A Travellerspoint blog

Italy - Venice

Venice

The final stop on our Italian tour was to the world-famous city Venice. We got the train from Florence into Venice, which was a great way to enter the city. You could see the water becoming more and more until you are surrounded and then suddenly buildings appear on top of the water – it is a great view!

Upon leaving the train station I got my first real glimpse of Venice from the inside. I must admit, I was very impressed! The place is unlike anywhere I have ever seen before and everything really does appear to be floating on water – there is just so much water! It is the most unique place I have seen and I was instantly impressed with the place.

We got on one of the water buses (yes – the buses and taxis are all boats!) and made our way a few stops down the Grand Canal and headed to our hotel. We bought a three-day pass that could be used on all water buses and worked out a lot cheaper – highly recommended! We left our bags at the hotel and went for our first wander around. It is great to walk around a city that has no roads, just canals, it was very peaceful and quiet.
The Grand Canal goes right through the centre of the city which is lined with Renaissance and Gothic buildings, all of which look great! There is a lot going on along here, with restaurants, bars, hotels, shops, and, of course, the Rialto Bridge. The Rialto Bridge is one of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy. It is the oldest bridge across the canal, and was the dividing line for the districts of San Marco and San Polo. It is also the place where my friend got engaged, so I was very keen to see it. It is a lovely bridge and the view when standing on it is fantastic, it was just a shame that when I was there the bridge was under construction, so it had a lot of scaffolding over it which covered half of it and kind of ruined the magic of it. Still, you get the idea of what it would look like and it is an impressive-looking bridge.

The central square, Piazza San Marco, contains St. Mark’s Basilica, which is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice, northern Italy. It is the most famous of the city's churches and an impressive sight. Drinks and food on the central square cost a small fortune so I wouldn’t recommend eating here, there are plenty of places out of the centre that are much more reasonable.

We decided in the afternoon to make the most of our bus passes and get a boat out to one of the surrounding islands. We wanted to head to the one that we had heard was full of coloured houses but got it wrong and instead ended up at Murano, the Glass Island. The island is famous for its glass making and the streets are lined with shops selling the glass products, however, we were not looking for glass products so found it a little boring and it was so cold! The weather was taking a turn so we decided to head back, but to be fair the best part of our trip was the boat ride. It was great to see Venice from a distance and to see the surrounding area.

On our second day in Venice, the heavens opened. I am not talking about a little drizzle but a full- on, all-day downpour. We stayed in the hotel for most of the morning hoping it would pass but when it came to around 11am and it had not eased off we decided to face it and get out. However, after walking around for a while having a look at the sights and nice buildings, we gave up due to being wet through, bought a load of food and drinks and went back to the hotel to watch films.

My one regret about Venice is not going on a gondola! Adam did not want to do it and, for the two of us, it was expensive, around £80/£100 for about 20 minutes. If there were more of us it would have been do-able but not just for the two of us on a budget. Then, when the rain came down, we had no chance of going on. If I went again I would certainly make sure I went on a gondola and completed the full Venice experience!

Venice is a truly unique place and one I would love to go back to (in the summer with more money!)

Posted by LaurenF3 08:57 Archived in Italy Tagged venice italy sights travelling Comments (0)

Italy - Florence and Pisa

The second stop on our Italy trip took us to Florence. Unfortunately, the weather had taken a turn since leaving Rome and once we got to Florence the weather was a lot colder and it rained on and off - we immediately layered up!

We got a taxi from the train station to our hotel (which just so happened to be located next to the other train station in Florence - oops!), left our bags and went for a wonder. We were staying in a hotel that was situation on the Piazza di Santa Croce, which was lovely and also held the Basilica di Santa Croce, the principal Franciscan church in Florence. We had a look around here which was really nice then checked in and made our way over to the main event, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore is the main church of Florence and it is a very impressive sight. The Duomo (as it is more commonly known) it's the city's most recognisable attraction - you'll know you're in the right place when you find yourself straining your neck to see the church's massive, iconic dome. Its exterior boasts intricate designs and breathtaking features while the interior is apparently surprisingly plain - we did not get tickets for this and the queue was huge, meaning we decided against going inside and instead just viewed and appreciated it from the outside. It is quite an impressive building!

Our next stop was Ponte Vecchio. The Ponte Vecchio is a Medieval stone segmental arch bridge over the Arno River, noted for still having shops built along it. The majority of the shops here are jewelry, great if you are looking for a souvenir to take home.

We had not yet been out for a proper, really nice meal so Adam set himself the challenge of finding somewhere for us to go that evening. We decided to try one called L'Osteria di Giovanni (http://www.osteriadigiovanni.com/), a pretty fancy restaurant which you could not book into. It was only a ten minute walk from our hotel so we decided to give it a try and see if we could get in. Once there, the waiter who met us at the door confirmed that they had no available tables other than in the cellar. We decided to go ahead, not really knowing what we were agreeing to, and ended up literally sitting in their wine cellar beneath the restaurant. They had about 4 tables in there with some lights strung up and our own waiter - the atmosphere was fantastic! Adam had his heart set on trying bistecca, a type of steak cooked on the bone and served rare. We went for this and it was unbelievably good. Hands down the best steak I have ever had. We had a great meal here and it was made all the better for sitting in their wine cellar, a truly unique experience.

Despite only having a couple of days in Florence, we still decided that we wanted to get the train over to Pisa to go and see the tower. Firstly, let me make you aware of something. If you ever plan on visiting Italy and getting the trains, make sure you validate your tickets! We bought our tickets in the station and got straight on the train, unaware of this. Once the guy on the train got to us and checked our tickets, he informed us that we had not validated them and therefore we had incurred a fine. Not what you want!

Once we got off the train in Pisa (it only took around an hour to get there from Florence) we had a 15/20 minute walk over to the tower. I thought perhaps we were headed the wrong way as I kept expecting to be able to see it above the buildings, but we were going the right way and suddenly we turned a corner and there it was. I must admit I was very impressed with the tower and it leans so much more than I expected or than it appears to in photos. Due to Adam being a bit of a whimp, we did not go up the tower. However, it was just as nice wandering around it and taking in the sights. The tower is situated in the Piazza dei Miracoli, also including the Pisa Cathedral, the Pisa Baptistry, the Campanile, and the Camposanto Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery), all worth a look around.

Florence is a beautiful city but, for me personally, there was not enough to do here. It was great for our two-day visit but I could not imagine spending anymore time than that here. That being said, I do highly recommend visiting this city - there are some beautiful sights to see!

Posted by LaurenF3 12:58 Archived in Italy Tagged italy florence sights travelling Comments (0)

Italy - Rome

First stop on our Italian adventure...Rome!

Despite an early morning flight with little sleep, when we reached Rome we were ready to go and see the sites! As usual, our room was not ready so we dropped off our bags and walked the short, 5-minute distance to the Trevi Fountain. It was great that this was so close to us! The fountain is very impressive but (as with most sites) it was absolutely packed! You could hardly move for all the people around and trying to get a decent photo was near impossible. I did go down and throw the customary penny over my shoulder, but it was not an easy task. Due to how busy it was here, we did not stay for long and moved on.

Next, we visited the Spanish Steps. Recently, we had watched the file [i]The Man From Uncle[i] and in this there was a scene with the main characters on the Spanish Steps, so it was really great to see this in the flesh! The Steps are beautiful but, as with the fountain, you could not get any nice photos as there were people everywhere - so much so that you could barely see the actual steps!

After we had headed back to the room and checked in, we got a taxi and went over to the Catacombs (we took a taxi due to being on a time restraint but I would not recommend this if you have time, it was not cheap!) The Catacombs are huge underground burial sites across the city - apparently there are 40! - and the one we visited is recorded as the biggest in Rome. I am not sure what I was expecting but it was quite a sight. There are thousands of graves in a maze of underground tunnels which just go on and on - it is like nothing you will have ever seen before. It is quite an eerie sight and quite sad to imagine all the people buried down there. You pass some graves which are too small for adults and it is a sad thought. Despite being eerie, it was very interesting and I highly recommend going to see it!

The next day we were up early and headed straight out. We had pre-booked our tickets for the Colosseum and Roman Forum, so headed there. We had our breakfast at a lovely little café which was overlooking the Colosseum - quite a place to enjoy your breakfast! After this we joined the queues to get in - you HAVE to book before going. The queues for the place were ridiculously long and by having tickets our waiting time was significantly reduced. We did not have to wait any longer than 30 minutes but we overheard people in the queue next to us (who did not have tickets) say that they had already been there for an hour and a half, and they were not near the front yet! Since I was young and my Dad made me and my siblings watch Gladiator (which has ever since been one of my all-time favourite films) it has been a dream of mine to go and see the Colosseum. Walking in to the place and seeing the vast size of it, it did not disappoint! It is quite something and, despite knowing the horrible things that took place there, you cannot help but be impressed with the place. We learnt a lot of interesting things too, such as it has recently been discovered that the place was deliberately flooded on occasions and battleship games took place - how clever! I highly recommended going to see this place if you get the chance.

After the Colosseum we headed over to the Roman Forum, which is just behind the Colosseum and easy to get to. When you book tickets for the Colosseum you can get ones that include the Roman Forum for next to nothing extra. The Roman Forum is a rectangular forum which is surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of Rome. It is again an impressive site and although a lot of the buildings are now just ruins, you still get a great idea of what it once was.

We headed back to the room relatively early that night to be able to get out in time to watch the Wales game, which was at first quite a struggle. We found one bar who said he would put it on for us but the only channel that showed it flicked continuously between four different games, which was not great. We endured this for the first half then moved on, only to find that literally around the corner was an Irish sports bar. The NFL was started so the place was crowded with Americans eager to watch the game and all the big TVs had the NFL on, but there was one small TV which had the Wales game on, so Adam was happy and we stayed there for the night. We talked to some great, interesting people there whilst getting slightly merry! At the end of the night as we were walking home, we had the genius idea of heading over to the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain again. Seeing both of these at night is something I highly recommend - not only do both look gorgeous at night but also there are barely any people around! We got some much better photos and were actually able to take in the sites properly. We did get done over by a guy who we paid €5 to take a Polaroid of us which turned out to be just complete blackness, but he did take a lot of photos for us on our phones so it was all worth it in the end.

The next day we had tickets booked for the Vatican City, but these were not until the afternoon so we had a wonder around in the morning. The night before we had been told to go and see the Pantheon, something that was not on our list of things to see but we decided to go and visit it. It was truly worthwhile going to see as the building is just amazing! The Pantheon is a former Roman temple, which is now used as a church. When we turned the corner and saw the building it made us speechless - we were just not expecting to see this beautiful site! Well worth a visit.

After this we started heading towards the general direction of the Vatican City. The great thing about Rome is that there is so much to see - the buildings around you are just amazing and, even though they may not be a famous landmark or site, they are just phenomenal, so even walking around taking it all in is great. On our walk over Adam realised that we were near the place that the photo "Morrissey's Rome" was taken. Being a huge Morrissey fan, Adam wanted to go and see this, which we did and Adam has a great photo of himself reenacting the photo.

Once we got to the Vatican City, we were again faced with a huge queue which we were able to skip - straight to the front - due to having pre-booked our tickets. This queue was even bigger than the last one and I am not kidding it was the biggest queue I have ever seen in my life! Once inside, we had a look around outside, taking in the great view of St Peter's Basilica which was gorgeous. We also sent a postcard to my Gran using the Vatican post - which was pretty cool! We then headed inside and started the walk towards the Sistine Chapel. There are some brilliant pieces of art along the way but due to the sheer amount of people who are all constantly moving forward towards the Chapel, you do not really get a good chance to take these in. It was not the best experience and I felt a bit like I was in a herd of cattle getting moved who could not stop at all. It is a big place and it took a while to get to the Sistine Chapel and by the time we had got there, had a look at Michelangelo's famous ceiling we were ready to get straight out of there. A little more organisation in here would make a huge improvement. The place itself is very impressive but this gets a little lost in the mayhem and amount of people in one place, fighting to get to another.

Overall, I was hugely impressed with Rome. There is just so much to see and do and the city as a whole is just gorgeous. I may even go as far as to say it is the best city I have ever visited! Get yourself there :)

Posted by LaurenF3 12:11 Archived in Italy Tagged italy rome sights travelling Comments (0)

Japan

sunny

This is perhaps a cheat one as I went to Japan on a work trip, had a fleeting visit and did not get to see much, but I still feel it is worth writing about! Despite not being allowed to stay on by myself to do a two-day trip to Mount Fuji (I tried, I really did!) I still got a good feel for Japan and really liked the place.

One great thing was the hotel I stayed in was literally next door to the Tokyo Skytree . The Tokyo Skytree is a broadcasting, restaurant, and observation tower in Sumida, Tokyo. At 634m tall, it is the highest freestanding broadcasting building in the world. Despite not having enough time to go up the tower, standing at the bottom of it was still very impressive. It also gets lit up at night, which is a great sight! I was glad we were located so close to this as it meant that, despite being these on business, I was able to see at least one of Tokyo's great sights.

Unfortunately, due to the time of year I went, we had just missed the Cherry Blossom Tree season. During the Sakura (Japanese for Cherry Blossom) season, the pink flowers fall from the trees and blanket the floors, giving a beautiful site. Although the trees were bare when I got there and the blossom had already fallen, there were trees everywhere and you could still take in their beauty. They were lovely and I can only imagine how gorgeous and magical it is to be there during this event.

Due to being there for work, I had the BEST dining experience. After our meetings, our clients said they would like to take us out for tea and of course we were happy to accept. We had a 10/15 minute walk from their offices to a residential area. We arrived at what looked like a house with a garage type building on the door and a small sliding door at the front - this is somewhere you would never find without being told about it! There were only about 4 tables in there so the atmosphere was great. The tables also had a grill plate in the middle and everything was cooked right in front of you. My clients insisted on ordering for us and I was happy to leave them to it - they are going to know better than me what is good. It was a great opportunity to try food I would never have normally ordered, really traditional Japanese food and, wow, it was great! There were a lot of pickled vegetables, Unagi, meats, fish, Udon and all sorts of other types of food. My favorite was a classic Japanese dish called Okonomiyaki. Literally “grilled as you like,” okonomiyaki is Japanese comfort food at its best, and a clear violation of the typical refined image of Japanese food. It’s a savoury pancake filled with any number of things (but usually cabbage and pork) and topped with fish flakes, dried seaweed, mayonnaise and a Worcester-style sauce. It’s also a lot of fun: I got to do the grilling and flipping myself on the hot plate!

Of course, what trip to Japan would be complete without some karaoke. After our meal, my clients insisted on taking us to do some karaoke, claiming it was an absolute must when in Japan. I was expecting a bar-type place that had one karaoke system with everyone waiting their turn to get on the stage and go for it. I was very wrong. The karaoke place was a huge building with around ten floors. Each floor had about 4/5 different pods that you booked out. Our group went into one pod and in there you can sing your heart out to any number of Japanese or English/American songs, order food and enjoy your own personal bar service. Unfortunately, my voice is nowhere near good enough to sing but as I did not want to be rude I did end up doing 1 song on my own, and joining in a few group ones. Everyone seemed to really go for it, despite their singing capabilities - it was good fun!

Despite going to Japan on a business, work-related trip, I had a great time and feel I got to experience things more typically Japanese that I may not have been able to if I had gone on my own. Japan is a beautiful place and I will be sure to get back there one day for a trip of my own.

Posted by LaurenF3 13:15 Archived in Japan Tagged tokyo japan sights travelling Comments (0)

China

Last Stop - Hong Kong

storm

Our third and final stop on our trip took us to Hong Kong. This is somewhere that my sister and I have always wanted to visit so we were very excited to get here. Also, our Uncle Tony is from Hong Kong so it was extra special to visit here. We had it in our heads that this was going to be the best place on our trip, however, due to bad weather it was slightly ruined. From the moment we got there, it rained and there was thunder storms - it was never ending! Actually, it did get nice on the last day when we were leaving - typical!

The main thing we were wanting to do on our trip was Victoria Peak. Victoria Peak is the highest point of Hong Kong and it involves getting a steep train up a hill (it was a bit like being on Oblivion at Alton Towers!) and then getting several escalators up to the top of a building. Once at the top, the views are fantastic. Despite the bad weather, we decided to go up anyway and see if we could see any of it. Unfortunately, once we got to the top we realised we had made a bit of a bad choice as we could not see a single thing. It was completely misty and the whole view was obscured by it. It was such a shame as we were really looking forward to it. We did still manage to get a decent picture as there was a man working there who took our photo and then use Photoshop to put the background in!

Again, another thing that we wanted to do was the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Cars and Big Budha. This too was slightly dampened by the fact that it was raining and it was misty. The cable cars take you over to a little Island where the Budha is - we did get some views but it was still pretty much obscured by the mist. The Budha itself we were actually very lucky to see as when we went up we could see it (although it did not show in any photos it just looks like a photo of a cloud!) but once we got back down to the bottom the mist got very bad and you could no longer see it at all - so we picked the right time to go!

We had plans to go over to Macau for the day but because the weather was so bad we did not end up doing this. Instead, we went to the Ladies Market in Mong Kok which was great. It had everything you need or would want to buy and all at reasonable prices. Most stores have exactly the same things and we found that if you wait for what you want until right down the other end, you will get this a lot cheaper as people tend to buy it straight away and not wait so they offer it at lower prices to get the sales. It is well worth visiting any of the markets - just remember to barter!

We stayed in a boutique hotel called Butterfly on Waterfront right near the harbour. One thing that they did which was great was provide a smart phone which you can use during your trip. You can use this to book things or, as we did, use it for the maps. It has a function which allows you to enter where you want to go and it will tell you which line on the underground you need and where to change - it was extremely useful! The underground itself it brilliant and easy enough to use - you do not need to go any other way! As we were staying on the harbour we were hoping for some great views across to Kowloon, but we could not see anything again due to the weather.

All in all, Hong Kong was a slight disappointment but this was down to the weather. I fully believe that it would have been very good and a lot more fun if only the weather was better. The things we wanted to do and see all involved views and being outdoors, so the weather did put a damper on this - quite literally! I would not hesitate to go again and plan it for a time when the weather is due to be a lot better.

One last point - on the way home our flight was delayed by over 9 hours (absolute nightmare) and when we got back we put a claim in for it. Lufthansa tried to turn this down due to it being "out of their control" (the plane was faulty) but actually faults with airplanes now falls under the control so they had to pay out in the end. If this ever happens to you do push back as it is well worth it financially!

China was a great experience and I am so glad that I have finally visited. Time to plan next year's trip...

Posted by LaurenF3 12:44 Archived in China Tagged china travelling Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 32) Page [1] 2 3 4 5 6 7 »