Two days in literary Oxford

Ciao a tutti! 

Come Stai? 

It’s been a while since I dropped new travel content onto the site. I could sit here and type countless excuses for my lack of updating, excuses that you’ve all heard before on countless different platforms all the time, but I won’t excuse myself. Instead, I want to dive into another travel chapter with you all.

I’ve delved back through my travel diaries to provide fresh content. Hopefully, my nostalgic ramblings will be as fun to read as they have been to write…

 

To inspire a book 

//Day one//

Shortly before the UK entered a coronavirus-induced lockdown, I managed to squeeze in one small trip to Oxford. 

Located in central southern England, Oxford is a city whose history is permanently intertwined with its prestigious university. But it wasn’t the oolitic limestone buildings that drew me to one of England’s tourist hotspots, oh no. I was embarking on a literary trail. The ‘city of dreaming spires,’ has inspired many famous novelists including: JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkein and Evenlyn Waugh – just to name a few. Like them, I too wanted to wander around the cobbled streets and drink in the city of inspiration.  

I arrived into Oxford via a train after visiting a friend in Cheltenham. I can’t drive so the majority of my travel plans are mapped out via public transport routes. I normally book my train tickets in advance and always with my 26-30 railcard. If you’re travelling on a budget, these are two easy tricks that can instantly lower the cost of your holiday.

Oxford’s tiny little train station is a 10-minute walk away from the centre’s offerings. It was late afternoon by the time I arrived, so instead of rushing to a museum or darting into Oxford’s Covered Market, I navigated my way through the city’s centre and out the other side to find my Airbnb. I had picked a little studio apartment in the Cowley area, which was a happy accident considering this is Oxford’s foodie distract! 

I had originally picked my little airbnb because of its good reviews, price and short walk from the city centre (about 15 to 20 minutes). A two-night stay for two people had set me back £200 (£100 per person). But we had the place to ourselves and it was clean and comfortable with all the amenities that we needed. My host had even left some chocolate and wine, so while I planned my evening, I indulged in those treats.

Then, with my backpack well and truly dumped, I headed to a nearby pub, the Cape of Good Hope (apt – much?), for a well-deserved pint. By now, it was around 5pm and my day of navigating Britain’s rail network had left me feeling famished, so it was time to for food. 

As I sipped on my pint, I searched restaurant reviews on my phone. When I travel now, I’m eager to step away from the High Street restaurant chains in favour of local independents. And by sheer chance, Cowley was filled with the best. 

I decided to try and nab a table at Kazbar. A Spanish and Moroccan tapas bar on Cowley Road. I arrived minutes after the doors opened, and was seated straight away. Inside, the decor is souq like with north African lanterns dotted around the space and mosaic tables. 

It’s an atmosphere where I immediately felt calm and as I relaxed into the cushions, I poured over the drinks menu. Without hesitation I ordered a large glass of Tinto – a drink I first sipped while on holiday in Islantilla last year. While I pondered over the mains, I ordered some olives, hummus, black olive tapenade and bread to snack on. Then, an array of tapas dishes arrived. I was too busy stuffing my face to grab a picture, but I can promise you this: the food was mouth watering. I even had to order myself another cocktail. This time an Aperol Spritz. 

For me, this meal was a decadent experience and one that I’d been saving for – I didn’t want money, or lack thereof, to scupper a relaxing break. For two people (including a 10% tip), this cost £70, so £35.00 per person. While this is more than I’d spend on groceries in a week, it was a treat and we did have a few drinks here before we headed back to the Airbnb to hit the hay. 

 

To Inspire a book 

//Day two//

We left the Airbnb early, to make the most of our only full day in Oxford. On today’s agenda: Oxford’s literary hotspots. Our first stop? An eerily quiet Covered Market. This market features in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Series. In Pullman’s book, his main character Lyra Belacqua is often found wandering around the market. In Lyra’s world, it sells fish, bread and other perishables. While the market wasn’t busy and bustling when I went to visit (as I’d pictured it in my head), it was nice to walk around without becoming part of a crowd. It meant I could browse the stalls at my leisure. And, from a little independent shop, I picked up a postcard to send to my grandad.

After I wandered in Lyra’s boots long enough, I headed across to the first museum of the day: Oxford’s Ashmolean. This museum was first founded in 1683 after Elias Ashmole gifted his collection to the university. As a result, it became Britain’s first public museum and the world’s first university museum. It’s worth spending some time wandering around this museum. The history of Elias Ashmole in itself is interesting and the museum contains a few objects of note including: a Stradivarius. For me, any antiquity collection is always of interest but museums are ever so personal, so head to collections you’ll find interesting. I picked up a museum map for the low price of £1. I always try to grab a museum map, not only does it give me a sense of orientation but it’s a nice memento for my scrapbook too.

Once you’ve had your fill of Egyptian artefacts, then I’d recommend a mid-morning stop at the museum’s rooftop restaurant. It boasts beautiful views of the university’s 38 colleges (for similar views head to the very top of Oxford’s shopping centre). Here, we halved a large slice of chocolate cake, while we guzzled on coffee. The coffee and cakes cost around £5 per person and the museum is free for all to enter.

Not content with visiting just one museum, I headed to two more museums after I did a spot of book shopping in some bookshops. I picked up two books while in my literary haven: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo and Homer’s Odessy.

With my bag sufficiently weighed down with books, I head to Oxford’s Museum of Natural History. This museum was founded in 1860 and is home to many world famous highlights including the Oxford Dodo. Personally, I loved the dinosaur skeletons that were on display. 

A second museum adjoins to this one, The Pitt Rivers museum. As we entered through its double doors, I shivered. It’s cluttered display cases and stuffed shelves reminded me of the Gyptians from Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Series. I think it was the boats on the far while, that reminded me of Pullman’s water-faring characters.

I spent several hours wandering around these museum, both of which were free to enter. As I left the museum, I donated £5 and made sure to Gift Aid my donations. Whenever I’m a tourist in the UK, I’m extremely grateful that the majority of the museums are free to enter and my little trip to Oxford was a reminder that I should donate where I can. Otherwise, others won’t be able to enjoy these museums as I have in years to come. 

By now, it was the middle of the afternoon and I’d certainly worked up a hunger. So, I decided to head to a literary haven: the Eagle and Child. This little pub is where Tolkien and Lewis used to convene to talk about their writing. Here, I sampled some local ales and ordered a fish pie off the menu (they’re renowned for their pies). As I sipped on my second pint, I felt inspired to pick up my pen once more.

To Inspire a book

//Day Three//

There was one final tourist attraction that I wanted to pop into before my train home: Oxford’s Botanical Gardens. After I’d checked out of the Airbnb and was weighed down by my backpacks, I set out for my final slice of site seeing.

There was a drizzle in the air, but that didn’t deter my enthusiasm to visit Will and Lyra’s bench from the His Dark Materials Series. As the gates of the gardens opened, I bought a ticket (around £5 entry) and made a beeline for this last literary treasure. After a small photoshoot on the bench, I wandered around the rest of the gardens and off into the Greenhouses.

In the summer, I could imagine myself basking in the sun with a picnic, a book and notebook as I spent an afternoon people watching. But on this dreary Sunday, I was better off inside the confines of a coffee shop before I jumped on my train home.

Oxford truly is a book lover’s dream. While I couldn’t cram every site, restaurant and pub into my small trip, I fell in love with what I did get to see. Hopefully, I’ll return to the city in the summer for a second trip – where beer gardens and another literary trail will feature prominently!

 

Thanks for reading!

And Ciao for now

Hope

xx

Disclaimer: I went on this trip a few weeks before the UK announced its lockdown. I am safely typing this post from the comfort of my own home!

When solidarity becomes unity

A family narrative through the act of reading

I love books. I love their crisp white pages, that weirdly aromatic new-book smell and the etchings of black ink. I love their yellow sun-kissed edges, the cracks in the spine, and the well thumbed through corners.

I can’t exactly remember when I started loving these inanimate objects. Nor, can I remember when I started ascribing each one with their own narrative. But I know my family had something to do with this affection.

Possibly, it started in the form of gifts from my mum and granddad (who I fondly call Gramps). For my 9th birthday, Gramps gave me seven pastel coloured hardback editions of the Chronicles of Narnia. They came neatly stored in a blue box that was ornately adorned with famous characters

I’ve always been drawn to fictional characters

from the series.

Straight away, I launched into The Magician’s Nephew. This was my first slice of literary knowledge, and superiority radiated from me. Suddenly, I knew that this was the first book in the series and not the more commonly known, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This series made me feel almost superior and helped to inflate my childhood ego infinitely. In that I became ‘the book is much better than the film’ person.

 

The first few pages

At primary school, I considered myself a good reader – it could have been the badges awarded to me at the end of term. Or, it could have been the teachers running around the school haphazardly trying to find me books. But, intrinsically, I just knew I was good at it.

Sometimes, at break time, I used to sit in the quiet area of the playground on a brown wooden bench and reread my battered copy of The Story of Tracy Beaker. Another time, I spent a week hauling Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince around the playground where I would sit on a concrete step just off the football pitch with my nose buried deep into the book’s corners. Even at this young age, I set myself a challenge to read 100 pages a day, on several days I would exceed this goal partly because my dad had read the spoilers in the paper and partly because I wanted to find out the ending on JK’s terms.

I suppose, it was from that point onwards that reading became me – I read because that’s who I was – the reader.

Cocooning covers

As I merrily flipped page after page under the glow of my dimly-lit heart-shaped lamp, I realised it wasn’t about intellectual superiority in the slightest, it was about my comfort because those pages made me feel safe.

No moment may be a truer representation of this than when my dad had a stroke. At the time, I was 13 and forever wearing a bright yellow Animal top underneath a pair of dark denim dungarees. Regardless of the get-up, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had just been published and it was within this tomb that my head became a little clearer as I was whisked away on Harry’s final school year. I reread the books constantly, losing myself inside the instant protection of Hogwarts as it drowned out the harsh realities of the world.

Healing Harry Potter helps sooth

That summer, my mum divided her time between visiting my dad at the hospital and taking us on the never-ending 35 bus loop to Birmingham Central Library.

Twelve years ago, the library wasn’t the colossal icon on Birmingham’s skyline. Instead, it was a concrete labyrinth of brutalist architecture that sat adjacent to Birmingham Museum and Art gallery just off Chamberlain Square. Inside those blocks, with mama Brotherton and my four siblings, I felt safe. For, I was surrounded by books and their stories.

When my mum was a child, she too used to go the library all the time. A hobby that was actioned by her father, Reginald Gardner, (Gramps to me) long before I was a blip on the horizon.

‘I read everything,’ she exclaimed excitedly, when I asked her about her childhood reading habits. She regaled over her love of Stephen King. ‘Thrillers, I was all about thrillers,’ and she very much still is as my iPhone notes can attest to (I have her ‘books to get list’ saved on my phone).

However, during her days as a full-time housewife, mother and general matriarch, her reading waned – in part we were to blame – as a frantic house allows no moment for recreational downtime. ‘I was just too busy,’ she sighed longingly when I probed into her reading history further. Despite her own hobby being left by the way-side, on Saturdays, my mum would always bundle myself and my siblings out the door for a short stroll down to the home of borrowed books.

Pushing a pram and watching my younger siblings toddle on, we would begin our slow walk along of one Birmingham’s canal paths and across the green playing fields to King’s Norton Library.

My local library was also this instant vessel of safety. It wasn’t very large and didn’t house that many books. Nevertheless, I would pull the bound pages from this shelf and that, knowing that at least one would spark an interest. In the unlikely chance that that did not happen, I would go armed to the oval counter with a comprehensive list and try to order in a book that had been mentioned in one of my favourite glossy magazines – probably Girl Talk.

Swallows and Amazons’ my mum chimed in decisively when I asked about her favourite childhood novel. And, to my great shame, it isn’t a novel I have read. Why? Because, I found my parents’ reading recommendations suffocating. I felt trapped, rather than inspired.

Recommended reading

For that inspiration, I headed online instead. Videos on my dusty old YouTube channel, Overtheepage chronicle my early adult adventures with reading. I was a fangirl. And, for once, there seemed to be a cult following on something I knew plenty about.

 

A YouTube thumbnails from years gone by

The Booktube community was where I let my recommendation-barrier drop and I actually started to build friendships around reading. But, it took a while for these online encounters to manifest into in-real life experiences based on the books I loved. The important thing was that it had started.

Slowly, I began to recommend books to friends. I was in my final year of secondary school, and I would pull out copies of the Twilight saga, Noughts & Crosses, Looking for Alaska, The Princess Diaries, and The Hunger Games from my green canvas rucksack and pass them onto my friends during history.

Sharing books with my friends is a feat that I have maintained in my early twenties. For Christmas, I bought my childhood friends, Conversations with Friends. I was gifted Heartburn in the work secret Santa and have just lent Homegoing and Ponti out to my friends while borrowing Becoming and Normal People from them in return.

However, my relationship with my family and sharing books was still complex. I begrudged my younger sister for pinching House of Night and The Wolves of Mercy Falls books from my shelves. It was because reading was my safe haven. It was mine.

And then, I went to a book signing.

It was my mum who took me to my first ever book signing – of course. We had bought two tickets to hear Malorie Blackman talk about her latest novel, Boys Don’t Cry, but it was  Noughts & Crosses  that had peaked my interest.

At the talk, Malorie mentioned her favourite novel – The Colour Purple. After the signing, me and my mum headed home on the bus and when we arrived, she gave me a battered coffee-stained copy of The Colour Purple, and I began reading immediately.

It was when I was reading chapter four that I realised I should have been sharing these adventures all along, because here I was, inside that book. At some point, a younger me, had scrawled her name ‘HOPE’ in capital letters in pencil at the top of the chapter, an act of graffiti that my mum had never rubbed out. I finished The Colour Purple and recommended When Things Fall Apart to my mum.

I phoned my mum recently and her voice hummed over the speaker. ‘A book I would recommend to you,’ she kept repeating that line. On the other end, I could almost imagine her peering into the distance, squinting somewhat behind her bifocals as she thought.

‘Well whatever I recommend, you’ve probably already read,’ she confessed. At that, I challenged her. ‘You don’t know that,’ I teased. I knew what she would recommend – her favourite book. ‘Well, I suppose I would say To Kill a Mockingbird.’ ‘Well I’ll have to read it,’ I said.

Forever borrowing Gramps’ books

She wasn’t disappointed when I said I hadn’t read it. For a year, it had sat at the top of a pile of precariously stacked books during my master’s year in Cardiff. But, I couldn’t bring myself to read it – the pressure to enjoy this book was intense. But, it’s not anymore and I have just dipped into its pages for the first time.

Now, I live and breathe for sharing books with my family. Every visit to Gramps’, I pinch books from his living room shelves (it’s Hemmingway at the moment). For my mum, I save the books section of a popular weekend supplement for her to read, and always arrive with a book to lend in my floral backpack. And, for my sister, the not so secret book-pincher? I gave her Everything I Know About Love recently because every young woman should read it.

So, it’s not the physical attributes that made me love books, it’s about how they connect me to my friends, to my family, to other people, places and cultures.

Always meet your heroes

There were two holes in my tights, right on my thighs. They were those big holes, you know, the ones were the strings of fabric run across the tights gaping abyss.  They felt punk. It was perfect. Paired with my trusty Doc Martens, reflective gold skirt, black aviator jacket, red lipstick and a beret, I felt right, I felt authentic. Really though, I felt cool.

Inwardly, I knew I was trying to make a statement because I was set to meet my idol, Caitlin Moran.

If you’ve never heard of Caitlin Moran, then shame on you. But I am a big believer that it is never too late to learn.  So, go away and become enthralled in her writing style, her social commentary and her fearless defence of all that is sane. And, then pop on here for – well – some old fashioned fangirling.

All of Caitlin Moran’s overarching characteristics were bought to light in the first Thread Up talk on Thursday 10 October 2019. The talk I was going to inhale. Thread Up is a series of free talks, which seek to discuss Twitter and the conversations that communities are having on this social media platform. Thursday’s event was hosted by British DJ Alex Zane and held in the new Samsung KX Space at the Coal Drops Yard in Kings Cross.

The stage has been set

As I entered the waiting area, a chic wooden floored area adorned with geometric rugs, plants and cosy arm chairs, there was a buzz in the air. I plonked myself down on the closest armchair and attempted to read the Nora Ephron essay collection that was stuffed into my bag. But, I couldn’t focus, my eyes kept darting around the room fixated on other loiterers and wondering what they loved about the beloved journalist.

The art of social media

At present, Caitlin Moran has over 800,000 followers on Twitter and is well placed to talk about how one platform has generated numerous conversations and discussions.

Caitlin’s monologue began with a sound statement regarding her feminism. Simply, she is one. And, she believes that one of the next waves of feminism will help to enrich the lives of men. This viewpoint was displayed outwardly in a viral Twitter discussion, which she started one year ago:

‘Men. Men of Twitter. What are the downsides of being a man?’

She then divided her findings into several sub themes. Some of which were amusing, while others were heartfelt and emotional.

Caitlin confronted gender inequalities

The amusing consisted of men longing for the soft scents of the woman’s bathroom. Some men believed it to be a hygienic utopia of perfumes, softening hand creams and piss-free floors. Others longed for a male version of the sacred sisterhood that is the ladies’ room of a night club. And, I have to agree, it’s where we women meet friends for life, brazenly compliment each other’s outfits, hair and makeup, where, if you’re crying, you’ll always be uplifted. I’m told that the same conditions don’t apply in the men’s room. Unfortunately.

While I laughed as this was all unpacked, other sub themes that emerged were much more harrowing. Just last night, I was able to meet my friends at a pub and off-load my feelings after a terrible week. Men, it seems, don’t have this outlet. Many men Tweeted Caitlin to say that their feelings get glossed over and they aren’t able to divulge to a friend if they are feeling low or blue. It is a well-known fact that Men are statistically more likely to commit suicide and maybe this is part of the reason.

Caitlin’s monologue ended to triumphant applause and then she launched straight into a discussion with Alex Zane. Questions regarding some of Caitlin’s most prolific Twitter moments as well as those of others. The most retweeted Tweet of all time? A billionaire in the East offering to give money to 10 people who retweeted his post. The quantity? A mere million. It’s popularity was therefore no mystery. The 60-minute talk only just scratched the service of this social media platform, but with more talks planned then maybe audiences will be able to delve further.

The meet-and-greet

After the talk, there was an opportunity to speak to Caitlin Moran and naturally, shaking, I joined the queue. It was the moment I had been waiting for and I was inexplicably nervous. I was the second person to meet her, this I found is a perk of going to events by yourself the ability to nip in quickly to the meet and greet queues.

She opened with a hug. It was warm and friendly just like her demeanour. I thanked her wholeheartedly for inspiring me to pursue a career in journalism. Growing up, journalism seemed achievable because Caitlin Moran made it accessible. She was flattered, I think. And encouraging. And it’s that encouragement that sometimes a fledgling journalist needs and a kiss on the cheek from their idol.

Disclaimer: This ticket was gifted to me by London Skint Mag.

Barcelona ~ Top 5 freebies

Ciao a tutti!

Come Stai?

I realise I have pretty much abandoned this blog over the summer, but my summer months have been filled with some exciting travel adventures – more on this to follow. However, I think the very essence of my blog is how to travel well, but on a budget. I don’t think travel should be for the privileged and the few, as a masters student I balance my lifestyle and my purse, whilst it’s not easy I’m beyond happy with my autumnal adventures (more on this too).

I’ve always set myself rather stringent budgets when travelling abroad. I think it’s very easy to get caught up in the notion that you’re on holiday, but money doesn’t certainly grow on trees and certainly does disappear when thrust carelessly onto the plastic. So, I thought I’d pick out my top 5 freebies for Barcelona.

Barcelona is a renowned as one of Europe’s most expensive tourist hot spots.  The large majority of Gaudi’s works cost around 20 euros entry upwards, pricey, but cultural musts. On our three day, ram packed trip to Barcelona we allowed ourselves to visit one ‘pricey,’ attractions per day, whilst the rest were freebies….so without further ado, here are my favourite freebies in Barcelona.

  1. Picasso Museum

Many European cities offer free entry into attractions on the first Sunday of the month and Barcelona is no exception. The Picasso museum in Barcelona is normally priced around the 7 euros mark. This price certainly doesn’t break the bank, but will help towards a cheeky tapas treat! The museum contains a plethora of Picasso’s earlier works and some of his rough sketches – with a few surprises towards the end. Every sunday, the Picasso Museum  offers free entry to tourists after 3 pm, but be sure to get there sharp, as there is a limited number of tickets available per hour. So arrive promptly and be prepared to queue if you want to delve into the past of Pablo Picasso!

 2. Park Guell

Park Guell is another one of Guadi’s finest works. Gaudi is famous for his love of nature and combining this passion into his artwork. Park Guell was originally designed to be enjoyed by the people of Barcelona, and to this day still is. It’s important to note that Park Guell has two parts, an inner and outer park. The outer park is completely free for public access.  This is the larger more extensive part of the park and has many hidden gems and smaller UNESCO attractions around every corner. Bring some snacks, as picnic benches are dotted around so you can sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery.

However, it’s the inner part of the park that is of interest to most tourists. This part contains Gaudi’s statues and sculptures adorned with shards of mosaic ensuring their colours pop against the background of vegetation. But, this is the part of the park that costs, but is free at certain times of the day. The park is free to the public before 8am and after ____ so if you’re an early riser then by all means save yourself 8 euros and treat yourself to a pataas bravas for lunch – we certainly did.

 

3. Beach 

Now, it wouldn’t be a trip to the Mediterranean without a dip into Barcelona’s crystal  clear waters. Head to La Barceloneta, which is an edgy urban area juxtaposed with sumptuous seafood restaurants. Stroll along the sandy beach and find a perfect spot – preferably near a cocktail bar if that’s your thing. Ignore the street sellers if you’re not interested, but remember you can always haggle them down (my top tip: try before you buy with the mojitos). La Barceloneta is teeming with restaurants, but my personal favourite is Maka Maka – perfect for Vegans and Vegetarians too!

 

4. La Cathedral

Again, Barcelona’s history filled Cathedral is another attraction that is free at certain times of the day (normally before 8am, but check on the attractions website). The cathedral began its life in the 13th century and now 6 centuries later it’s complete and is the epitome of cultural and history in Barcelona. It goes beyond the funky architecture of Barcelona and is a quite simply a stunning amalgamation of history and art.

5. Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar 

This is arguably Barcelona’s most Gothic structure, so if that sort of architecture is your thing then this a must. The entire sanctuary is light and open, wrought with stone and even rivals some of Barcelona’s top attractions such as, La Cathedral and the Sagrada Familia. Enjoy every aspect of the Basilica and its historical structure. Be sure to avoid the Basilica at lunch times – when its closed and if your visit is spiritual head there at 7.30pm for mass. This was one of my favourite freebie attractions in Barcelona. There was a strong contrast between the Basilica and some of Gaudi’s famed attractions, this is a breath of fresh air and gives Barcelona another cultural depth.

 

I hope this short, but snappy list was helpful! Let me know if you have any other freebie favourites in Barcelona – I plan on returning very soon!

ciao for now,

Hope!

 

Rome Day Three

Day Three

 

Day three is what I like to call ‘leftover day.’ After, doing the Colosseum and the Vatican for the first two days, day three gave me time to look at some other bits Rome had to offer.

Today, from the Duke Hotel I decided to walk into the city as the national gallery was only a small walk away. After stopping off at the supermarket, (I would really recommend a bottle of Prosecco and a balcony evening, for a cheap but good night), then I continued on my merry way.

It was around 4 euros entry into the national gallery, which included some very famous pieces of artwork, such as Van gough, Monet,  Jackson Pollac, oil paintings and some very contemporary displays. The gallery itself took me about an hour or so to walk around, and at the end I stopped off in the cafe for my very first shot of espresso – which waked me up greatly after my tiring first two days.

From here I headed to the Villa Borghese, a tranquil park in the middle of Rome. It promises to take you away from the busy hustle and bustle of the historical centre. It was quiet and reclusive. A perfect break. In the Villa Borghese there are more museums, but instead I stumbled across a small lake which had row boats for hire on, so naturally I rowed. Needless to say I didn’t take to the helm for very long…..

After surviving my rowing experience I carried on, and decided to had to visit Rome’s iconic Spanish Steps, it was quite a walk, but thankfully souvenir stands and shops were dotted along the way, so I grabbed a geleto and shopped whilst staying on route. The Spanish steps, were again another site to behold. Instead of climbing them from the bottom upwards, I started at the top and worked my way down. The steps weren’t as high as I first anticipated, but going either up or down you’ll be amazed by the sheer beauty of it all.

From here I headed to the ‘Domus Area,’ which I had built up in my head to be a huge gladiatorial arena, alas I was sadly mistaken. The Domus Area turned out to be clumps of ruins dotted about a park. However, these ruins were originally Nero’s golden house and for a history buff like me it was great to know I’d been there, even if they weren’t as magnificent as I originally thought.

After this, I looped back around to the giant monument of Vittorio Emmanuel II, this was an attraction I had walked past many times, but hadn’t had time to venture in, so made a point of it today. The monument itself felt very sacred, you weren’t allowed to sit, drink, eat or take photos on various parts, a touch I thought showed a great deal of respect to the previous King.

Just around the corner from the monument was the Piazza Del Campidoglio, the square that Michelangelo Buonarroti designed, in the centre stands a noble horse and his rider, Marcus Aurelius, the statue in the square is in actual fact a remake, if you want to see the original it is being preserved inside the museum. I do recommend a visit.

My final destination on my very last day was the fountain of the four rivers, which when I eventually arrived here it was nightfall, and so experienced them in the twinkling moonlight. As, I stuck to my  budget quite well on the previous days, I decided to treat myself to slightly more expensive and oh so delicious restaurant, Gusto! But, there are plenty about so take your pick, go on its the last day treat yourself.

 

 

 

End of Holiday

Independent Birmingham – Java lounge

 

Ciao Ragazzi! Come stai?

Independent Birmingham is back for its second week running! Again, we are heading back to Mosely, but this time it’s to discuss Java Lounge. Last Sunday, my boyfriend and I decided we want to head out for an evening coffee, neither of us really fancied anything alcoholic, so we hopped on the number 50 bus and headed to Mosely. To my shock, Damascena was closed so we reconsidered and thought about heading to the Prince of Wales, which is a personal favourite of mine and where I had my 21st birthday. Walking up to it, we noticed the Java Lounge was open and it seemed ironically appropriate considering my boyfriend has just graduated his degree in computer programming.

We stepped inside to find a quaintly furnished coffee shop and immediately plumped for the red leather sofa in the window, which reminded me of the Gryffindor common room – without the fireplace. We order two speciality coffees (£3.10 each, whipped cream was an extra 30p). I ordered the mint choco, it was sweet and the mint flavour was the gift that just kept on giving. We sat back, relaxed and read the story of Java Lounge and its conception, which is mounted on a wall behind the counter. We were allowed to sit there in blissful harmony until a barista told us they were closing for the night (9pm on a Sunday night – I was impressed). Before we left, they asked if we had enjoyed our beverages, and indeed we had.

Food is also served here if you fancy a bite in a quaint, but yet coffee shop.

Ciao for now,

Hope

London on a Budget

 

Ciao Ragazzi!

After spending my year abroad in Italy last year, all of my European friends made the assumption that England was expensive to travel to. On the face of it you could say that they are right, the Sterling is a strong currency and one that is costly to exchange into. But, with these simple tips you’ll be able to save money and make the most out of your holiday. So let’s start off with the capital – London.

Transport

One of my first tips for anyone looking to travel to London is to book ahead. The prime time to book flights is 6 weeks before you go (or so I’ve heard) and afternoon bookings are cheaper opposed to evenings. Also, don’t write off the low cost airlines. I am a ‘lover,’ of Ryanair. Ryanair offers low price flights that make travelling abroad affordable on a budget. My longest Ryanair flight was four hours, if I can do it then so can you!

Flight booked, transfers they are pesky. Avoid taxis and especially taxi ranks they are extortionate in the UK, if you do need a taxi be sure to Google taxi firms numbers, they offer much cheaper rates. Use websites like the trainline.com and national express (a coach service) to organise transport between locations. Again booking in advance saves both money and stress on the day. But, be sure to give yourself enough time to get from the airport to your desired transport method. For example, if you’re arriving in London Stansted then give yourself at least two hours (no one wants to repay!), and I’d much rather wait in the airport for a bit then have to repay for my transport costs.

If you have traveled to London via train then you’re in luck. London (among other top UK cities offers 2 for 1 on top attractions if you have traveled via train – it cuts down on congestion). Once in central London, avoid using daily transport at all costs. It’s expensive and unnecessary, get some trainers and walk from attraction to attraction. Space out journeys so you’re not walking for hours without seeing anything, but don’t worry the London skyline will captivate your gaze at any rate.

Night buses, London is slowly becoming New York, a city that never sleeps! Night buses around London are cheaper than a taxi if you’re staying out later, just be sure to check times and schedules and always travel in groups late at night, especially in a foreign city!

Food

Venturing to London in the summer, then head to the supermarket and grab some bits or a £3 meal deal (sandwich, snack and drink included in the price). Another alternative, the markets – Borough market, Southbank, Covent Garden and Portobello market to name a few offer great bites to eat that’ll tantalize taste buds. Bottled water is cheap to buy at supermarkets, there are limited public fountains available to fill up water bottles and remember if you do dine out tap water is completely free. Stuck for lunch ideas when it’s a bit cold to have a picnic, look out for chains like Greggs, Subway and other independent coffee shops (these aren’t the healthiest of options, but they will keep costs down).

However, just remember that this is a holiday and you are entitled to treat yourself – check out Groupon and Voucher codes for superb restaurants at great prices. We went to the fabulous The Life Godess on Regent’s street for 60% of the price.

Sights

In the past few years, I’ve trekked around several European cities and have been utterly shocked at the price to visit both the museums and art galleries alike. Here is where the UK is simply brilliant in my opinion, the majority of museums and art galleries are free to enter! Here’s a list of my personal favourites: The British museum, the natural History museum, the science museum, the Victoria and Albert museum, the national gallery, the Tate, the national portrait gallery. Not all the sights are free of course, but what you save on these you can spend on others. Remember if you’re a student discounted entry is a must to get your hands.

 

Accommodation

Normally, when I visit London, I stay with relatives – my great aunt is the hostess with the mostess and I love seeing the Family. But, on this occasion we stayed in a hotel. My boyfriend’s flight landed relatively late (midnight), so we decided to stay at a hotel in the airport, of course you can always sleep in the airport. But when hotels like the Premier Inn are charging £50 a night for two people who can say no (and remember chains like this often charge by room – so if there’s four of you the price is even cheaper. On our second night we stayed in the Union Jack Club in Waterloo. This is a great hotel for both servicemen and ex-servicemen, and if you’re not one like me, I booked using my grandfather’s account (which they are fine with). My grandad regularly goes to the hotel for events and functions and is a great hotel for the fraction of the price.

If you don’t have the luxury of this option then hostels are a great alternative. Hostels if you’re young or willing offer great alternatives for travellers who are feeling the pinch. Airbnb is also great for families who want space and comfort (my Airbnb experiences haven’t been that great, but I know many peoples who have). Also, factor in the cost of your hotel and tube fare, is the £20 you save per night to stay in Zone 4/5 worth the tube fare in?

I hope you found the above tips helpful to cut costs down on city breaks like that of London which are notoriously expensive. Feel free to comment if you have any questions or queries!

 

Ciao for now,

Hope!

Rome Day Two

Day Two

 

It is a well known fact that City breaks are notoriously tiresome holidays, essentially because you’re packing so much culture, history, sightseeing and experiences into such a short period of time. But, believe me no matter how tired you are, getting up early is so worth it.

Day Two was my ‘Vatican Day,’ (a place where you really need a day). Whilst, the Vatican is officially  its own city state, you shouldn’t need your passport to enter, but take yours just in case like we did. Not religious? This really shouldn’t cloud your judgement of going or not. Instead of religion being thrust down your throat, the Vatican is an art museum, that promises stunning views as well as exquisite artwork.

Again, I was dropped off at the Piazza Del Popolo, by the hotel’s shuttle service, but instead this time I headed off in a different direction, crossing the Tiber River, bridges run along the river and make crossing easy, whilst the water doesn’t look so nice, the architecture across the bridges is fantastic, particularly, the weeping angels. Along this route, you’ll pass another attraction Castel Sant’Angelo. Don’t feel tempted to go inside, the Vatican is going to need a lot of time and this should be open on the way back. So, just carry on walking and you’ll be impressed with the magnificent view of St.Peters Square, follow this around and quickly you’ll find the Vatican entrance. Along this route there will be a number of tour guides trying to get your attention, you can either take them up on their offer or book in advance like I did and not need them.

Once in, you’ll be amazed by the sheer volume of artwork and artifacts that the Vatican houses. The Vatican is designed in such a way that the Sistine Chapel is the last room you’ll come to, encouraging you to see all the other pieces of art before diving straight in. I would recommend at least 3 – 4 hours for this attraction, maybe even more if you really like your art. The walls and winding corridors are so ornate it’ll have you constantly looking up.

When you eventually get inside the Sistine Chapel, it will be heaving, and you’ll be very lucky like I was to get a seat and just gaze up. Take your time to soak up the artwork. I made up my own story about the interlinking scenes and to be quite frank I was blown away by it all.

After finally emerging from the Vatican, just be ready to adjust your eyes to the sunlight. For lunch today, I just stocked up on snacks from the supermarket – I was on a budget after all! Slowly, I began to walk back around towards St.Peters square, where I quickly joined a queue to climb to the top of the Basilica, for a lovely total of 3 euros. Climbing to the Basilica was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. The queue moves relatively quickly and a lift will take you half way up the Basilica, but you have to climb the winding narrow staircases the rest of the way. But, once you’re at the top is seems like your at the highest point in Rome, the views are incredible and it isn’t an experience to be missed.

After finally finishing my tour of the Vatican, it was around 5 O’clock, and considering I started out at 9 its been a long day. But, I  carried on nonetheless, and visited the Castel Sant’Angelo, which was originally commissioned by the emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for him and his family, and was later used as a castle/fortress by the Pope. Again, this castle offers excellent views and has a mix of renaissance with ancient architecture.

                                               

                                                              Two policeman on the Tiber River

                                                                                 End of Day Two.

Independent Birmingham – Damascena

 

Ciao Raggazi,

So every Wednesday evening, for the foreseeable future, I will attempt to upload a post boasting about independent places in Birmingham. The British high street is over run by endless branded chains, Starbucks, Costa and McDonalds to name a few are consumers go to brands. But, if you’re willing to take a step outside of your comfort zone then here are some hella nice places to try in the Birmingham area. These posts will explore both cuisine and culture in an attempt to get more people thinking about a place the next time that coffee craving hits!

First up, Damascena in Moseley. Moseley is an independent a rather funky part of Birmingham, home to the Moseley folk festival (where Mumford and Sons once played), it’s no surprise that Mosely will be appearing on these Wednesday evenings rather frequently.

Every time, we went past the Damascena whilst travelling through Mosely my mum and I proclaimed that we must go. So, on a cloudy Saturday afternoon we did. It was heaving, we managed to grab a small two seater table outside underneath the canopy and sat down to explore the menu. Damascena is influenced by Moroccan cuisine and has a number of options suitable for Vegetarians, Vegans and even those with a gluten intolerance. Whilst, we thumbed through the menu waiters all over brought out sharing platters that over customers had brought, it all looked delicious. Deciding that the sharing platters were far too big for two of us we opted for a wrap and a coffee each. My Italian cravings kicked in and I ordered a Latte Macchiato, possibly my favourite coffee beverage.

Food orders are taken at the main counter and are then brought over to you by a waiter. The counter is lined with delectable pastries that are enough to make your mouth water. After queuing for what seemed like a decade it was my turn to order. The staff are highly attentive for such a small team who never seemed to stop moving it seemed. When we were sipping on our coffees our food came. It was delicious and much bigger than expected. Wraps are garnished with olives. I was in vegetarian wrap heaven and definitely did not want to leave. I plan on returning very soon and will endeavour to try a sharing platter with a few friends. So the next time your cravings hit, be brave and try something new, this was far better than any of my expectations.

ciao for now,

Hope

Gaudi’s Barcelona

Gaudi and Barcelona. Barcelona and Gaudi. These two terms have become somewhat synonyms in the past decade. On my most recent visit to Barcelona, I couldn’t help but wonder what if Gaudi had not chosen Barcelona (but that’s a post for another day), the fact is that he did choose Barcelona. Barcelona is the capital of Catalonian and it’s easy to see why. Impressive buildings stand tall on street corners, attractions this way and that with fruit sellers lining the streets and quaint eateries in every direction, Barcelona has what every tourist wants. And, Gaudi is one of the reasons why.

Gaudi was a Spanish architect known for his Catalan modernism and how factors such as, nature, religion and architecture influenced each and every aspect of his work. He had an impeccable eye for detail and this included ornate furnishings such as: ceramics, stained Glass, wrought ironwork forging and carpentry. It is these few factors that make Gaudi’s architecture a must see for travellers, myself included.

There are four main points of interest in Barcelona –

  • Sagrada Familia
  • Caso Balto
  • La Pederera
  • Park Guell

The Sagrada Familia is Spain’s biggest tourist attraction. It’s due for completion in 2026 and still pulls in millions of tourists each year. The Sagrada is simply a giant church and was designed so Spaniards could atone for their modern sins. Now tourists revel in its splendour. TOP TIP: By tickets online in advanced, save money and queue jump! Guided tours are available for a small fee of roughly 5 euros. Before you head inside, enjoy the wrought iron doors of the outside. The outside of the Sagrada will have three facades once it’s complete: the nativity, the passion and glory facades. If you want maximum Gaudi influence then head for the nativity façade this is the one that Gaudi had the most influence over before his death.  Look up and inhale Gaudi’s most splendid wonder, before bowing your head and venturing in. Once inside, take a minute every direction will attract attention. The stained glass bounces a rainbow of light off the walls. Be sure to wander the perimeter of the Sagrada to ensure you see all of its aspects. The floor plan is that of a cross, with a view of the crypt below visible (Gaudi is buried there). But, take your time and wander around, there are two entrances and even a small museum which outlines the history of this famous church.

 

Caso Batllo and La Pedrera are both situated in the heart of Barcelona. Caso Batllo is a remodel of a previously built house. The entry into the house includes an audio guide, which is definitely worth a listen. An aquatic theme runs throughout the house and is still in fact laid out like that of a family home. Take your time to pour over the fixtures and fittings that Gaudi himself choose. Top tip: Book online and get queue jump, save money and time!

 

La Pederea is the next stop on this Gaudi tour, situated just across from Caso Batllo and still used today by renters, so at times being quiet is compulsory. La Pedrera is also known as Casa Milia and was the final piece of work commissioned by Gaudi. The building was originally commissioned by the Mila family, enjoy a step into their world, including the attic and rooftop, which boast splendid views of Barcelona and is made even more enjoyable on a sunny day.

Park Guell is the last of Gaudi’s work which took on my fancy. Top tip: If you get there before 8 on Sundays the inner park area is free to enter also. The park is a reflection of how Gaudi’s artwork was influenced by nature. On a hot day, take a picnic and amble the perimeter enjoy the views, getting lost is a must – trust me.

So there you have it, a quick run down of Gaudi’s most famous works and UNESCO heritage sites in Barcelona. There are others in Barcelona, so if you’re a real Gaudi fan then be sure to check out: Casa Vicens, Güell Pavilions, Teresian College, Casa Calvet, Bellesguard and Sagrada Família Schools. Examples of Gaudi’s works are also in other destinations worldwide, including Leon and New York.

 

Next Barcelona post – top 5 freebie attractions!

 

Ciao for now,

Hope!