Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Italian Tale: A Day in Pisa

Unfortunately, no matter how long I wanted to remain amongst the beauty of Italy, alas real life awaited and so we came to the final day of our trip. Let's call it:

Day 16

As this was the last day, instead of using the structure implemented for Rome, Florence and Venice posts I thought I would just walk you through the day. This is partly because we didn't really see a lot of places but we did go to Pisa and get on a plane to Stansted, plus I thought it would be more fun to write and provide you with more content.


To begin with, I didn't sleep well and my charger fell out of the plug in the early morning which meant my phone wasn't at full battery and it needed to last until we reached London. Not a good start, but then as it was the day we were leaving dreamy, beautiful Venice it's not surprising. We arose early, showered and checked out wheeling our suitcases and walking the half hour to Mestre train station. In order to get to Pisa we had to take a train back to Firenze Rifredi (cue deja vu) and then a train to Pisa.The train to Firenze Rifredi reminded me of the Hogwarts train in Harry Potter because there are compartments for six people and a door to that compartment instead of the usual open plan seats.


At Rifredi we got a train to Firenze Santa Maria Novella (love how that just rolls of the tongue) and then walked to Pugi's which is near Galleria L'Accademia (the home of Michealangelo's David) and I got €4.70 worth of ham and cheese lasagna-like goodness. It was epic. We ate outside on the benches, the sky was grey and there was a cool breeze but it wasn't that chilly as we returned to the train station and bought tickets to Pisa Centrale for €7.90. While purchasing the tickets a homeless (I assume) woman came up to us asking for change; her insistence even after our firm yet polite refusals bothered me. I kept saying no and she even waited for our change to spill out of the machine and then started shaking her cup. I have nothing against beggars I assume they have suffered extraordinary circumstances to end up in that position because who wants to be curled uncomfortably on the hard dirty pavement, their face turned to the ground. In India, there are a million more beggars but these women seemed calculating and it irked me more than being swarmed by twenty malnourished children and their parents in Jalandhar. Which isn't pleasant, trust me.


In Pisa, we left the train station and walked to the river. Pisa is a surprisingly beautiful city as well, it reminded me of Florence except it has a little more polish and feels quaint where Florence feels like a relic of a different era. We devoured numerous cups of gelato at a place by the river, I had decided to spend the remaining euros jangling in my satchel entirely on food. It was my sole goal to have pizza in Pisa, I thought - and still think - that sounds pretty bad-ass.





Of course, we couldn't go to Pisa and not see the only monument there, to my knowledge, so we traipsed off to see The Leaning Tower of Pisa. At first glimpse I didn't think it was leaning at all, it just looked like a gleaming white tower, but that was just the angle we approached it from. We walked around it and took pictures, admiring the prettiness, it was shiny like a new penny and we sat on the grass close to it. After chilling and relaxing for a while, we went in search of pizza, I ordered a tomato and garlic pizza from a restaurant close by and we ate with the view of the tower.




It was bittersweet, knowing we had to leave for the airport soon, our intentions were to walk on foot as the airport wasn't far. We reached the airport with little trouble thanks to the gaggle of Chinese tourists with their suitcases helpfully leading the way for us. The airport was beautiful it was green and pretty outside, with shrubs sculpted into beings and white statues, it was a lovely airport. Inside, the shops were adequate and also crazily overpriced I wanted to buy my mother some coffee but it was an obscene amount of money. I spent my last four euros on Italian magazines, I don't really know what I was thinking I just wanted a souvenir because I hadn't actually bought any proper, traditional souvenirs, like fridge magnets, mugs, even tacky sunglasses, or plastic key rings, in any of the places we went.


I stupidly had abandoned my coat and cardigan on some seats by the shops on the ground floor and only realised this when I was about to board the flight. I had to scurry back and announce to every shopkeeper what an utter idiot I am. I almost lost hope and said a silent goodbye to my beloved camel coloured Mango coat when a little man with overly gelled hair emerged carrying my coat and cardigan in a bundle.


The flight was relatively uneventful, I sat next to a lovely woman from Yorkshire who had just been on a cruise with her Italian boyfriend. She sweetly spoke to me and helped me get my mind off all the things I usually ruminate over when I am in a plane that is soaring very very high into the sky. I read the little brochure Ryan Air provide you with and thought about all the places I want to visit, Norway has now made it onto that extensive list by the way.


Back in London, it was cold and dark as we arrived late at night we had to wait for our coach and then take a bus back to Leamington Spa. We reached our front door at half seven in the morning and I spent the next twelve hours sleeping. I was so exhausted. It was weird being home, it's just weird that you can do any number of things and it will completely change you on the inside but everything around you appears the same. Strange. I can't wait for the next adventure.


I hope you enjoyed reading about Italy, I apologise for how long it took to get it all on here and sincerely hope it wasn't a drag to read. My links are below and I love you all, tell me about your own adventures this Easter or places you want to visit in the comments below. Thank you!

Kiran xxx


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Monday, 28 April 2014

Italian Tale Part 3: Venetian Beauty

Venice was a dream. Utterly unlike any other place I have ever seen, the entire time we were there it didn't stop feeling completely surreal. We stayed at a camp site in Mestre and had to take a bus from the train station to see actual Venice which meant we walked a hell of a lot. My sister joined me for the first two days in Venice and my friend from university was with me for the last two days and Pisa. I had such a fabulous time here. Again, following the same procedure here were my favourite places and things to do. I hope you enjoy reading it.




Venetian Beauty

Camping Jolly
Camping Jolly was our hostel, and also a camp site. It was quite cool we had a little cabin to ourselves which was nice, the bathroom was clean but the shower fluctuated between boiling hot and freezing cold. There was a restaurant/bar as well where they serve a buffet breakfast for five euros. We didn't take advantage of that because we wanted to eat out. They also did cocktail buckets for fifteen euros which were ace. 



I did have trouble connecting to the wifi though, a problem specific to iPhone 4S's and that was annoying, but there are computers in the reception. It was a good place and only ten euros a night. One major flaw was that after midnight you won't be able to get back in unless you have service on your phone but we just climbed over a fence and it was fine.





Piazza San Marco
It was described by Napolean as 'the most elegant drawing room in Europe' and is probably the biggest piazza I have seen in all of Italy and the only piazza in Venice; the other squares are referred to as campi. Piazza San Marco is the place during Carnivale season which takes place around Shrove Tuesday (and I sadly missed). It  is huge and busy and white, with lots of neat little restaurants that boast plenty of outdoor seating and an awesome live band which play alternatively soft and loud lively music which is just joyful; I love it.  The Campanile, Basilica San Marco and Doge's palace can all be found either in or very near the Piazza. 





Shops
Venice have such an amazing array of shops. We wandered into a lace and linen shop that that had book marks, necklaces, doilies, place mats, everything possible made out of lace and linen. It was adorable and bizarre, all this hand-stitched woven lace made into useful delicate items. 



Furthermore, glass is a big thing here and of course so are masks so each fancy shop dedicated to those two things are a must-see because there are a million and one cool amazing masks in a fantastic range of colorus: green, gold, black, white, each one more ornate and elaborate and glittery than the last. I am still so gutted I missed Carnivale season. These masks, however, especially the most awesome ones cost around €900 and the glass whether they are morphed into tiny sweet little birds or giant clear vases or beaded necklaces cost anywhere from €40 to €400. So yeah, if you want something bring your Am Ex.





Vaparetto
 I got a 72 hour pass for the vaparetto which is essentially a bus on water. There is a man that lets everyone on and off by unhooking a gate for everyone. It was like being in a completely different dimension for a few days and it was the best time. Every journey was so stunning it was impossible to keep your eyes from the water it's like you are being entranced because it looks like the whole city is suspending on a floating jewel box. It's surreal and gorgeous and indescribable but I finally understood what people meant when they told me Venice reminded them of Disneyland it's just more than what you could ever hope for. We spent as much time as possible on this strange passport wanting to see as much of this bizarre city as possible and I don't regret a minute.






La Strada Nova
This was a strip of shops in Ca D'Or which contains the only McDonald's in Venice but also a myriad of souvenir shops and other shops such as Lush. I was really surprised to see a Lush in Venice but we found one in Pisa too. Who knew Italians went crazy over handmade soap? There was another Grom on this trip which we took full advantage of, apple pie gelato is my favourite gelato.



The Hilton Hotel (Skyline Bar)
In Guidecca, there is a place called The Skyline Bar. We had no idea where to find it specifically and we set in search for it at half one in the morning. We walked to a beautifully lit up building which turned out to be a hotel - The Hilton it turned out - intending to ask for directions only to realise that the Skyline Bar was the hotel's bar and it closed at 1 am and opened at 5. Me and my friend went the next day to check it out but it wasn't very impressive the view was nothing special, for a place called The Skyline Bar it should be a lot higher to justify the name. But, we did hang out in the lobby downstairs where there are seats, the decor makes you feel like you're in a modern, expensive living room and no-one dais anything to us while we read our magazines and deliberated what we should do for the rest of the night. Also, the sofas in the lounge are so comfy you feel glued to the seat and you just don't want to move.








Basillica San Marco
The Basilica has five huge domes and a rich history. The mosaics are particularly beautiful as is the Pala d'Oro which is the marvellous altarpiece, made in the tenth century, it consists of 250 panels adorned with both enamels and precious stones, breathtaking to perceive. The entryway has incredible blue and gold ceilings, to go inside the Basilica it  costs five euros but I would say it is worth seeing although it all depends on your own personal preference.





Rosso Pomodoro
The first place we ate at Venice, i ordered gnocchio...something which is supposed to be dumplings with meat sauce but is actually more just boiled potatoes with a lot of cheese and meat sauce it was good but not that filling. My sister got a cone shaped pizza that had stuffed crust and the portion was great as it filled up both of us and the house white wine was really good. The staff were sweet and attentive and the place was busy with both tourists and Venetians, the place was recommended to us by the woman who worked in the magnificent lace and linen shop.



Grom
There are Groms all over Italy but we only ventured in one in Venice, and it was about time. Grom is known for using natural, fresh ingredients and although it is slightly more expensive but everything is a good size and the gelato is simply fantastic. Additionally, Grom has a bigger range of flavours than most other gelaterias for instance apple pie gelato can only be found here. Their flavours change as the seasons change. I got salted caramel, apple pie and crema di grom, it was delicious.



Rialto Bridge
I am not entirely sure why everyone loves this bridge so much, but it is massive and old, and there are shops along the bridge which is worth noting. It is a very busy place and it does photograph well.




La Mela Verde
La Mela Verde which is ranked number 8 for restaurants in Venice on Trip Advisor. I had three scoops for three and a half euros. I ordered vanilla, cherries and cream and Venetian cream the cherry one was my favourite it was delicious and moreish. 




Alfredo's Fresh Pasta to Go
In Castello there is a highly renowned placed called Alfredo’s Fresh Pasta To Go, I still think about this place today. I paid €7 for pasta with ham, cheese, parsley and white cream it was seriously delicious. All other pasta made by anyone in Italy or the world pales in comparison. The guys working there were surprisingly young, cute, polite and efficient and surprisingly none of them were called Alfredo. We ate out pasta on a nearby bridge and we like to think we started that trend.







Gelato Fantasy
Another great place to get good gelato. This gelateria faces the street rather than being an actual shop. It was priced very well and the staff were quick. I had Venetian cream and cheesecake gelato for two euro fifty and it was good. We went back to Gelato Fantasy and ordered more flavours, they are all good.







Caffe Florian
Caffe Florian is also in the Piazza, it is said to be the place where Bryon, Dickens and Proust used to hang in the nineteenth century. I didn't go there personally, but just in case there are any literary buffs out there this is a place you should check out.



Café Noir

A revolutionary bar in my opinion. We walked past Café Noir in a hunt for cocktails and I got a strawberry dacquiri an Ieva got a mojito. The place has popcorn and crisps as well and you can take cocktails to go! On the way to the Skyline Bar, we wanted to see the view at night (also unimpressive) I got a coca strawberry - which was really good rum, coke, lime and strawberries - to go and it was a work of art.







Bad Things
Venice at night is perfectly dead, vacant, silent as a grave. It is eerie and cool in equal measures. Everywhere was quiet, there were a few scant people around, mainly couples with luggage or men dressed in army gear. We walked aimlessly during these wee hours  and I marvelled at how flat Venice is. It felt like a ball room after Rome and Florence, even the buildings are just flat similar to a cartoon it's actually pretty funny. We checked and saw that the one returning to the bus station was at half four and then we randomly found a park and while we found the park we discovered that there was another vaparetto stand still running and there was a vaparetto going in our required direction in fourteen minutes ( it was three in the morning) so we meandered through the park and looked at statues discovered a play ground and obviously jumped at the chance to go on the swings because we are five year olds at heart. As long as you can amuse yourself and you're in good company the fact that no one else is around isn't a big deal at all, as long as you don't spook easy.





 Another moment that is seared into my brain for the rest of eternity is a man masturbating in broad daylight, no big deal. It was at the Ferrovia vaparetto stand and a man had his penis out just bulging out of the unzipped gap in his jeans his testicles were worryingly swollen and he must have been looking at porn or sexting someone because he was just stroking it in broad daylight in full view, shades on, he didn't give a damn. I couldn't believe this, it was so unexpected and vulgar that at first I thought my eyes were playing tricks. A woman even asked him a question and she either didn't notice or was deliberately avoiding it. I can't believe no one said anything because everyone seemed oblivious or were just turning a blind eye. Maybe it's typical in Italy? Maybe people just don't care. 



So that ended on a weird note. I loved Venice, it's a beautiful city suspended on water and though I would detest living there I adored being able to see and admire it at my leisure. Gondolas are ridiculously overpriced so I wouldn't recommend that but just use your eyes and you'll be glad you went. 



Hope you liked this post, it makes me sad to remember all these places, I wish I could write detail by detail everything that happened each day but that would be utterly ridiculous and would probably result in me impulsively booking another ticket to Italy ASAP. Nearly finished now. All my links are below and I wish you all a good week. Remember Mondays are fine, it's your life that sucks.

Next and Last stop: Pisa.

Kiran xxx


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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Italian Tale Part 2: Florentine Living

On Day 8 of being in Bella Italia we hopped on a train to Florence. No big deal. Our hostel was a 47 minute walk away which wasn't that bad, I really don't mind walking. I often prefer to walk somewhere than get the bus, especially when I am in a different country you really get more of a feel for the place that way, in my opinion. We stayed at Hotel Toscana, again another hostel and it was perfectly fine, it wasn't The Yellow but it was clean and the people were nice, it would take about ten minutes to unlock the door though. I hate keys, cards are so much easier and much less frustrating, the vibe of the hostel was more eerie but I guess that adds to the experience. And of course, most importantly it was cheap.


Now, this post will follow the same format as the last post with me detailing my favourite places and things to do, but first I feel the need to share one of the biggest highlights of my trip, which was meeting a 70 year old lady called Lisa, she is Finnish and lives in Boston very comfortably as a retired doctor. She is so inspiring and she taught me so much in three days, that I actually feel sad writing about this because I really miss her. I don't think you can encapsulate a person in a few sentences but I'm going to try, firstly the fact that she is a seventy year old unmarried woman who is successful and living a fulfilled,  beautiful life speaks volumes. You can be anything as long as you have the determination and maybe a bit of money. 

When we met her she was eating shrimp from a fish market in Venice, just getting off the train a few hours before us and drinking wine in a cracked mug. She threw herself into travelling and soaking in the city, as a massive art lover she would spend all day walking around galleries and museums and churches. She went to the opera in cheap clothes uncaring, she is sharp, witty and wonderful. She made me realise that it's up to you to make your wold beautiful and no-one is going to change it for you, it is your life, at the end of the day. I'm aware that I am gushing right now, but just feel the love, ok? I really miss her. She was the coolest person I have met in my life thus far.




Something Lisa and I both have in common is that we wrote down everything we did as each day went by, she had an old school exercise book in which she had maps and notes and suggestions written all over the place. And me, like the current generation, stored all my thoughts on my iPhone. Typical. The first thing I wrote about her was: 

'I am sharing my hostel with the coolest Finnish woman, she is 70, lives in Boston in a place with three floors and travels three times a year to wherever the hell she likes. She rocks. I love her. She is my third grandma.'

Now that's over let's move on to actual Florence outside of our grotty hostel.

Piazza del Duomo
The Piazza itself is awesome with some great shops and gelaterias, but the cathedral itself is stunning. It is constructed out of white, green and pink stone.It's the fifth largest cathedral in the world, according to my guidebook, it took almost 150 years to complete and was completed in 1436. You're allowed inside but you have to pay extra for the museum otherwise it is free and well worth a look. The interior is dark and peaceful, surprisingly empty in a way that only churches can be. There is some beautiful and most likely famous artwork inside. It boasts a good gift shop down the stairs as well, where I made friends with a crass Scottish woman. 




River D'Arno
The river that cuts through Florence is perfect to walk alongside, eat gelato by or even sit and drink wine while you contemplate all the future places you want to see. I love the sound of water and find it really refreshing to hear it, it's atypical for me to hear the sound of crashing water or cross beautiful famous bridges so I really enjoyed that. It's a great river and one of my favourite places in Florence. There was writing on path by our favourite place to sit near the river it said: l'amore spesso prende ma poi non restituisce. Which means 'Love often takes but does not return'. Graffiti artists are really deep in Italy, I wouldn't expect anything less. It's actually really quite amazing to see the sky turn dark above the river.




Ponte Vecchio
It's old and has a lot of history but I really just think it's a cool bridge. It photographs well and looks so quaint it's quite simply adorable. A joy to walk past, or cross, or simply stare at for a few moments. So pretty.




Trattoria Da Giorgio
This was a fantastic find only an eleven minutes walk from our hostel. It's essentially a small nondescript tavern that will serve you two courses, bread, water and a carafe of house wine, red or white your choice, for €14 each, no cover or service charge which makes a nice change. It was very tasty. I had penne with creamy meat sauce and stuffed eggplant with meat. Italy has definitely taught me that eggplant is utterly underrated, it's delicious!






Arnold Coffee
Admitting this is quite shameful but being abroad the one thing I do miss deeply is tea, just a good cup of tea and occasionally I miss being able to pop into a Starbucks and drown my tired eyes in a chai latte. So Arnold Coffee is my hero because it offers the American Coffee experience which means I can swim in a chai latte the size of my face whenever I feel like it. It's just over four euros for a large which I believe is about the same price as a Starbucks drink here. Their styrofoam cups are lacking though, as they aren't thick enough in my opinion because it burns your hand initially. That took some time to get used to.




Basilica San Miniato al Monte
This is probably at the top of my list after meeting Lisa, because it's not just a church oh no. It's a church you have to climb thousands of stairs to get to (I exaggerate of course) but it is most definitely worth it. There is a garden en route where you can sit with a bronze man on a bench and catch your breath whilst staring at strange but cool fountains and of course admiring a fantastic view. Which only gets better as you reach the church.



 The church is of course massive, the inside feels empty and echoey but it is beautiful. You can walk around the raised choir and pulpit. Again, the churches in Florence seem to have a strangely Arabic style to the buildings in that the colours are primarily green and white but I like it, it's different and definitely eye-catching. Their are tombs on either side that just break your heart because some of the graves are for children, but you can enjoy a breathtaking look at Florence while contemplating the brevity of life.





Uffizi Gallery 
Obviously, when you think of Florence you think art because there are some serious gems in these museums that even I have heard of. In Uffizi Gallery, which costs €5.50 for a member of the EU and a student (i.e. me), you have Birth of Venus by Botticelli which I recognised, and also paintings by Caravaggio, Da Vinci, and Van Dyck and many more. It was worth the money but the queue took about two hours, I had earphones and an audiobook to keep me company though.

Galleria D'Academia
One word: David. 
That must be the only reason anyone ever comes to this gallery because at first you're ambling around pretending to know what you're looking at and surreptitiously snapping photos to look cultural on Instagram and then you walk into another room and just see this looming white marble statue that is so much more impressive than you ever thought it could be. Michelangelo really outdid himself. It never occurred to me that all these statues of David were of the David from David and Golliath, I don't know why this didn't occur to me. I explained to my friend that for all this time I thought it was just some celebrated athlete. But you learn something new every day. Some interesting facts about Dave (the sculpture) the proportions are slightly off kilter (the head is bigger than it should be) because it was originally designed for the facade of the Duomo; the eyes boast heart shaped pupils; it was famously rejected as faulty by other artists but Michelangelo didn't care he knew he was fabulous.

There is other art work around and a room full of sculptures that are really lovely and heartbreaking at times. In particular, a statue by Luigi Pampaloni which was a monument to Maria Radzwille to commemorate the death of his wife and his son's witness to it, so sad and masochistic. I couldn't believe it when I read the plaque to that sculpture.

Pugi's
Nearby, thankfully, because I was starving when we got to La Galleria D'Academia, is a great little place called Pugi's and they serve hot food per slice or kilo. So it s cheap, cheerful and convenient. I got what is basically a ham and cheese lasagna and it was so damn good, nothing will ever taste the same again. It was quite simply the best thing aside from gelato that I had ever had in Italy, it knocked socks off every other slap up meal being served in Tuscany. So so good. The pizza, apparently, is delicious too.



Backstage
Backstage is a bar, it's busy and has live Italian music, they serve cocktails. I had a Cubano which is rum, coke and sugar from what I could glean. It was delicious, they had snacks and comfy places to sit and listen and talk. There was a room further away from the live band if you wanted to engage in a real conversation where you could hear each other. I really liked this bar, the music was fun even though I didn't comprehend a word, and the people were great, a good mix of Italians and tourists. We came back here again because it was inexpensive yet good fun.




Hotel
We went to the hotel with the roof top bar but you can only get to the bar via the elevator which we couldn't use. So we spent our time checking out the gorgeous decor and swanky chandeliers it was so pretty and fun to do. It gives you a kind of weird rush when you realise that no one really knows who you are you could be anybody and that's liberating especially when you're tresspassing. You'll be surprised what you can get away with as long as you look confident, it helps you blend in for a start which is really helpful when you find yourself in a tunnel with a crazy Italian man shouting what I can only guess are obscenities at the top of his voice well past midnight. Just act like you're not about to break into Usain Bolt style sprint and you will be fine, believe in yourself.



Finally.

 I was sad to leave Florence, at first I was unsure why as there's not as much to see, in comparison to Rome, but it's just a feeling you get that you're in the heart of something and even though it's not always pretty and beautiful and the streets are a lot narrower, there is a great range of shops (cough Tiffany's); gelaterias; a beautiful view within walking a distance wherever you are; fantastic street food and kind people. You could come here for a week in summer with nothing but a book and a toothbrush and you would have a wonderful time. I met the most amazing and inspiring woman here: Lisa taught me that if you want your life to be enjoyable it's up to you no one else is going to make your world it's yours. So do it, if you have the determination and the means then you can there is no excuse and laziness is an excuse, you're only holding yourself back. If you want it get it. She helped me realise a lot. She is amazing. 

Here is a Flipagram summary of our four days spent in Florence, I hope you enjoyed reading this post, leave a comment if you have any questions or want to share your experiences, I would be more than happy to read them. My links are below as usual.

Next stop: Venice.


Kiran xxx



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