Adventures, Travel

City Break: Venice and Verona

After returning from the beautiful region of Tuscany last summer I quickly found myself missing the beauty of Italy. So I got set on planning my next adventure to the one country that captures my heart over and over.

The wondrous floating city of Venice was my destination.

After booking my trip I was rather sceptical after many friends and family advised the city was busy, smelly and often flooded.

I am never one to be put off by another person’s review or opinion. However, I made the decision to pick a date off season, to avoid the crazy tourist season and any extremities in weather. Early February proved to be spot on.

From the moment I landed at Marco Polo International Airport I was not disappointed. Whilst the weather in the UK was cold, wet and windy, I had arrived to blue skies, blazing sunshine and temperatures in double figures (though a jacket was still required now and then).

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Staying just outside the city in the Best Western Tritone, Mestre proved to be the perfect base to visit Venice and it’s surrounding areas.

Day One – Murano & Burano

No visit to the Venetian lagoon would be complete without a visit to these two remarkable islands. Booking a half day boat trip was a great way to experience what they had to offer.

Murano, renowned for a long tradition of glass-blowing, was the first port of call with a live demonstration at a glass blowing factory. The secrets of glass have been closely guarded for years. Even today, there is no official glass school – the skills can only by learned by apprenticeship to one of the glass masters.

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Wonder beyond the numerous glass shops and you can stroll along the tranquil Canal Grande with its 19th century iron bridge or the parish church of San Pietro Martire.

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A short sail away from Murano, is the explosion of colour that is Burano. According to tour guides, fishermen who live on the island painted their houses in bright colours so that they could recognise them from afar whilst out fishing.

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The cheerful island and its charming canals makes for a striking Instagram photo. Without a doubt, Burano has become one of the happiest places I have visited to date.

Day Two – Verona

When I knew I was visiting Venice I had to ensure a trip to Verona was included. Within easy proximity of our hotel base – the city best known as the home town of star crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet was a must!

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The medieval town has been declared a world heritage site by UNESCO due to its urban structure and architecture. On visiting, it is clear to see why.

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We spent the day gently strolling around, taking in the sights of Castle San Pietro, Ponte Pietra, the Roman Arena and Ponte di Castelvecchio, to name a view.

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We climbed the 83 metre tower of Torre dei Lamberti, for exceptional views, and spent time at Juliet’s house marvelling at the sea of love letters and taking in the visitors from the famous balcony.

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Day Three – Venice 

On our final day it was the perfect opportunity to take in the sights of the main attraction itself. Jumping on the Vaporetto we cruised down the Grand Canal, taking in the floating city, we took the lift to the bell tower of Campanile di San Marco to marvel at the sights from up high and we stopped for pictures on the Ponte dell’Academia.

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With its famous gondolas, waterways and picturesque views I struggled to understand how anyone could not fall in love with such a beautiful location.

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From San Marco Square with its impressive Basilica to the multitude of bridges – including Ponte di Rialto – there wasn’t a moment I didn’t enjoy. Come off the beaten track and you will find the perfect pizzerias, quiet alleyways and a general sense of peace.

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As I reflect back on my trip to the floating city and its neighbours, it is clear to see I was at an great advantage visiting out of season. Had it been at peak, when cruise ships docked in the height of summer, I don’t see how I would have been able to navigate the tiny alley ways and bridges without feeling frustrated.

Without a doubt, Venice has become one of my favourite locations. To see it all, to take it all in would take more than a few days. I was simply happy navigating the canals, enjoying the view and soaking in the culture, to put down the map and relax with gelato beside the water.

 

Travel

Eight Hours in Paris

As someone who loves to travel at any opportunity and a great lover of a bargain at the same time I was quick to book some cheap Eurostar tickets to Paris several years ago (almost exactly five years ago to be precise). With the return journey being less than £50 per person I would have been a fool not to, especially as Paris was on my travel bucket list.

So I quickly got to planning what I could fit into an eight hour trip to the French Capital, booking in a “hop-on-hop-off” to ensure that I ticked off as much as possible.

First port of call was the Eiffel Tower – the most recognisable landmark in the city. Exiting the Metro, the tower looming above, I headed straight to the line for tickets to see the view from the top. What a better way to start the day than having bubbles at the top, taking in the 360 degree views across the city.

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So after taking in the views and a few glasses of champagne I jumped on board the sightseeing bus to the next stop on my list – Notre Damme cathedral.

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The medieval Catholic cathedral is widely known to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture and one of the most iconic church buildings in the world. It simply did not disappoint. The exterior is simply impressive, the interior equally so with beautiful architecture and stained glass windows.

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If you have a little time to spare I would thoroughly recommend spending a few Euros to climb the spiral staircase to the roof top of the cathedral. Although it could be a tough ascent to the top – the views are extremely rewarding, with views across the River Seine with the Eiffel Tower standing as a proud backdrop.

Next stop on the whirlwind day trip was the Louvre – the world’s largest art museum and the central landmark within the city. Famous for housing many pieces that would please many art fanatics, including Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, here you could easily spend hours upon hours roaming the beautiful building taking on all the collections the museum has to offer.

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Personally, as someone who is not that big on the arts, I found the actual building of the Louvre and it’s history, more impressive than what it housed. For many years I wanted to see the Mona Lisa believing in my head that it would be this massive masterpiece. I was rather disappointed to see it in the flesh. You know you have found the piece as visitors gravitate towards it. In reality, I found myself feeling deflated. Though I am not denying it is a impressive painting, it was rather smaller than I had expected.

Though the time at the Louvre was well spent wandering numerous rooms, I do feel that the hours I spent here were rather wasted for such a short trip. It would have been better planned to visit several other sights that were on my list and save the vast collections of the Louvre for a longer trip.

After an early dinner and wandering up the Champs-élysées, night was starting to fall and my time in one of the most romantic cities in the world was coming to a fast end.

It was only fitting that the final sight I would fit into the itinerary would be the Arc de Triomphe. Another amazing monument, which honours those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.

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Here, if you take the lift into the attic you can learn about its history in the small museum. If you take the 46 steps onto the roof you will be able to enjoy a panoramic view of the city.

By the time I reached the roof of this magnificent building, the city was dark but lit up spectacularly. The Eiffel Tower, the start of my Parisian adventure, was twinkling in the distance. It was rather fitting that my trip started and ended with the tower in sight.

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After lingering and taking in the views, it was time to head back to Gare du Nord station, ready for my return trip to London.

What a whirlwind day, attempting to fit in as many of the iconic landmarks as possible.

As with most European city day trips, there is never enough time to take it all in. I fully intend to return to the French capital in the future, perhaps extending my adventures to the outskirts of the city itself.

 

Adventures, Travel

City break: Prague

Facebook takes great joy in reminding you on a daily basis what your memories are for this day in time. Today they reminded me that this time last year we had landed in Prague for our much needed and delayed trip.

Prague is a top European city destination no matter what time of year you go. But to have the pleasure walking around the city without a jacket and experience its stunning baroque buildings under blue skies was a treat.

If you are looking for a break filled with history and of course the beer then look no further, book a trip today. It was one of the most memorable city breaks Ross and I have experienced together to date. My only faux pas was booking a hotel slightly out of the main centre due to the fact that they had a swimming pool – which we were not allowed to use. Don’t make that mistake – book closer to the main centre if you can.

That said – being out of the town meant that we covered many miles each day on foot, ensuring we had plenty of beer stops for Ross of course.

Day one had to be spent seeing the iconic Charles Bridge and the bridge we ended up crossing every day. The bridge is a stunning piece of architecture dating back to the 15th century (when construction was finally finished). One can only cross this by foot – no cars. So you can take your time strolling across, listening to the street performers and taking numerous photographs.

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Over the bridge into the Old Town Square is the famous astronomical clock. Time it to arrive on the hour and you will see the clock come to life with 12 apostles passing by the window above the dial and symbolic features moving aside.

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Being one of the most popular tourist attractions within the city, it attracts large groups of people into the square to watch the clock come to life. If you have time, climb to the top of the tower for fantastic views of the Square, the red roofed buildings and the castle in the distance.

 

Day two saw us spend more time closer to our hotel exploring Prague Castle, the grounds and St Vitus Cathedral.

An area that was also popular with tourists. You could easily spend a day here exploring everything that the area has to offer – paying to tour the cathedral and museums in and around the castle. We were just happy to potter around the grounds, taking pictures, enjoying the stunning views across the river and even watching the changing of the guard.

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After a mid morning pit stop we ventured on our way to the Petrin look out tower, a 63.5 metre tall steel frame work tower, which I was told strongly resembled the Eiffle Tower (though on a smaller scale) and had some fabulous views over the river and of Prague castle too. We were not disappointed here.

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After a long climb of 299 steps (and feeling the structure sway too) we finally made it to the top. The views were stunning. If you are up for the climb I would definitely recommend making the effort for the views alone.

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Plenty of pictures later we made our descent to ground level, wondering through the park grounds and back across the river for some lunch, I believe some beer and a hunt through the city to find the Dancing House and John Lennon wall – a must for any Beatles fan.

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Our final day was spent doing a mixture of activities from a cruise on the river Vltava – soaking in the sights from a different view – visiting the Prague Beer Museum and wondering round enjoying everything Prague had to offer.

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We covered a lot in the short time we were in the city. But I know there was so much more to see. If we wanted to spend more time indoors then there were plenty of museums to visit – but we enjoyed being out in the sun soaking up the culture of Prague itself.

Sadly, as with all adventures, there has to be an ending. And the next day it was time for this one to end. With our new found love of Prague we flew home promising to return one day soon.

If you are looking for a city break this summer, or even beyond that, add Prague to your list. Not only does it offer so much culture, it is a diverse city that suits travellers of every budget. You will not be disappointed.