tour of the Pantheon in small groups. Show up at the Pantheon and look for the tour guides holding umbrellas with angels on them. If coming with a large group, call ahead. +39 06 77 20 30 48 .

Sky Tours Rome offers free hour-long tours of Saint Peter's Basilica Mondays through Saturdays at 9 a.m. +39 34 72 84 08 28 .

In summer, the island in the middle of the Tiber hosts the open-air Isola del Cinema film festival. Music, dancing, and food and wine-tasting accompany cinema showings and celebrity sightings. Throughout September's International Urban Theater Festival, keep your eyes open for spontaneous dance, music, and acting performances throughout the city.


Introducing Your Hosts

Introducing your hosts...in our nice digital Avatar form courtesy of Pose Prints. Over the next two weeks we'll attempt to (without a laptop) blog our way through Venice, Rome, Paris and London. We'll be using our trusty digital camera (with iPod camera connector to download photos onto), N95 phone (with wifi, camera, and blogging software), Skype phone, a USB key and our limited knowledge of Italian and French to find internet cafes. This plan was all in an effort to ditch our laptop and free ourselves from lugging it around all day or worrying about it in the hotel. We'll see how our tech-lite blogging plan goes.

As this post goes out we're currently boarding the first of 4 planes. We leave Alaska at 6am today and arrive Venice 10pm tomorrow. All in all it is 36 hours of flying and layover fun. Fairbanks to Seattle, Seattle to Chicago, Chicago to London Heathrow, London Gatwick to Venice. Hope they feed us!


London DIY Travel Planning Resources

It's not nearly as hard to find helpful websites for London as it was for Venice, Rome, and Paris because in London they speak English (duh). Many museums in London are free too, so any budget savings are mostly to be had in the dining and accommodations areas. Hotels were so expensive in London that I couldn't find anything from the usual sources Trip Advisor, Expedia, and newspaper review sites. I ended up finding a boutique B+B in the Belgravia area (cha-ching). It's cute, modern, has 24-hour tea service, breakfast, and free loner bicycles.

Here are a few links that we found useful. We also used Rick Steve's London guidebook a bit. Please post your useful links in the comments.

Planning Your Time:
The London Pass itself is unnecessary as most of the museums in London are free. It just wasn't cost effective for us. That said, the London pass website is a great place to start planning a trip to London with its interactive maps and other features.

The London Guide has a great list which they call Combining Attractions. It groups together sites which are within walking distance of each other and accessible off of the same metro stop.

London Walks offers a variety of tours priced at £7 ($14 USD). These are guided trips on foot that last roughly two hours. Most leave in the vicinity of an Underground stop. Look for a guide holding up the company's white sign. A good way to skip the lines at the Tower of London and a few other sites.

Online Guidebooks:
Fodors London

Frommer's London

How to Get Around:
How To Save Money on London Transport

How to Recognize Bus Stops

London Tube Trip Planner

Gatwick Airport: Getting from Gatwick Airport to London, Heathrow, or other UK cities by train (Gatwick Express), coach service or car service.

Heathrow Airport

Heathrow Terminal 3 Check-In Advice

Heathrow Express train transfer to central London website, cheaper than a cab, more expensive than the tube, faster than both

Eurostar Website: Info and booking engine on the train that nearly 22,000 people take between London and Paris every day.

Other Links:

Theater tickets are way cheaper in London than in New York, even with the exchange rate. This website has an event guide which will tell you what is playing while you're there.

Attraction Official Websites: Go to the source for the most up-to-date information, dates of closure and special exhibit information.

Buckingham Palace

Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace-View the schedule here.

Imperial War Museum's Cabinet War Rooms

London Design Museum

Madame Tussaud's London Wax Museum

Museum of London

National History Museum

National Museum of Science and Industry

National Portrait Gallery

Royal Residences

Sherlock Holmes Museum

Tate Museums

Victoria and Albert Museum


Paris DIY Travel Planning Resources

Here are some of the sites we found most useful for planning our upcoming stay in Paris. Last time I was in Paris I didn't think I would have much time for site-seeing and I didn't want to ruin some things like going up the Eiffel Tower for the first time by going without hubby so I put off a lot of things. I did end up finding a small Parisian bookshop and asking them for a guidebook. It was a touristy area so they had a whole shelf worth. I asked the nice French shopkeeper which one he would recommend to a French friend who wasn't from Paris and he handed me a copy of the Green Micheline guide and a small map book. I'll be taking these back with us despite the fact that they are from 2006. I just went to the attraction websites to pencil in a few updates. I wish that the currency exchange quoted in the book from 2006 were still accurate. I can't complain too much, the dollar has strengthened to its 6 month high this week so the trip is cheaper than when we first started planning it.

Please post your favorite links for the DIY trip planner in the comments.

Where to Stay:
Lonely Planet Paris Hotels

20 Paris Hotels Under £100 - This hotel list includes some pretty special places, and while not all are extreme budget picks, they are something to consider.

USA Today Hotel Picks - Our hotel is one of their recommended picks. We like the variety of funky to functional digs.

How to Get Around:
How to use Paris Mass Transportation - A complete guide to using the Paris metro, buses, RER, and tramway.

Metro/RER/bus trip planner - Need to plan your route? This website will tell you how long it will take, what stops will be involved, where you will transfer and how much it will cost on public transportation.

Paris airports website - How to get a shuttle, maps of the 3 terminals and other helpful info.

Paris Velib - The new bike rental system. A very romantic way to get around Paris, with a much better view than the metro.

Planning Your Time: Frommer's online guidebook for Paris - includes itineraries, attraction info, and good walking tour and other maps to paste into your Moleskine.

Other Useful Websites:
Paris Museum Pass - The best deal for museum hoppers is the Paris Museum Pass which can be bought in 2, 4, or 6 day increments. If you're in Paris for the shopping or food, well good for you and God bless your credit card, but if you're here for the art or history, this deal can't be beat. It will get you free admission to most of the sites at a cheaper rate than individual admissions most of the time. We made a list of all the places we want to go, and even with the discount I get for still being under 25, it was cheaper to go with the pass. Another advantage that might sway you, even if you won't save money with the pass, is that you get to skip the ticket lines and go right in at attractions with traditionally long lines, like the Louvre and Versailles.

Paris Walks - A cheap way to upgrade many experiences while traveling is to hire a good guide. The folks at Paris Walks came highly recommended in multiple guidebooks. We'll be going on their Chocolate Walk and discovering why Paris is famous for dark chocolate. This tour is so popular it has to be booked in advance. Shame as the price of the euro to the dollar has become more favorable since we paid. Oh well, I have no regrets.

Fat Tire Bike Tours Paris - Recommended by a pilot friend who always does one of these tours when he has a layover in Paris. We're thinking about booking their Versailles bike tour if it looks like the weather will be good.

The Jules Verne Restaurant has one of the most romantic views in the world, being at the top of the Tour de Eiffel. A bit of a budget buster, you can save a few bucks if you go for a lunch time reservation instead. Reservations required and are better booked months in advance.

Paris Attractions Official Websites: Go to the source for up to date information, dates they are closed, current prices, special exhibits and other useful info.

Tour Eiffel (Eiffel Tower): Champ de Mars, 7th Tel: (01) 4411 2323. Website: http://www.tour-eiffel.fr/ Opening hours: Daily 0930-2300 (Sep-mid Jun); daily 0900-2400 (mid Jun-Aug).

Cathédrale de Notre-Dame (Cathedral of Our Lady): 6 Place du Parvis-Notre-Dame, 4th Tel: (01) 4234 5610 or 4432 1672 (information on tower). Website: http://www.cathedraledeparis.com/ Opening hours: Daily 0745-1845 (cathedral); daily 0930-1845 (towers); Mon-Sat 0930-1130 and 1300-1730 (treasury). Free admission (cathedral); charge for towers and treasury.

La Basilique du Sacré-Coeur (The Sacred Heart Basilica): Parvis du Sacré-Coeur, 18th Tel: (01) 5341 8900.Website: http://www.sacre-coeur-montmartre.com/ Opening hours: Daily 0600-2300 (Basilica); daily 0930-1830 (crypt and dome). Free admission (Basilica); charge for dome and crypt.

Musée National du Louvre (Louvre National Museum): Cour Napoléon, 1st Tel: (01) 4020 5050.Website: http://www.louvre.fr/ Opening hours: daily 0900-1800, Wed and Fri until 2130; closed Tues. Opening hours for temporary exhibitions vary. Admission charge; free first Sun of each month; advance tickets can be purchased from branches of FNAC and on the Internet; tickets allow same-day re-admission.

Musée Rodin (Rodin Museum): 77 rue de Varenne, 7th Tel: (01) 4418 6110. Website: http://www.musee-rodin.fr/ Opening hours: Museum: Tues-Sun 0930-1745, garden: Tues-Sun 0930-1845 (Apr-Sep); museum: Tues-Sun 0930-1645, garden: Tues-Sun 0930-1700 (Oct-Mar). Admission charge; free first Sun of each month.

Musée d'Orsay (Museum of Orsay): Entrances at 1 rue de la Légion d'Honneur and 1 rue de Bellechasse, 7th Tel: (01) 4049 4814. Website: http://www.musee-orsay.fr/ Opening hours: Tues-Sun 0930-1800, Thurs 0930-2145. Admission charge; free first Sun of each month.

Musée du Quai Branly: 17 Quai Branly, 7th Tel: (01) 5661 7000. Website: http://www.quaibranly.fr/ Opening hours: Tue-Sat 1000-1830, Thu open to 2130.

Musée National Picasso (National Picasso Museum): Hôtel Salé, 5 rue de Thorigny, 3rd Tel: (01) 4271 2521. Website: http://www.musee-picasso.fr/ Opening hours: Wed, Fri-Mon 0930-1800, Thurs 0930-2000 (summer); Wed, Fri-Mon 0930-1730, Thurs 0930-2000 (winter). Admission charge; free first Sun of each month.

Centre Georges Pompidou (Georges Pompidou Centre): Place Georges Pompidou, 4th Tel: (01) 4478 1233. Website: http://www.centrepompidou.fr/ Opening hours: Wed-Mon 1100-2100; late-night openings until 2300 for some exhibits. Admission charge; free first Sun of each month.


Corey Cogdell Women's Trap Shooting Bronze

An Alaskan took the Bronze medal in Women's Trap Shooting, and I actually know her. Congratulations Corey. She is a really awesome person. Nice, a strong Christian and a strong shooter. Alaskan girls kick ass!
Born: Palmer, AK September 02, 1986

Hometown: Eagle River, AK
Residence: Colorado Springs, CO - Olympic Training Center
Ht: 5'7"
Event(s): Trap
I'll have to catch the medal ceremony on youtube or load it on nbcolympics.com later because its 16 hours time difference between Alaska and Beijing. I'm sure her family and many of my friends in Anchorage won't be getting much sleep tonight, but I've got work tomorrow so I'm off.


Russia Invades Georgia

When I got to work this morning I asked my colleagues what they thought of Russia invading Georgia. Much to my chagrin, they didn't know Georgia was a country and thought I was making a strange joke about Russians in Atlanta. No, its true, Russia did invade Georgia in attempt to back up their peace keeping forces which have been trying to keep Georgia from wiping out separatist South Ossetia. These peace keeping forces have recently come under Georgian attack and this invasion is Russia's response. As someone who has studied the area and history of this conflict for years it hardly surprises me. I do find it interesting that most of the articles discussing this matter are quoting ex-President current Prime Minister Putin rather than President Medvedev. Seems like Putin is retaining a good deal of power. Here is some non-CNN coverage in case you are interested. I have linked to English versions only which limited my choices.

Pravda.ru - Russian newspaper, Pravda is the Russian word for truth, take that as you want.(English version)
BBC - I like their timeline of events, which to those unfamiliar with the area helps set the stage on why things are happening.

1991-92 S Ossetia fights war to break away from newly independent Georgia; Russia enforces truce

2004 Mikhail Saakashvili elected Georgian president, promising to recover lost territories

2006 S Ossetians vote for independence in unofficial referendum

April 2008 Russia steps up ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia

July 2008 Russia admits flying jets over S Ossetia; Russia and Georgia accuse each other of military build-up

7 August 2008 After escalating Georgian-Ossetian clashes, sides agree to ceasefire (which Georgia violates)

8 August 2008 Heavy fighting erupts overnight, Georgian forces close on town of Tskhinvali


Going on a Trip? Don't Forget Your Mail

We tend to just let our mail pile up while we're gone or trust our cat sitter to pick it up every once in awhile. But after hearing a few recent horror stories of stolen replacement ATM cards, missing bank statements and other potential identity theft issues we decided to take an item off of the cat-sitters to-do list and put a hold on our mail. It was super easy and took less than 2 minutes to complete on the USPS website. So take the extra 2 minutes and put your mail on hold. Don't forget to unplug your waste power loads, clean your fridge and take out your trash while you're at it. You'll save money, protect your home and come home to a far less stinky house.


Rome DIY Travel Planning

Photo Courtesy: MonasteryStays.com

Here are some of the websites I found useful to plan the Rome portion of our trip.

Lonely Planet


Rick Steve's - As I said in my Venice post, this will be our main guidebook for our Italy travels. We will use the walks, museum guides and basic phone number and other essential travel information. For the most part I have copied the important info on opening times, prices, metro stops, address, and other info into my Moleskine, but will bring this for reference. There wasn't much information on his website to link to, but its worth picking up a copy of his guidebook. I wouldn't buy seperate ones for each Italian city (Venice, Rome, Florence, etc.), just buy the Italy guidebook, it contains much the same information and takes up less space than multiples.


I love the Frommer's maps for Rome webpage. I printed out a bunch of them and pasted them in my Moleskine. It's my own little DIY guidebook, with all of our hotel reservation stuff in it, photos of the outside of our hotel rooms (so if its late at night we'll be sure to recognize it rather than walking past looking for the address) and a bunch of Frommer's maps. It's much easier to print their guidebook maps than to try photocopying out of our Rick Steve's guidebook.

Getting Around:

Rome Airport Guide (FCO): Airport layout, maps, trains and buses from Rome Airport FCO to Rome or other areas in Italy, where to meet at Rome Airport.

Metro Roma

Summer in Italy - Transport Strikes: list of current transportation strikes (rail, airports, etc.)

Where to Stay:

We chose our hotel after reading simultaneous good reviews on Frommers Rome, New York Times, Expedia, Trip Advisor, and Venere. I'll let you know how this plan works out and post a review of our hotel after we go.


I would start with a decent guidebook which will give you an idea of how much you can see during the amount of time you have and a fairly good order to put it all in. For online help I like the Frommers Attractions and Itineraries pages. They have good descriptions, pricing and hours all in one place. I would still double-check with specific attraction's websites where possible.

Vatican Museums- You cannot buy reserved tickets for the Vatican museums (Sistine Chapel) to bypass the lines. The only way to avoid the lines, is to book a tour. I heard that booking directly with the Vatican is impossible and books up more than a year in advance. I e-mailed them just to check and was pleasantly surprised to have an e-mail waiting for me the next day confirming our tour with the official Vatican docents. No line for us, yay! For information on the Vatican, check out http://www.vatican.va/.

Borghese Gallery in Rome You have to have reservations for the Borghese Gallery. You can buy these through their website.

Other Sites:
http://www.mmdtkw.org/: Lots of general Rome information, most recently updated in 2000. http://www.romaturismo.com/v2/en/main.asp (official site of the Rome Tourism Board) http://www.tickitaly.com/ (Italy's site for buying tickets in advance and avoiding lines)
Enjoy Rome, Via Marghera 88, near the train station (tel. 06-4451843), was begun by an English-speaking couple, Fulvia and Pierluigi. They dispense information about almost everything in Rome and are far more pleasant and organized than the Board of Tourism. They'll also help you find a hotel room, with no service charge (in anything from a hostel to a three-star hotel). Summer hours are Monday to Friday 8:30am to 7pm, and Saturday 8:30am to 2pm; winter hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm, and Saturday 9am to 2pm.