Europe, Italy, Travel

Exploring Northern Italy – Tuscany, Assisi and Venice

With our base in Florence for 10 days we took the opportunity to explore other cities in Tuscany as well as Venice and Assisi. This seemed to work well as it allowed us to have a steady base, but also see so much of the nature in lovely Northern Italy as we crossed back and forth by train 🙂

Assisi

It wasn’t our first day trip, but it was certainly the most emotional one so this gets go first. We got there by train and local bus, but while we were there we saw quite a few tour buses so it shouldn’t be difficult to find a company doing trips there. Assisi is a tiny village in the Umbria region in Northern Italy. It is famous for being the birth place of Saint Francis of Assis as well as several other religious figures. For such a tiny village, it sure has a lot of churches (notably Church of San Pietro for examples) , and for this reason as well as visitors being able to visit the tomb of St.Francis it has become a place of pilgrimage.

Must Do: Walk to the very top of the village, next to a fortress of sorts, and take in the view. It is breathtaking.

It is a beautiful little village, quiet and traditional, despite the occasional souvenir shop. Or maybe not souvenir shops, but more like shops for religious mementos and figures. It was very clear that though small, it has been, and still is a religious centre. This said, I have never considered myself particularly religious, always believing in “something” but never God as we know him. A higher power yes, a man who created all of earth, no. I still had one of the most emotional experiences of my life when I entered the Holy site of St. Francis tomb. Laura and I  walked into the round room and sat down, a little way apart from each other. It was quiet and I thought of my late Grandfather and sent some thoughts his way. I sent some thoughts to my friends and family. And then I looked at the tomb and started crying. Not hysterically, and not audibly, but tears were running at a steady pace down my face and I felt so much grief. Overwhelming grief. Like the entire room contained the grief of centuries of people mourning the loss of the patron saint of Italy.  I won’t go into it more than that, but I will say this : I walked out of the room and out of the church and felt lighter than I had in years. That silent church room felt peaceful and safe and the emotional release that happened in it stayed with me for a long time.

Monterosso – Cinque Terre Coast

We were only going to go to the beach one day to relax a little by recommendation of Nadine (our host at the B&B) but once we got there we decided to go back for another day. Who knew that such a tropical looking and feeling beach could be found so far north?  Monterosso al mare is the biggest of the five villages that make up the Cinque Terre coastline. Now, we had spent so much time exploring other cities that when we got to Monterosso we spotted the beach and decided to just stay there. It didn’t help that it was very very warm for the season and lying straight out soaking up some sun seemed like the best plan of action. We enjoyed it immensely, despite me getting a severe sunburn on my legs after going for a dip, and I know I want to go back there and see more.  Only this year the Cinque Terre coast line and the villages along it have become the “it” place to be and now everyone who is anyone have explored the five villages and my Instagram timeline is all Italy. It has become evident that we missed out on some spectacular views, but that just means I have an excuse to go back. As if I need an excuse 😛

Venice

One of the cities we really were looking forward to visit was World Heritage Site Venice. The city that is not a city exactly, but rather hundreds of little islands that all together make up the rocky foundation of a city. Gondolas, the architecture, the picturesque river “streets”, it all came together and offered a wholly romantic experience. I didn’t question the honeymoon destination stamp for a minute, because everything screamed romanticised nostalgia and historical grandeur. It was gorgous, but quiet, if one walked out of the steam of tourist (the Norwegian herring in a bucket metaphor has never been more appropriate).

It also felt like a ghost city. We took a wrong turn on purpose and ended up in no mans land. Only old buildings and quiet waters. No life in the windows and no life in the streets. The historical grandeur was still present, but it became aerie. The emptiness of the vast city compared to what it must have been like was loud and intrusive, but an experience in itself. Venice was an odd mix of bustling tourism and absolute silence, but it was all together beautiful.

Lucca and Bologna

The other two cities we visited were Lucca and Bologna. Lucca is known in particular for the historical Renaissance city walls. We spent hours walking the pedestrian paths on the wall and enjoying the view of the architecture. When lunch time rolled around we had followed the maps to the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, a square that used to be an old amphitheater, but is a shopping and food centre today. We sat down at a café and spent time people watching, soaking up the smells and the sounds and the rapid Italian flying around all around the square.

Must Visit Tip : Piazza dell’Anfiteatro is a wonderful square full of life and colour, cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops if you go looking for postcards.

Bologna is another historical city, but this one is arguably most known for the use of arches in the architecture. Bologna is also the place of origin of Bolognese, but arguably not the Dolmio kind, as when we had some bolognese in Bologna it tasted heavenly. The food we ate in Bologna was as Italian as it gets and there were so so many places to choose from. If you prefer a menu in English some restaurants do offer that, but often restaurants that cater to locals more than tourists are cheaper so take that into consideration!

Our 12 days in Rome, Florence and Tuscany were some of the best days of my life and we couldn’t have asked for better weather or better hosts. Impressions for a lifetime, but just a taster of what Italy has to offer.  I can’t wait to go back one day, hopefully not too far in the future. Xxx

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Europe, Italy, Travel

Italy: Sightseeing Rome & The Best Gelato In Town

Oh, Rome, oh Rome, how I love you!  Right after my Epic Ireland Adventure last year I packed my bags again and headed off to Italy for 12 days with my Brazilian friend Laura (the one I will be visiting in Rio de Janeiro next year whiii). Our first stop was Rome and we had three days to explore the city. Neither of us had ever been to Italy or to Rome before so we came open to any and all impressions and was delighted by everything we saw.

Our first day was spent doing general sightseeing and getting a feel of the city and the public transport. We quickly checked off the Spanish steps, the Trevi fountain with its surrounding cobblestone streets, the Pantheon and a couple of famous Piazzas (squares) from our “to see” list and of course we ended the day with a pasta dinner.

Rome is romantic from top to bottom and was made for wandering. We walked from place to place between the little signs around the city, reading maps and often just following the stream of people. We visited the city outside of the high season, but as it happens it was Easter so the streets were packed with religious pilgrims and excited tourists wanting to catch a glimpse of the Pope anyway, and the Metro was busy.

We quickly discovered that Rome is a tourist city. Everywhere there are streams of tourists visiting the top attractions and it takes a little walking to get places if you want to avoid the Metro. Walking the streets of Rome turned out to be one of the best decisions we made however, because exploring outside of the touristic paths meant we got to see a calmer Rome. A Rome slow in tempo and an everyday life kind of Rome, like the Trastevere district. I preferred the outskirts of the city to the endless queuing of the main attractions, for example seeing the Trevi fountain in real life and tossing a coin into it was a bucket list moment, but it was slightly dampened by feeling slightly claustrophobic among hundreds of other people doing the same thing.

Gelato Tip: The best gelato in town according to pretty much every local we met was the Gelateria La Romana. Mindblowingly tasty natural flavours and a really lovely warm atmosphere that doesn’t cater to tourists (with english translations and such) but instead comes across as authentically Italian – we ended up going back every single day we were in Rome for a tasty treat!

On our second day we headed off to the the Roman Forum, the historic city centre,  to soak up some history. As part of the Roman Forum round trip you can head up on Palatine Hill, the location of the ancient settlement that eventually become Rome and gaze upon ruins that looks straight out of Hercules. It was beautiful. It really hit home the magnitude of what used to be the Roman empire as well as the sheer “oldness” of it all. I touched a stone wall that was thousands of years old and it took my breath away.

Our last day in Rome was spent exploring the Colosseum and seeing the Vatican city as well as walking through the city for our last round of Gelato at La Romana.  We also wandered into Orange Park, a green area located on quite a steep hill that gives you an excellent view of the St.Peter’s Basilica. When we visited the Vatican, we ended up not going into the basilica due to the queue being several hours long, but we enjoyed exploring the grounds around it and the striking image it made against the city backdrop.

Colosseum Ticket Tip: Get your tickets to both the Colosseum and the Roman Forum at the Roman Forum entrance. The queue is about 3 times as long to get tickets at the Colosseum so we saved a lot of time! Another option is getting them online, just make sure to avoid the queue to get your tickets as the queue to get in also takes time!

3 days of exploring this historic city was not nearly enough time to get to know it properly, but we thoroughly enjoyed it and covered most of the major tourist attractions in only a few days. It’s odd how a large capital city can feel entirely quaint and not really large at all, but Rome did it.  I absolutely can’t wait to go back and sorely wish we had had more time there, but after Rome we headed straight up north to Tuscany and explored the region for a week and a half  – so we had no time to lose! A  post about that will be up next week. Hello, Florence,  you beauty! Xxx

Europe, Ireland, Travel

An Epic Ireland Adventure – Dublin, Galway, Limerick & Cork

You wouldn’t think that Ireland and England are different, and in many ways they are not, but during my Epic Ireland Adventure with Christa I learned that Ireland is beautiful. Beautiful and awe-inspiring and a fascinating  mix of what I know as British culture and something very unique and altogether foreign. If you prefer watching over reading here is a videoblog from our trip, the written post is below 🙂

Dublin

Our adventure started in the capital of Ireland, Dublin. We flew directly from Newastle Airport and got to Dublin feeling a little dazed and confused, not really knowing what we were looking for or what we were hoping to see. Months before we had booked three nights in Barnacles Hostel (Highly recommend it, very social and very good standard), right smack in the middle of the Temple Bar area, arguably one of the most colourful neighborhoods in the city. Not that we were aware of this, because as it turns out, we knew nothin’, Jon Snow. We learned quickly however, and spent the first day exploring the medieval-like cobblestone streets of Temple Bar and soaking up the tempo and atmosphere of the city, including a evening visit to Hard Rock Café Dublin. While sightseeing the city we also popped by the magnificent St.Patricks Cathedral.

Dublin is a fascinating city in many ways. It was founded by vikings, under British rule for centuries, then became an independent republic, heavily influenced by Catholicism. Ireland itself used to be Gaelic, though much of the Gaelic culture slowly disappeared under British rule, but the remnants of it still exist. While walking around Dublin and all throughout our trip we were reminded of Irish history and it was an interesting one!

“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” – Oscar Wilde

Dublin is, and was, also the home to some great literary names such as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett and more and this is evident all over the city. With statues (like the one above of Oscar Wilde looking swag), memorial centers and literary walking tours Dublin is lovely for anyone interested in literature or wanting to see some fictional sights in real life.

A must-do in Dublin is visiting the Guinness Storehouse. Guinness is a dark malt beer that originates in Dublin and can be bought in shops all over the world. It’s not a stereotype that the Irish like their beer, but then again, so does any citizen of the British Isles (Yes, Ireland is not british anymore, but is located geographically among the British Isles).  We headed there on our second day in Dublin and it was almost a full day tour, tasting beer, smelling ingredients, pouring a pint – we did it all, and despite not being into beer we both enjoyed the experience. On our last day in Dublin we explored the less touristy side of the city and enjoyed some people watching


Galway

After Dublin we headed off by train to what turned out to be the best part of our entire trip – the coastal town of Galway. Galway is a small town of only 70 000 people (ish) living there, but because they suburban areas are spread out, it feel like a very small town. It’s also extremely cozy, with picturesque streets, pubs that offer live Irish music almost every night and a unique shoreline promenade that provide tourists and locals a like a breath of fresh air from bigger cities. Dublin felt much like a lot of other larger European cities, but in Galway we came face to face with what felt like authentic Ireland.

The highlight of the trip was a package day trip we went on from Galway. We left early in the morning on our second day in the little town and got on a bus along the coast. Our first stop was a short photo stop at Dungaire Castle, a costal fortress from the 1600s. Our second stop was a 6000 year old burial place, famous because there are so few left in Europe that are still standing and our third stop was the ruins of an old Gaelic homestead. From there on we went north along the coast,  ending up at the Cliffs of Moher.

(I can only apologize for he bad quality of the photos – due to our limited baggage allowance I only had my phone camera and my film camera with me.)

Not only was our guide on the day trip the most hilarious Irish man I have ever had the pleasure of listening to for 3 hours straight, but despite the foggy weather I slowly fell in love with Ireland. Slowly, and then all at once 😉 No, but seriously. The Cliffs of Moher are majestic on a whole new level of majestic and none of the people who where there could do anything but marvel at mother nature. The fact that the Cliffs of Moher and a cave below the cliffs were used as a location for Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince was the cherry on top.

Limerick & Cork


IMG_3905We hadn’t planned our trip after any guidebooks, but rather by looking at a map and choosing places we had heard of at random. This turned out to be a little bit of a mistake on our part, but  the entire trip was a lesson in spontaneity so I guess we learnt something. Here is the thing: Limerick is is not worth a visit  – and you wouldn’t think someone wanderlusting all over the place would say it, but it’s true. It is the stab capital of Ireland, it’s sadly run down and destroyed by the economy and other than an Angela´s Ashes walking tour and a castle, well….. after lively Galway it didn’t catch our attention. Now, our impression of this small city was probably affected by the fact that we had been sleeping badly in hostels for a week, but we quickly skipped passed Limerick and went to to Cork.

Cork was the last place on our itinerary and though we still hadn’t recovered from our disappointment in Limerick we enjoyed Cork. After a quick explore of the Irish foodie capital we walked into Cork  Opera House where it turned out Grease the Musical was showing and on impulse we bought a ticket each and spent our last afternoon in Ireland watching a wonderful cast singing and dancing. Our moods skyrocketed and our Epic Ireland Adventure ended on a high note. Badum tssssh.

We had two amazing, fun-filled weeks adventuring around Ireland, but I honestly can´t wait to go back, because I think there are certain parts of Irish culture that stands out and deserves more time. Gaelic history, the North, the endless green of the Irish countryside. Nature is without a doubt  one of the strong points of Ireland and  why I encourage everyone to go. Book some cheap tickets from England and other European countries with RyanAir and off you are! Xxx