Wednesday, 29 May 2013

A slice of Italian charm

Getting my perfect Venice moment

Moving on to the land of rolling hills and winding rivers, it's time for Italy. Rich in culture and diverse in creativity, Italia is home to cities of history, of religion and of art but, they say Venice is the city of love. So, in typical cheeseball style, I headed there with the BF to soak up all things lovely.

Built across 118 small islands that are connected by intricate bridges and cobbled pathways, it is said to be the most beautiful place built by man. It is here, in this unique city, that I received my first taste of Italian charm. 

As a Ryanair patron, I had found myself and Robb return flights for £50 each in the middle of August- a summer bargain, perfect for two students. 

Again, I then scoured Hostel Bookers to find affordable accommodation. Viva Venezia was a shared apartment in the city centre that was spacious, clean and peaceful. Ideal. 

So away to the land of Pavarotti, pasta and passion we went. The sun was hot and the city was overflowing with tourists, all after their own slice of Italian pleasure. Perhaps August is not the best time to visit as temperatures are scorching which makes it hard to keep the backpack on and tourist head fully focused. 

However, with 4 full days in Venice there was enough time to divide the day into morning meandering around the sites, and afternoon beach sessions at the Lido

On the list to see there was Saint Mark's Basilica, the Campanile and St. Mark’s Square. I had approached them with interest about the history and excitement at the views. Instead, I was forced to listen to Robb’s step by step breakdown of how he had been a spy and mastered the city with Assassin's Creed manoeuvres. Yes, we are talking about a playstation game. Although never having been to Venice, Robb apparently knew how to scale the Campanile, avoid the monks in the cathedral and escape unscathed out of Doge's Palace...bit of culture right there.

When we put our spy kits away and settled for typical tourist transportation, it seemed the city’s vaparetto system was the best mode. Purchasing a €25 travel pass to use the vaparetto system unlimited over 3 days was a good money saver. Without it, each boat ride would have cost €7 and, as an island with no roads, you kind of rely on the waterways

BEX FYI: Make sure to always pack motion tablets because you never know when you could have your head hanging over the side of a boat. Too much movement for me.

All tourist attractions aside, the key to a great Venezian trip is to get lost. Just wander through the winding streets and quirky alleyways and you’ll find original artwork hidden around corners and pretty buildings nestled behind archways. Of course, there’s always the gelaterias and pizzerias to keep you fueled along the way.

But how can I detail a trip to Venice without mentioning the gondolas? Those picturesque canal boats that float along the Grand Canal and under the Ponte di Rialtowhilst a sun-kissed couple gaze all doe-eyed at one another. Ready for the sick bucket yet? 

A 40 minute gondola ride comes to no less than €80. As official penny-pinchers, this was not an option but I was still desperate to have my wistful gondola moment...and I got it. 

On a lazy evening stroll we stumbled across the tragehettos. These are mini gondolas that cross the Grand Canal horizontally. This means that a ride only lasts 5 minutes but costs less than a euro. And, although the trip may be short, you can cross the canal as many times as you like to ensure you get your perfect, little piece of Venice. After you have that, what more could you need from city of love?

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Crayfish, Caviar and Kanelbullar

Stockholm delicacies

I had expected vibrance and rhythm in Madrid, I had ideas of romance and art for Paris, but Stockholm to me was an unknown island. There were no museums or monuments that I could automatically reel off and I had no idea about cuisine or history. However, I was excited to see the epicentre of Sweden and sample the culture it had to offer.

First impressions, well I have to steal a few lines from Jay-Z and say that Stockholm actually is a “concrete jungle”- a vast landscape of skyscrapers and plazas. However, myself and travel buddy were utilising our contacts and staying with my friend’s relatives in a small town outside of the city called Vallingby. This meant that we could escape the inner city madness and sample the suburban Swedish life. 

Staying in a what looked like page 45 of the Ikea brochure really provided a taste for the ruralistic and laid-back living in Sweden, including the home-cooked cuisine. Crayfish, caviar and kanelbullar topped the menu. BEX FYI would say that you should try everything once and although that may be true it certainly does not mean you have to like. I squirmed and squinted as I sucked the juice from the crayfish, the traditional munching method, and I winced and wormed as I swallowed the caviar. Turns out swedish food is not my thing.

Aside from the food we also sampled Stockholm’s retail outlets and quickly learnt that it was not a cheap place. The city’s train network was easy to use and allowed us to frequent the centre hassle free. This meant we could spend mornings getting lost and absorbing the city’s canals and architecture while hunting out some non-crayfish food. 

The usual top attractions apply here, the cathedral and history museum, the gardens and the palace. Out of all of these, Drottningholm palace is perhaps the most enjoyable. Located just outside the city, it is the home to Sweden’s royal family. It boasts beautiful galleries and gorgeous gardens that are well worth the visit. 

Something that might not be on the to-do list, but certainly should be, is the theme park. Grona Lund is a great day out and not a bad price at SEK 100 (£10) per ticket. During a city stay it can be nice to take a break from all things cultural and have a bit off foreign fun. Rollercoasters and ghost trains meet this criteria perfectly.

Another alternative attraction is the Millennium tour. If you are a fan of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, this tour shows you all the hotspots mentioned in the book, and film, as well as divulging some of the hidden secrets. Grungy meets geeky.

All in all, Stockholm is an extremely pretty city dotted with architectural treasures and retail havens. Food aside it offers everything you need for a relaxing break, and if you hit it up during the summer period you can enjoy sunshine and high temps. Although there may not be reems to do  for young travelers it is a quieter destination amidst a continent of madness.