Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Milan, Italy

Milan, 17-19th September
Milan is home to Leonardo Di Vinci's 'Last Supper'. To the left is the building where this iconic painting is housed. After almost being destroyed in the second world war (thankfully it was preserved due to much protection being placed around it) its now preserved with the highest level of care including a room where dust is sucked out from the air and clothing of those entering. The painting really is spectacular and much bigger than I thought!

The Duomo of Milan is the fifth largest in the world and took nearly six centuries to complete. It is made of Candoglia marble. Unfortunately the surrounding piazza is full of con artists trying to trick you into owing them money and following you about, but if you are prepared it will be fine. 

The roof of the Duomo is open to explore and just as amazing to look as the front. The roof gives excellent views of Milan and one is able to view the tower structures close up. Next to the Duomo is the Vitorrio Emanuele - one of the worlds eldest shopping malls and built as a tribute to the first King of Italy.

The Teatro alla Scalla has the finest acoustics in Europe and it is Italy's most famous theatre. At this theatre i saw Onegin - but after purchasing cheap tickets, only half the stage was viewable! However, viewing this fantastic opera house was definitely worth the money.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Venice, Italy

Venice, 16-17th September

On my first night in Venice, a neighbouring hotel held a street party outside of my hotel. It included a sit down three course meal, alcohol and a band in the street. My hotel was situated down a random street in Venice (and took a long time to find!). One of the best parts of Venice is getting lost - the majority of the streets look the same and there is no distinct pattern to them. There were many times that I walked down a street only to find it was a dead end! However, no matter how hard I tried, all the paths seem to lead to St Marks Square.

The Venice palace is in St Marks Square and runs directly next to the large river in Venice. The palace bedrooms look out onto this river. The square is one of the main tourist areas in Venice that floods when the tide rises. Watching the waiters serving coffee in their wellington boots is a sight I never thought I would see. During these periods of flooding a wooden path is temporally constructed 1.5m above the ground so tourists can get around without getting wet!

Next to St Marks Basilica is St Marks Clock tower - that you can get a lift to the top of. The view from the clock tower is spectacular - especially when the huge cruise liners appear!

The Rialto bridge in Venice is one of the most iconic crossing in Venice and also one of the busiest. The Gondola picture was taken from this bridge. The gondolas used to be used as funeral carts and this is the reason they are black. Venice features the original Guggenheim museum - featuring some of Peggy's favourite works.

Venice has a truly unique feel to it - no cars and many steps to cross canals! It is truly like no other city I have visited - living up to the hype in all respects!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Verona, Italy

Verona, 16th September
Verona is home to the second largest colosseum in Italy, however, it is now a concert venue, so the feel is very different and far more modern. Verona's main attraction is the Casa Di Giulietta. The place where Juliet - of Romeo & Juliet - is thought to have lived. Her house is now a museum and her balcony can be seen in the picture of the courtyard. Underneath this balcony are letters that people write for Juliet to read and help them with their love life's. 

The Club Di Giuletta are a group of volunteers who read these letters and answer them on Juliet's behalf. Furthermore, you can see the bronze statue of Juliet. It is believed that if a person rubs her right breast they will have good luck and fortune in love.

Verona was one of my favourite places I visited in Italy. Its quaint streets and calm nature (in contrast to Rome) was beautiful to behold. I visited on a Sunday and resultantly many shops were closed, but the small town atmosphere remained. I believe that the real Italian feel was notable in this city.

Florence, Italy

Florence, 15-16th September
Whilst in Florence I joined a 'Secret Rooms Tour' at the Palazzo Vecchio (Town Hall). This tour traverses along many of the buildings hidden stairwells which were made for the Medici dynasty in case of escape. To the left, the ceiling structures used to hold up the hundreds of paintings which are held on the ceiling of the main hall. Whilst there, I visited the Cappelle Medicee where the tombs of the Medici family still stand. 

Outside the town hall is a replica of Michelangelo's David - the original is housed in the art galleries of Florence.

The Duomo in Florence is one of the most iconic features and recognisable across its skyline. The exterior is made with marble panels in shades of pink and grey. The skyline picture was taken at Piazzale Michelangelo and provides spectacular views all over Florence.

Florence was one of the cities I was most excited about when visiting Italy, the beautiful architecture and small narrow streets didn't let me down!

Friday, 14 September 2012

Pisa, Italy

Pisa, 13-14th September
Walking into Pisa from the train station is a strange experience. Pisa is a normal town around a river, but on the skyline stands a giant tower that pokes over the tops of buildings. All the times I've seen pictures of the Leaning Tower of Pisa I have assumed it is slightly outside the city due to the excessive green fields surrounding it. Discovering that it isn't, was a strange start to the Pisa experience. The tower itself is fantastic - climbing it causes a very strange feeling. Although the slopes consistently go upwards, the leaning causes some of the slopes to feel flat and others to feel extra steep. This area is extremely touristy, with many locals avoiding it at all costs.

The Duomo by the tower was built to encourage acoustics that allow for Duomo singers to make some exceptional noises.

Away from the centre the tourist level drops dramatically and the real Pisa can be seen.

Finally, what would a post about Pisa be if a picture of people posing wasn't included.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Rome, Italy

Rome, 10-13th September 
My first glimpse of Rome was the colosseum. On the bus ride in, along a main carriage way of road, appeared the colosseum. A historical feature - thousands of years old - situated in the centre of the city. The contrast of old against new is breathtaking and a feeling I've never experienced before. On my first night in the city (shortly after arriving) the girls in my room advised me that the colosseum was best seen at night. 

The following day I had booked a tour around the colosseum - the inside is just as fabulous as the out! The Forum Gardens are the ruins left from an original Roman settlement and can be found next to the colosseum - another excellent contrast of old and new in the centre of the city.

A part of Rome I was extremely excited to see was the Trevi Fountain. The Trevi Fountain is the largest baroque fountain in the city. One coin in the fountain ensures a return to Rome, two coins means you'll return to Rome and fall in love and three coins means you'll return to Rome, fall in love and marry! This fountain held magic for the thousands of people that flock to it each day, but its real magic was at night. The small streets surrounding the fountain were filled with Italians eating their dinner (most Italians do not eat until 9pm), couples were walking to the fountain to spend time together. Regardless of the high levels of tourism around this fountain, it is still a place where the locals like to visit.

In a quiet piazza, on the Aventine hill, holds the embassy of the order of Malta. This Villa has a secret garden and a secret entrance to the secret garden. At the secret entrance is a gate and this gate holds a keyhole. Upon looking through this keyhole you see a garden which is perfectly aligned down a pathway. At the end of the pathway is a view of St Peters Basilica, Vatican City. This 'secret' view point is magical. It is off the busy track of the colosseum where thousands of tourist flock. When I arrived at the door there was just myself and one other.

My final day in Rome was spent in Vatican City. I arrived extra early as i was attending Pope Benedict XVI's weekly sermon and blessing. Thousands of other people also had the same idea. I am not a religious person but I want to experience as many things as possible. At this sermon Christians (and I suspect many other religions) from all over the world came together to celebrate life. Everyone was so kind and so friendly - sharing their experience of Rome and their experience of The Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI's sermon emphasises how religion - when viewed in the correct way - can bring people together in a loving way to celebrate family and life. Following this I went on a tour of The Vatican and St Peter's Basilica. 

The picture on the left was taken in St Peter's Square. The dome (that I had seen from Aventine hill) is clearly seen above the museum. During the tour we were taken into Pope Alexander Borgia's bedroom. This notorious Pope had held a fascination for me and standing where he had stood was fantastic. Michelangelo's sistine chapel was featured on the tour as well as the Raphael rooms - evidence of the expense taken to produce this fantastic building.

Monday, 3 September 2012


A 7 day Scandinavian Cruise with the family on the Grand Princess. 
Day 1
Bruges is a quaint town around 15 minutes away from the port Zeebrugge. Its narrow streets and canal water ways have given rise to the name 'Venice of the North'. 

I have often found that the best way to see a canal city is from the water - this allows access to the backstreets and the perspective change is always exciting. We embarked on a water boat tour in celebration of my Fathers Birthday. I love tours of cities, having the opportunity to question locals about the history of their town and learning things you most likely wouldn't have discovered alone.

The belfry of Bruges (or the bell tower) had unparalleled views over Bruges and its surrounding suburbs. No matter where I travel, or what city I am in, I always find something to climb, I love the views you can see from such a height. But more importantly, it was a building that required a 366 step climb to concur. Following this victory, what better way is there to recover than with Belgian hot chocolate?
Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826):
“Those who have had the pleasure to consume chocolate, are in good health. They suffer far less from small ailments that interrupt one's happiness.”
I visited Bruges whilst on a cruise - this requires returning to the port town after travelling into the city. Whilst returning to Zeebrugge we happened across the yearly flower show - a carnival of floats delicately decorated with thousands of flowers - proudly paraded down the roads.

Day 2
A day at sea can only mean one thing: Formal Dinner.

Day 3
Copenhagen is the capital and the most populated city in Denmark. It is also home to the 'Little Mermaid' statue, sculpted as a tribute to Hans Christian Andersen. She has been classified as an iconic statue alongside 'The Statue of Liberty' and 'Christ the Redeemer' but, in my opinion, she has far less impact on the viewer than either. I understand that Hans Christian Anderson is iconic, the original writer of one of the best known Disney films, a famous Dane - but the tribute to him is, in itself, disappointing and highly over-rated.
Connie Neilsen - 
If Copenhagen were a person, that person would be generous, beautiful, elderly, but with a flair. A human being that has certain propensities for quarrelling, filled with imagination and with appetite for the new and with respect for the old - somebody who takes good care of things and of people.

Nyhaven - one of the most recognisable areas of Copenhagen - is home to a collection of coloured houses alongside the waterfront. From this harbour many boat excursions depart, allowing witness of Copenhagen from the sea and from the cities canals. The Danish author - Hans Christian Andersen - lived here and his house is memorialised with a simple plaque. 

The Marble Church, or Frederick's Church, is a notable building in the Frederiksstaden region of Copenhagen. Its Rococo architecture and large dome (31m and the largest in Scandinavia) was probably based on St Peters Basilica in Rome. This building acts as a central point of the city and allows you to find your way around. However, the streets of Copenhagen are easy to follow and don't provide much in the hope of getting lost. You shouldn't let this point put you off, the streets are beautiful and have a wealth of interesting shops and local cafes. 

Before travelling to Copenhagen, I heard the rumours that the coffee is expensive and you can not afford the beer. After spending a short amount of time here, I quickly understood that these rumours are not the truth - the prices resemble those of England, not those of Switzerland!

Rosenborg Slot is a renaissance castle built by Christian IV in 1605 and used as a royal residence until 1705. Today it features period rooms and homes the Danish Crown Jewels.

Day 4
Helsingborg is the closest point between Sweden and Denmark and, resultantly, has much history. During many of the Scandinavian wars, Helsingborg was central to control of the Strait. Previously of Danish control, Helsingborg has been under Swedish protection since the 17th Century.

Kärnan is the only remains of the Helsingborg fortress, the strongest in Scandinavia during the middle ages. Situated upon a hill over the city, it provides spectacular views across to Denmark.

Helsingborg is a very modern city with a large harbour which is home to many yachts. The city itself has a blend of small alley ways which were built 600 years ago to many modern and wide avenues which feature in the shopping district. The town hall situates a 65 metre bell tower that can be heard across the city throughout the day.

Day 5
The final stopover was in Oslo - home of the Vikings. When I was very young my best friend went to Norway on a skiing holiday and visited Oslo whilst she was there - since then, the city has held a fascination to me. This, combined with my interest in Vikings and Norse religion, made Oslo my most anticipated stop on the cruise.

The first stop in Oslo had to be The Viking Ship Museum. It is located on an island off the coast of Oslo called Bygdøy. To the left is the Oseberg ship, which was built in 820AD and used as a burial ship for a rich and powerful woman, the ship has never been fully restored. 

These ships were amazing to witness, the detail is outstanding and imagining a group of strong men using these boats to travel from Scandinavia to England all those years ago is incredible. It was a mammoth task which was completed because of their Earls ambition - a huge risk at the time, but one that came with massive reward.

Also on this island is the Kon-Tiki museum which houses the Kon-Tiki vessel. 

The Oslo Opera House is an innovation in design with the exterior made purely of marble. The surrounding bell tower, cathedral and city hall have a very different aesthetic design. 

The strong white contrast in the city created a very modernistic and contemporary feel to the building. From this building we were able to obtain spectacular views across the low sky-line of Oslo.

Day 6
The last day included another Formal Dinner and the return trip to Southampton (not to mention Afternoon Tea!).