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!

Rome Day one

Rome, one of, if not thee most historical and vibrant cities in the modern world. In an average year Rome draws roughly 7 million tourists, and this is just one of their accounts. This was my first holiday destination and its not surprising this is where I caught my travel bug.

 

I was 18, a student, and had a tight budget, the game was set. Flights from Birmingham International (UK) to Fiumicino airport in Rome, including a transfer, baggage, insurance and five nights bed and breakfast, was a not so grand total of £270. A Bargain. Especially considering the hotel. I stayed at the Duke Hotel, situated in Via Archimede, just north of the main attractions. Honestly, this hotel was a true delight, tasteful decor, humbling and helpful staff really made my holiday. The breakfast was as expected, a standard continental. But, the shuttle bus service and the polite greatly helped sightseeing and  made our holiday experience. As, I went in September, I used the shuttle service everyday, but during the busy season they limit this so the service can be used by all guests (for General all round fairness).

Day one

 

I am a major sightseer – so expect a ram packed three days from here on out. After being dropped off by the shuttle service at the Piazza del Popolo, I then made my way towards the Colosseum. Along this road, watch out for men dressed as Roman Soldiers, they will charge you a small fortune for photos, and they’re not actually worth it – so just say no. This is roughly a 30 minute walk, public transport is available, but walking is a great way to soak up the sights and see unexpected delights.

 

I arrived at the Colosseum at 9:45 prompt and quickly brought tickets for an English speaking guided tour. Firstly, I would completely recommend getting there early and beating the queues (when we eventually came out it was heaving). Secondly, the guided tour for 12 euros (18 – 25 price, at this price, you get a guided  tour around the Colosseum as well as entrance to the Roman Forum and the Palentine Hill afterwards.

The tour around the Colosseum opens up the history of the Rome. An immersive experience that you wouldn’t get just by walking around the Colosseum. After the tour, you’re allowed to freely wonder around the Colosseum soaking up its breathtaking views, taking pictures and looking at some of the artifacts inside.

From here I headed for lunch – top tip – if you’re on a Budget like I was, head away from the Colosseum (it can get quite expensive), there should be some deli’s that will be much cheaper e.g. 4 euros for a rather large pot of pasta. Also, carry bottles of water around with you, there a various water fountains dotted about that you can refill them up with and supermarkets where you can buy them cheap!

After Lunch, I headed back to the Roman Forum, seeing as I had free entry! I would advise roughly two to three hours for this site (it depends how much you like your history). By this time, your legs are feeling pretty weary and tired, but carry on, its only 2!

We then headed back into central Rome taking a route behind the back alleys by back alleys I mean the winding cobbled streets, as even these areas have an impressive display of architecture. In this area, I visited the Trevii Fountain (which was on my top five list), and it didn’t disappoint. I tossed a coin into the fountain ensuring my return to Rome someday. It can be quite packed in this area, so watch out for pickpockets, apparently they are rife here – but I was fortunate enough not to experience any!

Then, I set off again towards the Pantheon. Rome’s 2000 year old building, that looks too intact to be true! Marvel at the dome from the inside and the exquisite paintings adoring the walls. At this point I would also recommend popping into local churches – even they boast exquisite architecture and artwork. Inside the ones we went into, I lit candles for my loved ones, a true memory to take away.

 

It was here by the Pantheon were we choose to eat, most restaurants will do set menus, with a starter then a pizza/ pasta and a glass of wine, while in Rome these are the cheapest ways to eat, that promise a hearty dinner after all the walking!

Then we made our way back to the Shuttle stop.

Day One complete.

Piazza Del Popolo.

                                          

                                                             

My love affair with Cardiff!

Ciao Ragazzi,

I have been on computers and laptops so much lately, that I want nothing more to do with them- Dissertation vibes – but, alas my blog is on here. I’m sure my eyes can manage another hour of staring at a computer screen!

This post is all about my love affair with the Welsh capital, Cardiff! I am a firm believer in exploring the UK. I’m a Birmingham girl at heart, but I love wandering the cities of Britain, because they’re all so different and diverse.A true marker of great British culture ~ individuality.

And, this is certainly true for Cardiff. I’d been to Cardiff once before, to see the Doctor who exhibition when I was about 10 years old (just over a decade ago). But, hadn’t explored the city at all. This was our time. Cardiff is home to BBC Wales, which means there’s plenty of filming action going on in this capital. At times, Martin Freeman can be seen filming at Cardiff University for the hit TV series Sherlock Holmes ~ fangirls at the ready!

Hotels and hostels in Cardiff were more expensive then I’m used to paying in other European cities. In the end we decided on a travel lodge, between the four of us it was a decent price and in an amazingly central location. After dumping our bags we began to see the sights.

It was a rainy afternoon, but this did not dampen our spirits. First, we wandered through the cafe quarter of the city, ear marking restaurants to eat in later. From there we meandered through Cardiff’s main shopping district heading towards Cardiff’s arcade. These are what can only be described as exquisite alleyways, home to some chic independent shops – definitely worth a browse.

From here we headed to one of Cardiff’s main tourist attractions, Cardiff castle. The entry fee is reasonable, especially considering all of the features inside the museum. After an exhausting afternoon walking we headed back to a restaurant we spotted earlier ~ Bill’s. An original food chain, which opened in the north of England sourcing it’s products from top suppliers. It was simply splendid and a great way to finish the day.

So, my tourist time in Cardiff was short and sweet, as I was actually there for my masters interview so did a lot of prepping and worrying too! But, fear not there will be plenty more Cardiff posts in the autumn. That ticks C off my A-Z challenge list!

Ciao for now,

Hope!

A few thoughts on ~ Pompeii

Ciao Ragazzi!

Pompeii. Every time I hear that word, I think of a line from the BBC television series Doctor Who ‘We’re in Pompeii and it’s volcano day.’ Honestly, I hear David Tennant’s voice and everything too.

But, anyway back to the place itself. Before our first trip to Amalfi  we were warned about the little shade and lack  of coverage during the summer months. And, I warn you to heed this advice, bring a light cardigan, shawl and a hat to cover bits of showing skin. I was honestly, covered from head to toe when I went to Pompeii, as there is absolutely no shade at all. None! My Great Aunt’s nugget of advice was right.  Honestly heed this advice, I may have looked completely embarrassing, but it was worth it not to get burnt. Also keep topping up the sun scream, and take lots of water (the cafe prices in Pompeii and at the surrounding shops are extortionate)!

Pompeii itself is like no other place. A whole town covered by volcanic ash. I enjoy the history and the culture of countries like IMG_0337Italy. There is plenty to see. A small amphitheatre, bath houses, temples and much more. We attempted to follow the map with an audio guide, I’d recommend the audio guide for both here and Herculaneum. The audio guide explains each feature of Pompeii and allows you to tour around Pompeii at your own leisure. It’s an absolute wonder to get lost around, uncovering new finds this way and that. A one for culture and history buffs most certainly! However, Pompeii is rather unnerving at times, so of the artifacts taken from the site remind you that it was just another ordinary day in Pompeii until Vesuvius erupted. It’s harrowing to think of the chaos that ensued that day, but it did.

I’d recommend at least three hours to this attraction, if you’re savvy with your holiday, you can buy entry into the other archaeological sites art a reduced price. Entry to five of the sites is for 20 euros full price and 10 euros for those aged 18-25. Entry includes these five sites: 5 sites: Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, Stabiae and Boscoreale, which are valid for three consecutive days!

Ciao for now,

Hope!

The A – Z Challenge: Travel Articles!

Ciao Ragazzi!

Now I know I’m a tad late to be jumping on this trend but I simply couldn’t resist. I was tempted to do the A-Z  book challenge, but really felt like Travel posts would be more of a thing! Below is an initial list of posts I’ll be writing up over the coming weeks, let me know if there’s any you fancy reading first!

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  • Alberobello
  • Bari
  • Cardiff
  • Dubrovnik
  • Edinbugh
  • Finland
  • Greek temples
  • Herculaneum
  • Ireland
  • J
  • Kittila
  • London
  • Milan
  • Naples
  • Ostuni
  • Pisa
  • Q
  • Ruins and why I love them!
  • Sicily
  • Tuscany
  • U
  • Venice
  • What’s in my travel bag?
  • X
  • Y
  • Zzzzzz – the art of sleeping on long coach journey’s

There are still some gaps, but hopefully I will those in soon with some trips that I’m in the process of planning!

Ciao for now,

Hope

xoxo

Nightmare in Naples

Ciao Ragazzi!

Normally, I have nothing but complimentary travel posts, this one is a bit different! If you have a different opinion to me then feel free to comment and persuade me otherwise!

See Naples and die. A phrase stuck in many travellers’ minds, including my own. This phrase originated in the 16th century and that’s where it should stay. Many travel sites describe Naples as ‘gritty’ and ‘chaotic’. And that’s the best compliment Naples could ever hope for.

DSCN0297My harrowing journey began in Sorrento on a sweaty train, with windows that just simply would not open. Then there were the buskers who wouldn’t stop busking on their untuned accordions, hoping to have money thrown into their polystyrene coffee cup on every repeat. After the two hour train journey that, according to the timetable, should only take 40 minutes, we arrived in Naples, expecting all the glamour and history that Rome has to offer. Walking through the busy station we emerged outside, still the ever-hopeful tourists with cameras slung around our necks and sunburn etched on the corners of our skin.

DSCN0329Needless to say, we were shocked. The streets surrounding made Selly Oak look like the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Yes- they were that bad; dirt, graffiti and yet more highly annoying buskers and street sellers, lined the streets. Regardless, we decided to press on and head to the national archaeological museum, home to some of Pompeii and Herculaneum’s most desirable relics. After a long hour or so walk through the grime and many unsuccessful trips to not-so-nice toilets – which you have to pay for?! – we arrived, and after inspecting the perimeter to find a grand entrance we were well and truly shocked to find it closed. Eventually, we found one bumbling old security guard. Who told us the museum was not opening today. It was a Tuesday. A Tuesday. This frustrated us all greatly – who shuts a museum on a Tuesday, during peak season? The logic is clearly beyond me. Not only was the museum closed, it took us an hour on foot to get to, away from the port where all the other attractions where situated.

Thus ensued another hour or so walk through the back streets of Naples. Everywhere we looked the streets where covered in grime, bin bags lined the streets and graffiti tags submerged buildings. Family members were insistent we tucked all valuables into a tightly zipped rucksack, but whilst the streets seemed filthy, the people seemed friendly. I knew very few Italian phrases and many Italians knew little English but where happy to help as much as possible Eventually, we stumbled across a piazza that led onto a main road. This was not like other bustling Italian piazzas, but was rather lined with newspaper shops and one small cafe. In Italy, even paying customers of restaurants have to pay to use the toilets – I wouldn’t mind if they were nice and had commodities like loo roll, hand soap and a lavender scent. Many times I just simply refused to go.

DSCN1169From here we carried on again. After hours of harrowing quiet followed by short bursts of mopeds trying to run us over, we found the Naples we expected. Well the ‘busy,’ and ‘chaotic,’ part at least in the form of a bustling high street lined with designer, high-end shops. A completely different Naples to the one we had just experienced. But the family spirits had already been damped and tempers were running high after all the walking in the midday sun. Nevertheless, I was determined to make a day of it yet. Ok yes, the phrase ‘see Naples and die,’ was not all it was cracked up to be, but I was still determined to have a pizza there. Naples is famous for its glorious stonebaked pizza and I was determined to try some. A perk that the Italians offer many tourists unknowingly is cheap, good food; in this case it did not disappoint. After being fed and watered for a princely sum of 5 euros, we carried on.

DSCN1179We were now approaching the port, which homed some of the most glorious castles I have ever laid my eyes upon. One of these was Castle Nuovo, an exquisite 13th century castle on the Port of Naples. The entry fee is a small sum of 6 Euros and in my opinion is well worth it, as underneath the castle is a Roman villa visible through a glass floor. The second castle we visited was where disaster struck. On route along the harbour walls I was stung by a monstrous insect, and keeping to my pale British name, my skin didn’t take too nicely to it. At first, I just thought it was a small bite and carried on walking, but after a while it formed into a horrific pus-filled blister that just would not stop growing and started restricting the movement in my ankles. But, I still wouldn’t let this overcome me. No; I soldiered on. And, in the blistering heat, we made it to the second castle on our itinerary, this time much closer to the port. It had a terrific sea view of the sparkling blue waters and a triumphant Vesuvius stood tall in the background. The sunlight was bouncing off the walls so that the castle looked like it was covered all over in crystals. Below the castle’s towering walls we sat and had a drink in the shade of a parasol and admired the view, for the first time on that long day.

We decided to call it quits, and checked our train schedule – something I did not rely on in the UK, let alone Italy. A power-walk to the train station thus ensued, as we were worried that if we missed this train there would be another hour’s wait – a wait no one was prepared to make. Arriving in the nick of time – I was not shocked by the fact that the train was late; the platform was heaving and when we eventually made it onto the right train, we had to stand – injured leg and all.

Naples was a horror, in a country full of wonders. But looking back, the pizza wasn’t all that bad.

Finland, Finland, Finland!

 

Finland is one of Europe’s best kept secrets. Fact. Winter Holidaymakers have a tendency to flock to the Alps, New York or the Southern hemisphere for a winter break, but Finland as all the allure and charm of the above destinations combined. Notoriously famous for: Lapland (home of Father Christmas), Saunas, Arctic berries and er Moomins?  That’s right folks Finland’s claim to fame is the popular children’s cartoon character that dominated many TV screens in the 90’s, but there is more to Finland than just that. Being bordered by three other countries (Norway, Sweden and Russia), a deep political history only adds to Finland’s cultural melting pot, making it a truly unique destination by any stretch.

Many budding travellers are under the impression that Lapland is actually a country, in fact it is Finland’s northernmost region situated in the Arctic Circle. In the summer, 24 hours of daylight reign supreme, but in the winter the sun doesn’t rise at all, instead the sky is full of colours, purple and pink hues occupy the horizon, just before darkness descends.

Despite this life carries on, with one of the most popular ways to get around being cross country skiing. The sport itself requires plenty of physical effort to ski across flat surfaces, and can prove to be highly embarrassing when five year olds whizz past a group of amateur twenty something’s (but let’s keep that between you and me). There are many ski paths and routes to follow in this region with quaint little coffee shops dotted along the way. If you find yourself in one be sure to try a classic Finnish drink, Minttukaakao, which literally means mint chocolate in English. It’s a winter warmer if there ever was one (be warned it’s a combination of hot chocolate and mint vodka). Fire pits are also found on the way, with many locals roasting sausages and marshmallows, before donning their skis once more and moving on. The likely story is that they are heading home to heat up the sauna and sit back and relax. Most homes in Finland’s northern regions have built in saunas. The large majority start at about 70 degrees and just keep going up, Sauna’s give an instant fresh feeling whilst sweating all of the toxins. So after a long hard day skiing could you possibly think of a better way to relax?

By this point in the afternoon the Northern Lights are the high in the sky. Remember that the best time to go and see the Northern Lights is in January and February and so seeing them is not a 100% guaranteed in any package deal! But, it’s a wonderful site to behold and on everyone’s bucket lists. The golden green swirls will dominate the skyline. The Arctic Circle is a wondrous place to take in the Earth’s most famous natural phenomenon. Ice Hotels are a classic and chic way to take in the night’s sky. Can’t afford the extortionate prices that Ice hotels offer? Then don’t worry for a small fee of just 12 euros you gain access the hotel as a visitor and look at the ice carvings inside a large majority of the bed rooms and other guest areas.

Not one for the beyond freezing temperatures that is the Arctic Circle in the winter, then head south to Finland’s Capital Helsinki. Helsinki sits on the gulf’s peninsula with some of the city’s top sights like: the national museum, Suomenlinna fortress, Helsinki’s cathedrals and other churches.

During the winter months some of Helsinki’s top attractions either aren’t open to tourists or are undergoing renovations. But, still makes for an exceptional and different city break nonetheless. Arguably Helsinki’s top attraction is Finland’s only sea fortress, Suomenlinna. The fortress is just off the coast of Helsinki, and sits amongst some of Finland’s 300 islands. Ferries head to the sea fortress regularly (roughly every twenty minutes). The fortress is a great amalgamation of both Swedish and Russian history. Finland’s history is rife with wars and historical disputes being fought over by both Sweden and Russia. The fortress has four museums and each of which explain a different aspect about the fortress’s history, and in turn Helsinki’s history. It’s not just the museums that are impressive on the island, but the reach of the quaint Scandinavia culture. Colourful wooden houses are dotted about, these are home to some of the islands 800 inhabitants. Feel free to have a wonder, guided tours in a mixture of languages encourage tourists to roam around and stop for a coffee in the traditional tea shop (be warned filter coffee is everywhere).

Another museum which may be of interest to the history buffs out there is the National museum. The area surrounding the national museum is full of cultural landmarks, with Helsinki’s famous Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral possibly being the most famous of these. The cathedral stands impressively over the Helsinki skyline, entry is free and is a great place to warm up your fingers and toes. The cathedral itself is very minimalistic in comparison to other cathedrals across Europe. But, it’s a reminder of the Art Nouveau architecture that Finland is famous for.

After all the sightseeing be sure to stop for a bite to eat and sample some of the classic Finnish cuisine. In the Lapland that delicacy is Reindeer, which can be brought at the supermarkets and meat counters and leaves a rather salty taste on the tongue. If you do fancy braving the supermarkets be sure to take google translate with you, Finnish is very different to English.  Luckily the large majority of restaurant menus give an English translation. Seafood is another Finnish delicacy, with a few varieties of fish on every menu. Salmon soup is considered a Finnish must, different restaurants add a twist every time, so no matter how many times you’ll have it, you’ll always want more. Even the traditional Finnish markets found in the Helsinki’s docklands will tempt you into buying freshly fried fish complete with a garlic mayonnaise sauce to boot Savoury not your thing? Any pastry with an arctic berry in is worth a try, the most notorious berry is the blueberry. It’s both naughty and nice.

So if you’re thinking of booking a last minute winter break for reading week and beyond, why not consider Finland the next time skyscanner appears in your browser.