“When in Rome…

…see the sights, and then write a blog about it.”

By Al

Rome is a fantastic short-break idea for Europeans, and perhaps my favourite city in Europe (thus far). This article explores some of the reasons why I hold Rome in high regard, but also some of the less good things. Every silver lining has a cloud. Perhaps.

DSC_4161

The Roman Stuff

Rome has lots to offer, and if you’re a history aficionado, then you must visit Rome. The Colosseum, for a reasonable fee of €10 (make sure you buy in advance to avoid LONG queues), is breath-taking. Literally breath-taking, there’s quite a few steps.

You can buy entry to the Colosseum, and then explore the stadium at your own leisure. Walking out into the stands, looking down into the arena, you begin to truly appreciate the spectacles which took place here almost 2000 years ago.  The steep banks of the stands filled to the rim with up to 80,000 blood thirsty Romans, watching as men fought animals and each other. Modern day entertainment is positively tame in comparison. Unlike many pieces of historic architecture, you can get very close and personal with the structure of the Coliseum. Touching the walls, I felt a charge of excitement knowing that people for almost 2000 years have touched this structure. I wondered about these people, who they were, and how they lived. You can truly live and breath history within the  Coliseum.

Also check out the Roman Forum, and The Pantheon.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Religious Stuff: The Vatican City

I’m not religious. I’m not arty. I’m not particularly cultural. So, visiting the Vatican for a second time didn’t particularly fill me with much joy – particularly when I had to part with €30. Not budget friendly, but necessary to appease my girlfriend. Small price to pay for an easy life!

I’ll be careful here to avoid upsetting those readers who may be religious. So, I’ll review it from my girlfriend’s perspective. As a non-practising Catholic, she loved it. She loved the art, the history, the sculptures, the tour guide, the buildings. Everything. Like a love-struck puppy, she stood there doughy-eyed, lapping up the knowledge being shared by the rude – but in an endearing kind of way – tour guide.

I have no doubt that the Vatican is an amazing place, but I have visited once before. The art is very beautiful, so much so, and so plentiful, that you begin to take it for granted by the end of the tour. “Oh yes, another marble sculpture of a well built, but not particularly well-endowed man, interesting hmm hmmm”.

We ended the tour in the Sistene Chapel – the room tightly packed with people looking at the ceiling. Again, the art is pretty good. The atmosphere wasn’t very serene though. Police officers in the corners ‘shush’ the crowd every couple of minutes, others patrol the floor looking for people attempting to take photographs, before being swiftly expelled. I presume they’re taken to the Pope’s office, before being given a verbal reprimand. Perhaps detention after school too.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Other Stuff

Fontana di Trevi – the famous fountain is ruined by all the people, selfie-sticks and dictatorial Fountain Police*. Fancy a seat on the fountain wall? Want to stick your hand in the inviting blue water? You’ll have to be quick, because the fountain police are watching YOU. The Fountain Police don’t allow you to do these things, and to show their disapproval, they will BLOW THEIR WHISTLE at you. Fancy a risky game? Do some stretches, throw your loose change in to lighten your load, and take a seat on the wall. The Fountain Police will come for you from both directions – how long can you last? Before they get to you, flee into the crowds. Forever gone, like a true Machiavellian.

*They aren’t really called Fountain Police, I think. Just Police.

IMG_4563

Palace of Justice – the seat of the Supreme Court of Cassation – the highest court in the land – this is an impressive building. The building screams money and power, rather than ‘the rule of law’.

IMG_4569

Summary

Rome (including the Vatican) is the 3rd most visited city in Europe. It is clear why. The city is teeming with things to see and do. Avoid July-August if you don’t like crowds, but you won’t go wrong if you take the plunge and come on a short break here.

BB Rating

4.5/5

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Florence: The Cultural Capital of Tuscany

By Al

Florence: the birth place of Gucci, the home of Michelangelo’s David and the first city in Europe to have paved streets (in 1339!). Florence is one of the most stunning cities I have visited. The historic city centre is a Unesco World Heritage site, featuring an impressive collection of art galleries, designer shops and the iconic Duomo (cathedral).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Uffizi Gallery

I will hold my hands up and admit that I am not a very cultural individual; I’d much rather listen to Drum & Bass over Classical music. Football match > Opera. Cinema > Theatre. When my girlfriend decided to drag me to the Uffizi Gallery, a prominent art museum with priceless Renaissance works,  I was reluctant. Upon exiting the Uffizi I wouldn’t have said I was a cultural convert. However, you cannot help but admire the historical and sociological magnitude of the works contained therein, and its impact on shaping modern day society.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Piazzale Michelangelo

If you are tight on time in Florence, I would prioritise visiting Piazzale Michelangelo, a square with a panoramic view of the city and its surrounding countryside. The views are truly breath-taking. In the foreground is the Arno river. To your left is Ponte Vecchio (discussed below). In front of you is the city centre, with the iconic Duomo capturing the eye. To your right are the Apennine mountains. Whilst I don’t advocate using such labels, this is definitely the number 1 ‘Instagram’ photo-spot in the city.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge)

Ponte Vecchio is a wonderfully charming and unique bridge lined with a number of trendy shops. You feel like you are back in Renaissance Italy, a world away from the concrete, brick and glass structures I am used to in the UK.

IMG_3301

Summary

Even if you are not particularly cultural, or interested in history, there’s still plenty of reasons to visit Florence. The city’s architecture, and landscape is captivating, and truly iconic. Spend a day here exploring, punctuated by nice pizza, ice cream and coffee, and you will not be disappointed.

BB Al Rating: 4.5/5*

 

 

Torre del Lago: My Second Home

By Al

You probably have not heard of the small Tuscan beach town of Torre del Lago Puccini. Settled between Lake Massciuccoli and the Mediterranean, I would call Torre del Lago my second home. Every summer since I was 3 months old, I have spent time here, staying with my grandparents in their summer house, enjoying home cooking and being a little bit spoilt. Though this is technically cheating, it certainly is budget friendly!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

From June – September each year, Torre del Lago comes alive with tourists. August, and particularly during the public holiday of Ferragosto*,  sees the town’s numbers swell, as Florentines, Pisans  and other city-dwellers flood the town. Whilst nearby Viareggio offers more in terms of night-life and entertainment, Torre del Lago is very popular with the LGBT community, with the highly regarded beachfront nightclub ‘Mamma Mia’ packed to the rim throughout August.

DCIM101GOPRO

As a child I would have told you that Torre del Lago was quite boring, with limited activities for children available. However, as a young adult, it offers a fantastic break from work. My recommended itinerary would be as follows.

10.30: After a lie in, cycle languidly to the beach. If you’re staying in the centre of town, this is just a 10 minute cycle ride away. Beware Italian drivers, they are notorious for good reason.

10:45: Arrive at the seafront. If you’re on a strict budget, then you can head to one of the free beaches. Otherwise head to one of the privately owned beaches where you can hire a sun lounger for the day. Either way you get golden sands, and views of the Mediterranean stretching beyond the horizon.

13:00: After a dip in the pleasantly warm sea, and gently cooking in the sun (please do wear suncream – you will burn) head to the restaurants lining the beachfront. For a traditional lunch, I highly recommend Fritto Misto**  with a bottle of Peroni lager.

14:00: Head back to the beach with a full belly, and smile on your face. You won’t find many Italians being active during the hottest part of the day, so follow their lead and find some shade to read a good book or for a pisolino (nap).

17:00: With the sea lapping around your ankles, the beach will stretch far in the distance to your left and right. Pick a direction, and go for a nice stroll and another dip in the sea. On your return treat yourself to a strong Italian coffee.

20:00: Having left the beach at a leisurely pace, head to La Rotonda, the town’s best place for pizza (in my opinion!). Head to the restaurant’s rooftop to enjoy your dinner whilst watching the sun set into the Mediterranean.

22:00: My favourite way to end the day is always with an ice-cream and drink. You will find lots of ice cream parlours, offering a multitude of flavours. Be brave and treat yourself to 5 scoops of 5 different flavours, for a truly mouth-watering experience. That diet can wait until the end of your holiday.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Summary

Torre del Lago is not as glamorous or well known as its neighbour Viareggio. However, if you want reliably warm weather, golden beaches, and good food then you can’t go wrong.

If you are the kind of person who cannot stand the idea of lying on a beach for 7 days, then Torre del Lago is also an ideal base for visiting a number of Tuscany’s gems. Lucca, Florence, Pisa, and Cinque Terre, amongst many other areas are easily accessible by a surprisingly reliable train network.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Whilst unfortunately my grandmother cannot provide you all with free accommodation, don’t let this stop you visiting Torre del Lago and the surrounding Tuscan localities, as it is a truly beautiful part of the world.

4.5/5 Budget Budgie Al rating

*Ferragosto – an Italian public holiday celebrated on 15 August, coinciding with the major Catholic feast of the Assumption of Mary. By metonymy, it is also the summer vacation period around mid-August, which may be a long weekend (ponte di ferragosto) or most of August.

**Fritto Misto – fish, squid and prawns deep-fried in a crisp batter.