6 May 2019

When in Rome


Rome, a city of so much history, architecture, culture and such good food. I recently spent just a day and half in the Italian capital, with it been my second visit. I got a super cheap deal on lastminute.com and jumped at the chance for a bit of warmer weather in November, and the best pizza and pasta around. Rome certainly wasn't built in a day, but if you only have a few days then that might just be enough. I knew my time in the capital was limited but I managed to get through a hell of a lot in 36 hours.


So what is there to do?

Top sites are easy to know and come by in Rome. From the Colosseum, Trevi fountain, the Vatican, all can be covered in just a short amount of time


The Colosseum

The Colosseum is right in the centre of the city and has it's very own metro stop so you can easily stop off. I arrived to the Colosseum on the day and expected a bit of queue but not a massive one. I was wrong. I highly recommend booking online the day before, something I wish I had done! It's not that expensive at 12 and it's free for under 17s. Once you finally get in, you can opt for a guided tour or just roam around yourself. It is pretty spectacular inside, but without a tour, you don't really learn too much as there isn't that many signs and stuff to read. But still awe inspiring at the same time.



Trevi Fountain

Best discovered at night as the fountain lights up and it looks stunning. I imagine the Trevi fountain is packed at the quietest of times so don't expect the place ever to yourself and watch out for pickpockets.



The Vatican

The Vatican is a beast in itself to explore and you could spend a few days just enjoying this country alone. As The Vatican City is the smallest country in the world, there certainly is a lot to take. To make it easier, you can get tickets to the Vatican Museum, St Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, which you can visit at the same time. This allows you to explore a small part of the Vatican and then to see the famous Michelangelo's ceiling mural. I'd advise to get your tickets online beforehand, otherwise you will spend half your time queuing. 

Missed Spots

Of course, there are plenty of other places to visit in Rome, but when you have less than 48 hours, you can't really explore them all. Other places of interest are the Pantheon and the underground Rome tour if you want to find out about the city's many catacombs.



How to get around?

Rome is a city that is really easy to get around. The two airports aren't too far from the city centre and you can opt to take a bus from Ciampino airport or take a train or bus from Fiumicino airport. Both airports' transportation takes you into the centre of Rome, so really easy to make your way from there. 

To get around, you can choose the underground, which is crazy easy to follow and not that big at all. Buy a day ticket and make your way to the Colosseum, Vatican, Trevi fountain and so many more sites from the few subway lines that exist in the Rome's centre. The city however is really easy to walk around and your main sites can all be accessed by foot. This is often the best way as down the little back streets, away from the main squares, you can find the best food.


Pizza and pastas for days

There are probably top, must go to restaurants in Rome, but as it's Italy's capital, you're never going to be short of great food! I assumed as a capital city that the prices would be quite steep but I couldn't believe how cheap some of the restaurants were. As just stated, head away from any main square just by a few streets and you will find small Italian restaurants full of pizzas, pastas, risottos, tiramisu and ridiculously good food. I tried a pizza place opposite the Colosseum but just a few little streets down the back alleys and the pizza came to around 8 and it was huge and so tasty. Do as the Italians do and try some great Chianti wines and I love the aperitif culture of an Aperol spritz before dinner.


Such an amazing city and worth a few days of your time. I wish I had more than my day and a half but we managed to fit so much in there and eat so much great food that it still was amazing!

Ciao bella for now!

26 April 2018

My top five European cities



When thinking of my top five European cities, it is actually quite difficult, as we all know how much this continent has to offer. Whenever I meet travellers who have never been to Europe, I find that they often think they can cover off Europe in a few weeks. I’ve lived in Europe for over 27 years and I haven’t even touched the surface. Even though we may be a small continent, we sure make up for it in terms of culture, cuisine and history. Every European country is vastly different from the next, and the same goes for the cities as well, but I think I’ve managed to narrow my European city ventures down to my top 5.


Budapest


Ruin bars, an old city, Turkish baths and cheap beer. What is not to love? One of my fav European cities is the Hungarian capital, Budapest. I have only visited once but I’d happily visit again and explore the nooks and crannies of this place, as my first trip did result in a lot of hangovers…

I’d recommend to spend a few days here, explore the beauty and history of the old town, grab a few drinks from the ruin bars (popular ones are Szimpla and Instant), then head to the baths and relax in the heat. Or, consider taking a boat trip down the Danube to nearby towns and suburbs of this capital and see what else is on offer.


Paris


I am in love with Paris. Some say they find it underwhelming when they arrive, that actually Paris has some quite grimy parts, but that’s why I love it. The majority of the city, or the bits you see as a tourist are inspiring! Beautiful architecture, ornate statues and generally just incredible sights. I can walk around this city for days and I’d still find that I am in awe of it’s beauty. I also need not really mention the food that the French capital has to offer. Pastry, wine, cheese, bread, but why aren’t the Parisians fat?! Maybe they save it all for me?

Anyone that hasn’t been to Paris, needs to really go. It may not be the cheapest European capital to stay in, but you can get by with the right tricks and the right deals. I stayed for 3 nights, with flights from Manchester included for just £200 on a last minute deal. Yep I probably spent more whilst I was there, but I do love a grog au rhum after all.


Prague


I have been to Prague trice now and I still haven’t touched on what the Czech capital has to offer. A smallish European capital, as you can walk around the main sights and hotspots but there is still plenty to do over a few days. Prague is getting more and more popular each year, and with that comes more and more expense, but I find that it is still a relatively cheap European capital.

You will find a big mix of history and culture, plus more modern and edgy parts of the city. Head to the John Lennon for graffiti heaven. Or for a more scenic day, walk on the Charles Bridge and listen to local musicians playing along. Head over to the old town and explore great views teamed with great wine. Or head just a little out of the city centre to see Sedlec Ossuary, which is a type of church made up of over 40,000 skeletons…


Salzburg


This may be an odd one to add onto the list but I couldn’t get enough of this Austrian city and it’s charm. Salzburg may be most popularly known for the location from the Sound of Music, or for the birthplace of Mozart. Therefore, the culture and history of this city has so much to offer the average traveller.

When you picture a typical Austrian town (or at least when I picture it), then everything that is pictures is all envisaged within Salzburg. Freshly made pretzels sold my local vendors, beautiful European architecture, incredible mountain views and good beer. This city is worth adding to your European Must-Do’s and it’s worth a day or two of your time. Easily accessible from Vienna on the train and everything is moderately priced. But a lot of the beauty of this Austrian city is the buildings and nature, so you can tick a lot of free things to do off your list.


Manchester


Last but not certainly not least, is one of my favourite cities, and my current home, Manchester. I moved to Manchester two years ago, after only visiting once or twice and mainly making the trip to use the airport. I can’t believe this amazing city was on my doorstep for so many years and I never really bothered to visit. The city has so much to offer and it has that great Northern British charm about it. From great bars, great restaurants, beautiful buildings and a lot of history as well.

For example, did you know that Emily Pankhurst, Antony Burgess and so many incredible musicians were born here. With that, then comes a lot of culture and history. The music scene in this city is incredible and you can enjoy a vast amount of live music and comedy for a great price. There is also a fantastic sense of community and people are really proud to be from this Northern powerhouse, plus it’s easy to understand why. When the tragic bombing happened at the Ariana Concert last May, it was overwhelmingly brilliant to see the whole city pull together and show how incredible we are at been there for each other.

I don’t plan on moving away anytime soon as I really do love it here, and after all, I still have so many more bars I need to tick off.

2 April 2018

Why a package holiday isn’t for me


When I think of a package holiday, I think of Butlins, Thomsons (or whatever it’s called now) and a pool on the coast of Spain with screaming kids. All reasons why I don’t necessarily think a package holiday is apt for a former backpacker.
When I was a child, my family and I would go on a package holiday every year. Without sounding completely ungrateful and brattish, I don’t think I ever really liked them. My parents probably spent a fortune to take my two sisters and myself away each summer holiday, and it was always too hot for me, I hated sharing a room with my two sisters and I couldn’t stand putting on sun cream every day.
Fast forward 10 or so years, and I’m booking my first package holiday without my parents…
I wasn’t supposed to be the package holiday type (and it turns out I still aren’t) but when my flights to Cuba were cancelled last October because of the devastating Hurricane Irma, I wanted to find a last minute trip that required zero effort. I had just bought a house and was in the midst of moving in, so planning a holiday around this time wasn’t ideal. My boyfriend wanted a relaxing holiday due to all the house stress, but I knew that sitting around a pool for a week would leave me sunburnt and bored. Therefore, we comprised and opted for a package holiday typical getaway, but in Marrakech as Morocco had been a country I had wanted to go for years.


I left the planning to my boyfriend, and in the end we picked a 4* resort, in the heart of Marrakech with a huge pool, all inclusive, flights, all for just over £500 each for the week. Crazy cheap prices in my eyes, considering flights to Marrakech are over £250 alone (but it really was the all-inclusive drinks that swayed it).


I considered how far the resort was from Marrakech and it all seemed close enough, and the hotel had their own bus service to takes guests straight from the front door to the outskirts of the Medina. Perfect! A winning combo of a relaxing lazy holiday by the pool with a drink in hand, teamed with a backpacker exploration of Marrakesh's heart.


There were aspects that were great, huge bedroom with all the amenities, enough sunbeds to relax on and of course all-inclusive food and drink. But the majority of negatives outweighed the positives. Firstly, the food. I thought I knew Moroccan food, but when all you’ve eaten for a week is ‘resort’ food then I’m not really sure what Moroccan food is meant to be. This type of food was good, but it was a toned down version of what I assume the locals eat. Moroccan food with a heavy British influence, after all there was even a pizza ‘bar’ in the hotel’s restaurant. Plus, all of the restaurants were buffet style. I wanted a nice sit down meal where I didn’t have to search high and low for a knife and fork and wave hectically at a waiter to take away three empty plates on my table.

But that really wasn’t the case. Firstly, Marrakech didn’t really do it for me as much as I hoped after many years of wanting to visit (find out why here), but overall the whole ‘resort’ life didn’t really do it for me either.
Secondly, the drink. All-inclusive drink but did I feel drunk at any point on my trip? No. It all must have been watered down or extremely weak.
Thirdly, the entertainment. I assumed some kind of belly-dancing, Moroccan music but we were left with a severe lack of entertainment every night.
Fourthly, kids. I’m not a huge fan of children so I don’t need to fight my way to the pool against a chubby four year old.
I may seem snobbish writing all of this, but overall the package dream that the website sold me, just didn’t happen. I should have stuck with my backpacker roots and avoided all other British package holiday tourists, and found a ? in the heart of Marrakech. I bet the food would have been 10 times better, I bet I wouldn’t have to listen to the pool’s music of Pitbull every day, and overall, I bet I would have found a bar where the wine got me a bit drunk.

6 January 2018

Souk life in Marrakesh


Morocco, or more specifically, Marrakesh had been on my travel wish list for years due to romantic films such as Casablanca, and television romanticising of the souks, camels and the smell of hundreds upon hundreds of spices. So when my trip to Cuba was cancelled due to the tragedy of hurricane Irma, I quickly searched for a last minute, fairly cheap holiday to fill the gap.

A toss up between a relaxing beach holiday, or a backpacking, exploring holiday as this is what I'm used to, was thrown up in the air. In the end I settled for a relaxing holiday but in Marrakesh, all bundled up into a package holiday, a type of holiday I hadn't encountered since I was 15 going to Cyprus for the third time with my parents. Package holiday discussions are all for another blog, as I could rant about those for days. Instead, I will explore the wonders, and albeit it, disappointments of Marrakesh and how my longing for this country for many years, was quite frankly a bit of a let down.

Where to begin?


Marrakesh is split into several different sections, like most cities. But as a tourist/backpacker, you'll be met with the main 5:

- The Medina (the old own)
- Kasbah (former royal quarter)
- Mellah (Jewish quarter)
- Gueliz (hip, rich area)
- Hivernage (the new part of the city with expensive hotels and bars)
- Palmeraie (mainly full of resort hotels)

I stayed in Palmeraie, in my package holiday bubble, but spent the majority of my time in the Medina and parts of Hivernage.


The Medina


No doubt where most backpackers spend their time as this is where you can explore the hustle and bustle of the souks, the main architectural sights and of course, the famous city square Djemaa el Fna. Take note of the Koutoubia Mosque just at the head of the avenue leading to the main square. This is a tall focal point and may help you find your way back whenever lost in Marrakesh. But before you get lost, you obviously need to know where to start. I'd recommend starting at the Djemaa el Fna and take in the sights of snake charmers, henna tattoo artists and general Moroccan culture. Watching the treats is fine but if you take a photo nearby, then be warned that the vendors and likes of snake charmers, may want a few coins. Also, I never encountered pickpockets, I was told to be weary them around the square and souks.


From the Djemaa El Fna you can enter the souks and get lost for a few days. I did hear of maps of the souks but it really is pointless, as only a local would be able to navigate this maze. However, certain parts of the souks are separated into different sections, for example the spice bazaars, olive souks, pottery souks and textile souks. Overall, the bazaars are difficult to get around and you may come across the same kind of stall a million times over. Ones that sell general Morocco crockery and pottery seemed to appear on every other stall, and all were wanting you to come in and haggle on a price for a Morocco jug. I couldn't really differentiate between the various sections, but apparently they are there?

Take a break from the souks if you can and head to the cafes that are intertwined within it. A popular spot is Cafe Des Epices which is on a nice terrace and more aimed at tourist prices but the food and spot was good.


If you have the effort, trail all the way through the souks to north of the Medina and you can hit up the Ben Youssef Mosque and the Marrakesh Museum. Both can be accessed by a single ticket and the mosque was alright in my opinion, but I'd say the museum is more worth your time.


Mellah & Kasbah


The Jewish section Mellah, and the royal quarter Kasbah are right next to each other and are just south of the Medina, so easy enough to walk, even with my pale northern skin. Mellah is worth a day of your time to explore all of the great sights here and you'll find it a little less (just a little) hectic than the Medina. I headed to the Saadian Tombs, which were only a few pounds to get in. Not that much to see to be honest, but a beautiful garden full of nice tiles which I'm obsessed with as a new home owner these days. From the tombs you can make your way to El Badi Palace which I think was one of my favourite sights from the city. A huge former palace, which is actually pretty empty but it's size and decorative pools make it worth a visit, plus it allows you to see some of the best views over the city. Finally make your way over to Bahia Palace, which is another former palace and also another sight to behold, but behold it with a million and one other tourists.



That is all I got to see in the south of the city but you can branch out either further to the Bab Djedid olive grove and the Miaara Jewish cemetery


Hivernage


Hivernage was sold to me as the new part of the city where all the nightlife happens, full of restaurants, bars, cafes and expensive hotels. Situated around Avenue Mohammed V you will find lots of establishments but overall I was disappointed. I expected a busy nightlife area but it just seemed like a main road with a few cafes lining the streets. Also, as an ignorant drunk Brit, I found it difficult to find a place that sold alcohol here, which I know is the custom in Marrakesh but I feel that I was mis-sold this hip, happening new town. But you can find decent Moroccan food here for reasonable prices, and I tried La Taverne which I heard was one of the oldest restaurants in the city. Whether that's true or not, I have no idea. Overall, if you're short of time then you can miss out Hivernage, but it is an alright place for a cup of mint tea.


Gueliz


This is the commercial centre of Marrakesh, but not the commercial centre that may attract backpackers. More for your locals in terms of needing appliances, post offices and that sort of thing. The only sight that will be worth your time here is the Majorelle Gardens, the famous garden owned by Yves Saint Laurent. A bit out of the way to everywhere else but worth a few hours of your time to explore a tranquil part of the city that you won't really find anywhere else in this tourist hotspot.


Overall, my views of Marrakesh are not what I would like them to be. Perhaps I was a bit jaded because I did spend my time in a resort hotel in the Palmerie area and going from the relaxation of a quiet pool, to the heat and crowds of Marrakesh was perhaps too much of a contrast. This is a cool city but I imagined it to be a lot cooler. I expected smells of spices all over the city and locals haggling bargains amongst one another, but I didn't experience anything close to this. I would recommend staying more central and being a bit more backpackery than I was by staying in a Riad, but when it's more than 30°c at the end of October, then can you blame me for wanting to sit by a pool all day?

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