Author Archives: Kimberly Sullivan

When in Rome: Coffee with a view at Colle Oppio park

What’s better than taking a short break from all your sightseeing on your trip to Rome? How about a little table in the sun where you can rest your legs, sip a cappuccino and enjoy the view. What if the view’s like this?

Truthfully, the café is a little farther up the path, but you get the idea. The Colle Oppio café is a wonderful place to relax, drink a coffee or – depending on the hour – an aperativo and enjoy the fabulous view.

Colle Oppio is a small park just next to the Colosseum and, on nice days, it provides a welcome respite from busy tourist itineraries. It’s a favoured spot for locals as well. If you’re travelling with children, there’s a tiny playground toward the back of the park.

From Colle Oppio there are also pretty views over the imposing medieval Santi Quattro Coronati abbey-fortress.

Colle Oppio is most famous for its stunning Domus Aurea (Golden Palace), which is , sadly, closed to the public while it undergoes major renovation following a partial collapse.

The Domus Aurea was the opulent Ancient Roman Palace of Emperor Nero. It was built in 64 AD, following the great fire of Rome that destroyed all of the previous buildings in the area. The complex of buildings that made up the Domus Aurea was enormous, spanning from the Palatine Hill to the Esquiline and Celian Hills. A great lake and surrounding forest land was built on the ancient site.

The complex was largely destroyed by subsequent Emperors. The lake was drained in order to construct the Colosseum in its place. The segment in Colle Oppio was built over rather than destroyed. It was only in the 15th century that the sole surviving segment of the Domus Aurea was “rediscovered”. Famous artists like Raphael visited and were influenced by the stunning frescoes.

There is no news yet as to when the site will once again be open to visitors. I reckon that the  Colle Oppio is one of the best Rome cafes where you can enjoy your cappuccino with a  view on your next visit to Rome.

Some of my past suggestions for things to see in the area include the Ludus Magnus – just across the street – or having a bite to eat at the bakery Panella , only a short walk away.

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Getting around on Maltese public transport

The Mediterranean island of Malta is a great European destination, offering visitors historic cities , spectacular beaches and glimpses into its ancient past .

On a visit to Malta, my family and I chose to base ourselves in the picturesque capital city of Valletta and to make our way around the island on Malta’s historic and remarkably colourful public buses.

Photo courtesy

If you’re based in Valletta, travelling by bus rather than renting a car to get around the island, is a viable option. Frequent buses leave the capital’s main bus depot at regular intervals for points all over the island. Check for updated schedule information at the Malta bus web site .

Photo courtesy

We found it a convenient – and inexpensive – way to travel around the island, since we didn’t want the hassle of (left-handed and chaotic) driving and we found Maltese taxis insanely overpriced. Our children really enjoyed riding on these colourful old buses and insisted on purchasing a souvenir toy bus before we left Malta.

The disadvantages? The Maltese buses can be crowded, particularly in the summer months and on weekends, and reaching multiple destinations can be difficult. You must often go back to Valletta to depart again for another destination. There was no air-conditioning, although we didn’t find this to be too much of a problem, even in late June.

So decide what works best for your needs when getting around the pretty Mediterranean island of Malta. On our return, we’ll definitely be back exploring the island on the yellow and red Maltese buses.

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When in Rome: Vatican stamp collecting

It’s the rare visitor to Rome who doesn’t make his or her way to the Vatican. Visiting St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museum are highlights of any visit to the Eternal City, as Heather has described in her post “Be a religious tourist in Rome“. As most visitors know, Vatican City is actually its own state, separate from Italy, with its own Head of State  – the Pope.

Vatican City also mints its own coins (it is within the euro zone) , maintains its own postal service (since 1929) and issues its own postage stamps.

On your next visit to the Vatican, stop by at the post office (just next to the Visitor’s office, to the left of the main entrance to Saint Peter’s) to see the special issues of stamps and to mail your postcards, franked by the Vatican City postal service.

One of my children has just started collecting stamps and I have other friends who collect franked Vatican stamps, so I am often passing through the Vatican post office to purchase postage stamps or mail out letters.

It’s fun to see tourists from all over writing post cards, affixing their Vatican stamps and sending them off to all corners of the world. With the rich collection of art at the Vatican – and within the Catholic church the Vaticanissued stamps can be quite striking, including recently issued stamps from works by Caravaggio and Botticelli. For serious collectors, there’s even a helpful on-line catalogue of issues from 1929 to the present.

So on your next visit to Rome, be sure to stop by at the Vatican post office to buy postage stamps or mail out your postcards. Your stamp collecting friends will thank you and you couldn’t find presents easier to pack than these.

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Best places to slow down and experience Vienna’s café culture

Vienna is surely one of the best European destinations. To truly enjoy the city, a visitor shouldn’t rush, but should instead slow down and enjoy age-old Viennese traditions. Few of these traditions are as enjoyable as taking time to relax, warm up,  people watch, and read in the venerable institution of the Viennese café.

Outside these lovely cafés, the hectic and distracting pace of 21st century life may go on as usual, but inside, be sure to pack away your laptops and hide your iphones in order to fully enjoy the splendours of turn of the 20th century Vienna. The cafés are all well stocked with international newspapers. The coffee is served Viennese-style, on a  platter, accompanied by a glass of water with an overturned spoon. Desserts are, of course, sinfully rich. Be sure to incorporate one (or many) visits to some of these cafés into your next visit to Vienna.


The grande dame of Viennese café culture, Demel was established in 1786. The “K.u.K” proudly displayed on its portal and on its confectionary boxes, indicate that it was the official imperial bakery (Kaiser und Kaiserin). Emperess Sissi was said to have been extremely fond of the sweets produced by Demel.

Firmly wedded to tradition, Demel refused to remove the “K.u.K” even after the collapse of the Empire rendered it irrelevant and unpopular. Almost one hundred years after the Empire’s collapse, it still remains proudly on the door – as you can see in this photo – and a visitor to this lovely café may indeed feel he’s been transported back to 19th century Vienna.

The beautiful window displays change frequently. Even if you don’t manage to go inside to sit down, be sure to see what’s on display in this most famous of Viennese cafés. Demel is located on Kohlmarkt, just a few steps away from the Hofburg.

Café Schwarzenberg

Café Schwarzenberg is on the Ringstrasse, midway between the Opera house and the Stadtpark. It was established in 1861 when the Ringstrasse was first built by tearing down Vienna’s defensive walls.

Café Schwarzenberg  is famous for having been occupied by the Russian army after liberating the city in 1945. Today, the café upholds Viennese traditions and is a pleasant place to stop on your walk around the Ringstrasse. On warm days, there is outdoor seating on the adjoining sidewalk.

Café Central

This is my favourite Vienna café. Opened in 1861, the Café Central is housed in the Palais Ferstel on Herrengasse. Over its long history, the Café Central has seen many famous – and infamous – patrons sipping coffee within its lovely vaulted spaces.

Adolf Loos, Tito, Sigmund Freud, Vladimir Lenin, Adolf Hitler and Leon Trotsky have all spent time here. At a time when many Viennese flats were unheated, many young intellectuals and revolutionaries spent hours nursing their coffees – and staying warm – at the Café Central.

This was the case with Leon Trotsky, who became such a fixture at the Viennese coffee house that when the Russian Revolution began, the Viennese laughed it off, assured that “Herr Trotsky of the Café Central” could never succeed in such an endeavour.

Join the ranks of history and culture with a visit to these beautiful Viennese cafés on your next visit to the Austrian capital. For something more informal Andy recommends Cafe Aida.

Best of Vienna Tips

Our “Best of Vienna Travel Tips” collation will give you plenty of ideas for you trip to Vienna. We’ve also researched some of the best places to stay in Vienna for all budgets. You can also read about ten must-see Vienna museums.

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The Gargano peninsula’s stunning coastline – Puglia, Italy

I’ve already written about Gargano’s beautiful beaches . Visiting these beaches south of Vieste also provides a nice excuse for a drive through the Gargano’s most stunning coastline.

The road is high up and curving, but road conditions are pretty good. There are places to stop and park the car to allow you to get out and admire the views over the rugged coastlines.

There are pretty rock formations and numerous ancient watchtowers dotting the coastline. These used to be an important line of defense for the local population – watching for Saracen or Ottoman invaders. Today, they serve as panoramic viewing points over the dramatic coastline.

Enjoy your drive along Gargano’s picturesque coastline.

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Views from the eagle’s nest in Èze, France

Just a short distance from Nice, after a dramatic and spectacular drive along the Moyenne Corniche road that alone make the trip worthwhile, lies the charming medieval town of Eze.

At 470 metres above sea level, Èze – frequently referred to as the eagle’s nest – is a picture-perfect village perché (perched village), with breathtaking views down below to the beautiful coastline.

The charming streets and vaulted cover ways remind visitors of the original defensive purpose of these fortifications. The only danger of invasion Èze faces today is from the  tourist onslaught during the summer season, but throughout much of its history, this pretty town was the subject of brutal attacks. The Moors invaded in the 10th century and stayed for 80 years. The “Moorish door” marking their entry survives to this day.  In 1543 Èze was invaded by the infamous Barbarossa and his Ottoman fleet.

For today’s visitor, the winding cobblestoned streets are a pleasure to explore. There is a pretty church and a dramatic cemetery overlooking the valleys below.

Èze was a fashionable place to stay in the Belle époque. Artists, philosophers and European nobility all spent time in lovely Èze at the turn of the 20th century. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche spent time here in 1883. There is a path named after him, where he was said to often hike, that leads down to the sea.

Unfortunately, the castle was destroyed in 1706 by order of King Louis XIV. Today, upon its ruins lies the pretty Jardin exotique (admission 3 euro, children free) with cacti from all over the world and unparalleled views over the coast.

Don’t miss out on a trip to the eagle’s nest – and the stunning views it affords - on your next visit to the French Riviera. Èze is an easy day trip from Nice on frequent public buses. The number 82 leaves from Nice’s bus station and makes the 20-minute trip to Èze village. Alternatively you could stay in Eze.

When in Rome: SS Giovanni e Paolo and the Ancient Roman houses

Rome is my favourite European city. I love walking around and seeing all the layers of its long history. Although most visitors concentrate on Rome’s Ancient, Renaissance and Baroque splendours, medieval Rome is also fascinating to explore.

One of my favourite corners of Rome starts at the tiny, cobblestoned street of Via San Paolo della Croce, which leads over the Celian hill. If you come here in the silence of early morning, you would be forgiven for thinking you’ve been transported back in time to medieval Rome, particularly as you near the lovely Basilica of SS Giovanni e Paolo (Saints John and Paul).

This church was built in 410 AD and restructured in the 11th century by Pope Pascal II, who also erected the lovely bell tower typical of medieval Italian churches. Major renovations to the interior were carried out in the 18th century, but the pretty exterior remained untouched.

This perfect Roman spot has been admired by countless generations of Romans and tourists alike. The following observations about the church and its idyllic position were recorded by Henry James in his Italian Hours:

No spot in Rome can show a cluster of more charming accidents. The ancient brick apse of the church peeps down into the trees of the little wooded walk before the neighbouring church of San Gregorio… and a series of heavy brick buttresses, flying across to an opposite wall, overarches the short, steep, paved passage which leads into the small square. This is flanked on one side by the long mediaeval portico of the church of the two saints, sustained by eight time-blackened columns of granite and marble. … The place always seem to me the perfection of an out-of-the-way corner – a place you would think twice before telling people about, lest you should find them there the next time you were to go.

I love James’ description of  this “out-of-the-way-corner”. That’s exactly how I feel when I have this little slice of Rome to myself, before the crowds and the cars. Here are the heavy brick buttresses he describes.

If Henry James’ description can’t coax you to SS Giovanni e Paolo, then perhaps what lies beneath might do the trick. Underneath these dramatic buttresses are the Case romane , the Ancient Roman houses, which opened to the public in 2002, following extensive excavations.

These are the homes where John and Paul, officers under Emperor Constantine, were said to have lived. They were martyred in 361 and the basilica that takes their names was built over their former dwelling place.

Excavations began in 1887, uncovering a site of more than 20 rooms, some with vivid, well-preserved frescoes.

Photo courtesy of the Case romane web site

These homes are a wonderful glimpse into Roman life between the 2nd and 4th century. A small but interesting museum displays objects excavated from the homes. Check the museum’s web site for opening hours and ticket information

Enjoy your visit to medieval and Ancient Rome at the Basilica of SS Giovanni e Paolo. For more of medieval Rome, see the Shrine to Pope Joan and the beautiful mosaics of Santa Prassede.

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Riga’s stunning art nouveau architecture

While planning a trip to Latvia’s capital, I was very surprised to read that the historic center of Latvia boasts the largest collection of art nouveau buildings in Europe.

I have lived in both Prague and Vienna and both cities impress visitors with their stunning art nouveau architecture. The work of Czech artist Alphonse Mucha is even credited with popularizing the movement, so I was surprised to learn that it was actually Riga offering the widest range of buildings in this whimsical and beautiful style.

Art nouveau, also known as Jugendstil (from German) or Liberty (the name used in Italy), was most popular at the turn of the 20th century.

The height of its popularity happens to coincide with a major urban development project in Riga. Between 1896 and 1913, the city expanded outside the boundaries of the medieval center. This urban planning effort resulted in a new circle of pleasant parks surrounded with new housing constructed in what was soon to become the city’s ubiquitous art nouveau style. Riga’s new constructions were mainly created by German, Austrian and Finnish architects.

photo courtesy of

Following the failed 1905 revolution, a wave of nationalism swept through Riga. The art nouveau style was affected, too, with distinctly Latvian design elements – such as Latvian folk elements and local building materials – finding their way into building projects.  The movement was known as National Romanticism.

Photo courtesy of bonsaiinformation

In 1997, Riga was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site , in part for what UNESCO calls Riga’s “outstanding universal value by virtue of the quality and the quantity of its Art Nouveau/Jugendstil architecture, which is unparalleled anywhere in the world.”

If you’re planning a trip to Riga you can find the best hotels deals using the HotelsCombined pirce comparison site.

When in Rome: Nativity scene tourism

Those of you visiting the Eternal City during the Christmas season will be certain to notice the Christmas trees that now grace the city. Christmas trees are a relatively recent import – a northern European tradition. To get a real flavour of Italian Christmas traditions, visitors in should visit the many Roman churches that host a traditional presepio – a nativity scene.

The nativity scene is said to have originated in Italy. It is Saint Francis of Assisi who is credited with having constructed the first  nativity scene in a cave in the town of Greccio, outside Assisi, way back in 1223.

Nativity scenes from Naples are the most famous and even today its craftsman are renowned for carrying on this ancient tradition.

My favourite among the many on offer in Rome’s churches during the holiday season is a Neapolitan nativity scene from 1700 on display is at the Basilica dei Santi Cosma e Damiano (Basilica of Saints Cosmas and Damian) in the Roman Forum, just off the Via dei Fori Imperiali.

The Basilica dei Santi Cosma e Damiano  was built in the early 6th century AD and it is the oldest church in the Imperial Forum.  The church features original early Christian mosaics in the apse.

Each year at during the Christmas season, tourists and Romans flock here to see the stunning details of Neapolitan craftsmen in this lovely nativity scene. Jesus, Mary and Joseph are surrounded by hundreds of figures and animals, all set amongst Roman ruins. The details are marvellous and, even after numerous viewings, I find myself admiring scenes I hadn’t noticed on earlier visits.

A visit to see this historic nativity scene in Basilica dei Santi Cosma e Damiano  is my European travel tip if your holiday travels take you through Rome. Be sure to also stop off at the Christmas market on Rome’s lovely Piazza Navona.

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The Christmas Market in Nice, France

Although beautiful Nice, with its wide stretch of beach and lovely blue Mediterranean waters, is famous as one of  the best places to visit in Europe in the summertime, this pretty city also makes an ideal winter get-away destination.

Enjoy Nice without the crowds as it prepares for the Christmas season with its annual holiday market, set up on Place Massena, just at the edge of picturesque Vieux Nice.

Illuminated palm trees border the ice skating rink set up for the Christmas market.

The French Riviera is not known for its snowfall, but the fake snow on the pretty Christmas trees that grace the market look almost like the real thing.

The Christmas stalls sell gifts and food and, of course, wonderful vin brulé (mulled wine).

There are plenty of activities to keep the kids happy – ice skating, the giant ferris wheel, trampolines and fun houses.

Enjoy a trip to beautiful Nice during the holiday season.  You can find the best deals on Nice hotels on the HotelsCombined price comparison site. When you tire of the mulled wine and “snow-covered” trees, you can walk a few short meters away to enjoy a pleasant stroll on the beach. Clearly, the best of both worlds.

Discover another 24 Christmas Markets in Europe in our collation post.