I knew it wouldn’t be long before I got bored of being settled. Six weeks after moving down south, I was desperate to get out and explore. The London docklands were calling my name. Seriously, I am suffering from some kind of “settled-down-crisis.” I thrive on new adventure.
Now that I’ve migrated, London is a really feasible distance and so at the start of November I escaped for a weekend. Whilst I have done London a few times, there is always more to discover and brand new attractions popping up all over the place.
The main purpose of my trip was to spend time with my wonderful family who all came to meet me. We were celebrating my beautiful Mum’s 50th birthday and since I’m now 6 hours away from ‘home,’ London proved to be somewhere accessible for all.
Forget tourist Thames-trips and London eye visits. We spent the weekend wandering around London Bridge, catching up with friends in the city and dining out. Using the docklands as a base was a bit of an experiment. Safe to say it’s more affordable and the new developments include some great hotels. However it does take a good hour to get across London to Paddington or Oxford Circus.
Despite this, a brand new attraction has been placed over at the docklands. Cable cars have been installed that transport you over the Thames towards the 02 arena. From these cars you get stunning views of Canary Wharf. Four weeks ago they opened an outlet shopping centre that sits on the circumference of the 02 arena. This has brought a fair bit of trade to the 02 pavilion and is a brilliant place to eat out. The riverside is also full of colour and as you can even climb up the 02 itself should you find yourselves daring for a challenge!
November in the city was just what I needed. I definitely recommend it if you’re a commutable distance because sometimes you just need to escape – right?
Hortus Botanicus is an amazing place!
Whilst in Amsterdam I visited the Hortus Botanicus botanical gardens and I set to work with all of the best macro techniques! They even have a butterfly house there which made for some truly beautiful shots.
I haven’t picked up my camera to do a themed series of photographs in so long! The photography section of this blog has been so neglected recently. Botanics are one of my favourite subjects; they are colourful and create brilliant abstract forms. Here’s a series I’ve put together from my Amsterdam trip!
- Bath – Royal Botanical Gardens
- Durham – University Botanic Garden
- Glasgow – Glasgow Botanic Gardens
- London – read this blog post: Top 10 Botanical Gardens in London
- Sheffield – Sheffield Botanical Gardens
If you are heading to Amsterdam, you can find more information regarding the cities “flower attractions,” here.
When in Rome do what the romans do
Rome. Straight roads, ancient architecture and empires come to mind. The capital of Italy is impressive and definitely worth a visit! This summer, we couldn’t hit Venice and Florence without going to Rome!
There were a lot of things that I loved and found to be unique about Rome:
- Hundreds of sites to see!
- A good range of restaurant types – in other Italian cities you are restricted to Italian restaurants alone.
- There is a brilliant contrast between ancient and modern architecture, educational museums/art galleries and family friendly attractions.
However, some things to be aware of are:
- Metro Tubes and Buses get VERY busy and are rather claustrophobic.
- It’s difficult to find somewhere inexpensive to eat unless you go out into the suburbs.
Sites and attractions
You can’t go to Rome and not see the Colosseum! The largest amphitheatre ever built is one of Italy’s most renowned attractions and built beside the Forum and Palatine, makes an exciting day out.
On Palatine Hill you get some incredible views of the city and the forum ruins!
You can buy a combined ticket that grants a pre-selected, timed entry into the Colosseum and then also one entry into the Forum and Palatine. This ticket lasts two days to enable you to take your time in each since the Forum takes up a vast expanse of landscape itself.
However, don’t be fooled! Whilst the ticket is a two day entry, you can only go in once – no return. We discovered this when we came back a day later to finish seeing the Palatine, not realising that the Forum and Palatine Hill don’t have separate entries. Thankfully we managed to persuade the staff to let us in as the ticket was not very clear.
The Pantheon was built as a roman temple to the gods. It has no windows and it’s only light source is a huge hole in the top of the domed roof. Apparently it does rain into the Pantheon but the floors are designed to allow the water run straight off towards the edges of the building.
Now the Pantheon is used as a church so you get free entry. Whilst statues of the roman gods have now been removed, the interiors are still very royal.
The fountain makes for a pleasant place to sit for a little while but I wouldn’t allow too much time there. It’s a very busy site and whilst beautiful, takes time to find and there’s not much else there! But if you fancy an ice cream, then why not?
The Spanish steps connect Piazza di Spagna with the upper Piazza Trinita dei Monti, and are considered to be Rome’s most romantic spot. They were built to represent peace between France and Spain. From the top you get some lovely views of the city. The place seems to come to life during the evening where most people congregate to enjoy the fountain after dinner.
The Vatican is the state belonging the the Pope and technically the smallest country in the world. Here you can visit the Vatican Museum, St.Peter’s Basilica and the famous Sistine Chapel where Michelangelo’s incredible works can be found on the ceiling.
We didn’t get chance to go into any of these sites because we didn’t prebook fast enough – the earliest tickets (unless you want to waste 4 hours queuing in the sun) were for two weeks after our trip! However if you know you’re heading to Rome, I would definitely recommend the Sistine Chapel. Why? You aren’t allowed to take photographs inside and it holds some of the world’s greatest paintings – they are a must see and you won’t find any pictures of them online!
Bioparco Di Roma
A day out to a zoo always goes down well with the family! We find that it’s a relaxing break from site-seeing and something that all of us can enjoy. Bioparco is easy to get to on the bus and the animals are really well cared for. Every hour they have scheduled feedings, including hippo feeding! Tickets are €16 per adult which is amazing value and the park offers some good, valuable food choices too.
Why you don’t need an organised tour
So many people these days opt in for organised tours – you see offers everywhere! It’s almost as if people aren’t willing to ‘risk’ it and try to see the city themselves…
This is why you don’t need one:
- They are extremely expensive (€50-80)!
- Long and awkward hours: often tours last all day but start as early as 7am and finish at 5pm. This means you are up early and doing most of the tour in midday heat. Most places in Rome open late so it’s a lot better to go in the evening when it’s cooler.
- Large groups: I mean why do you want to be carted round in a group of forty, camera-clicking tourists? I’ve been there, done that and I can tell you that it’s one of the most stressful things ever!
Are the benefits actually benefits?
- “You get to skip the queues.” Perhaps it’s satisfying to skip the queue and not worry about handling tickets but you pay a fortune to do so. The best way to skip queues is to prebook tickets because you just pay a standard price.
- “It’s easy to use the hop on and hop off buses.” This is ridiculous! These sorts of buses charge a premium when you can buy a Rome day ticket for the metro and bus. You can buy a 24 hour pass for €7 or a 72 hour pass if you stay longer.
- “The audio guide provides all the information you need.” Most museums and sites will either sell a paper guide or have a free audio guide app – so you really don’t need a personal tour guide! Or save even more and buy a good Rome travel book!
Of course you want to know where to stay and eat…
We actually stayed in a Holiday Inn Express in the suburb of San Giovanni. It only took 15 minutes on the metro and since it was a more residential area, we found a brilliant pizza restaurant and bistro. It was a lot cheaper than central restaurants and greater quality too – we actually ate there twice after trying two not so great places in the centre.
over and out
That’s it for Rome! There are so many more museums and galleries that we could have visited but we didn’t quite have time. I would definitely recommend Rome if you are looking for a city break or holiday.
Our Italy blog ends here too. Of all the countries I’ve visited, Italy definitely wins for transport – the trains are irreplaceable! It makes touring the country easy, quick and affordable. If I were to pick a single destination, it would have to be Rome simply because of the range of sites to see – Venice is beautiful but at the end of the day, it is just canals and art galleries!
I definitely recommend splitting your flights and using the trains. We flew to Pisa, then went Florence, Venice and flew back from Rome. However there isn’t a great deal in Pisa besides the leaning tower so it might be worth flying to Venice first and passing through Florence on the way to Rome!
I hope you have found all the information and inspiration you need to hit Italy yourself!
Is there anything else you would like me to write about?
Your train arrives at 12pm and you have forty eight hours to explore the vast and beautiful city of Florence. What do you do? On the way to Venice, we stopped off in Florence for two nights. Working out what you want to see and how to see it can be a little confusing so today I’m sharing my experience of Florence! I’ll take you through a jam-packed forty eight hours and share a few tips and things I wish I’d done better.
First of all, I want to highlight how beneficial it can be to reduce the length of your trips when travelling. Not only does it save on accommodation, but it also motivates you to go and see more in a day that perhaps you usually would if staying for a week. Whilst you do have to prioritise and cut a few things from your list, it’s surprising how much you really can fit into a weekend in the city.
My train (from Pisa) arrived at 12pm and after dropping bags at the hotel, my family and I decided to explore and walk in the direction of the city centre. We were about fifteen minutes from the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore and we ambled down Via Faenza.
Normally in Italy, you have to pay a cover charge and the nearer the centre, the greater this cost – we once got charged €4 each to sit down. Therefore, if looking for a place to eat, it’s definitely worth it to stop in one of the first cafes you see. We managed to find Caffe Sabatino on Via Faenza – they had very reasonable lunch prices!
After a spot of lunch, we walked straight through the city centre. With plans to return later, we headed for the river. Here we visited the Galileo Museum which I recommend to anyone interested in science. It’s home to many important instruments and the free museum app is a brilliant educational guide. After an hour or so in an air-conditioned museum, we headed towards the famous Ponte Vecchio. This medieval bridge is lined with jewellery shops and is certainly worth a visit!
We then continued over the Ponte Vecchio and with the aid of google maps, wandered through quieter areas to get our bearings. We decided to search for churches using google maps and see how many we could find in a circular route. You could choose anything from churches to art galleries, or even just public squares! On this walk we discovered a small square and accidentally walked onto a film set… oops!
By evening, it’s time to eat in one of the many restaurants. We decided to go to a pizza place but if you would rather save on the pennies, there is the “mercato centrale” food market which is basically a food court – but good food! There’s pizza, gnocchi, fresh handmade pasta, burgers, sushi and even a vegan restaurant! We actually ate here on our second night and wish we’d eaten there both nights. There are plenty of places to sit too!
After eating what better than to watch the sunset over the Ponte Vecchio? You could take a bus up onto the hill for panoramic views but just standing on a bridge further down the river gave a good enough view!
For your second day you might want to prebook a museum, gallery or cathedral visit. We chose to book the Uffizi Gallery – the Uffizi is Italy’s largest art gallery. We headed straight to the gallery to pick up the tickets and avoid queues, then spent some time in the Piazza della Signoria adjacent, where you can find many statues including Michelangelo’s David.
If choosing the Uffizi, you can easily spend three to four hours viewing the artwork and still leave some things out! It’s a great way to spend the late morning and escape the midday sun. However, after being on your feet so long a rest back at the hotel is certainly due.
Finally, it’s always a good idea to spend you last evening wandering through the centre before sunset. You may even stumble across the odd opera singer! Besides it’s much cooler and quieter at this time and a lot of street artists are about too.
The next morning we had a few hours to kill before our train – you can get the tram from the station to a riverside park called Parco Delle Cascine. It only takes five minutes and is a lovely place to explore.
I hope you enjoyed this guide to spending forty eight hours in Florence! It’s a really beautiful city and it’s certainly possible to do it in a weekend!
P.S. Did you see the Venice Moments post? It’s worth a read!
Venice is the definition of creativity. Built on water, this slightly wonky city is full of photographs ready to happen. There are art galleries, gondolas and of course, the Grand Canal. Built on one hundred small islands in the Adriatic Sea, there are no roads – you enter this interesting world of water buses and speed-boat-taxis…
I spent four days in Venice when travelling through Italy. Whilst Venice can be expensive, we found that renting a house in a residential area made the experience very affordable, and allowed us to see the reality. Most of our time was spent visiting art galleries, riding the water buses and walking down alleys. We did also make trips to other islands such as Burano (as you will have seen here on Instagram) and Murano which is famous for glass making.
Venice is ephemeral. Everywhere you look, there is a new moment about to unfold and last only a split second. As a photographer this was definitely something that I wanted to capture – I’ve always been excited by capturing moments! It’s truly beautiful.
Many travellers complete the North Coast 500 at least once in their lifetime. This 516 mile route takes you around the north coast of Scotland, staring and ending at Inverness Castle. I spent a week exploring Thurso and John O’Groats on my UK travels, which lies along the route.
Whilst visiting my friend Cara’s family, I visited a few different places along the North Coast 500 route. First of all, Thurso is the most northerly town on mainland Scotland making it quite significant. From here we took a number of drives to visit different places.
Up first was Freswick Bay, slightly south east to John O’Groats. This beautiful beach appears almost untouched apart from the humble castle that stands amongst wild flowers. We were fortunate to know the owner of Freswick Castle and ended up spending the evening there, talking about our recent trip to Guinea. Exploring the beach, sitting warm by the fire and watching the sun set was the perfect end to a summer’s day.
The castle is not just an old ruin, but an active hub; events are held, retreat days are available and the Freswick Castle Arts exhibitions are said to go down well.
When we speak of Scotland’s most northeasterly point, many think of John O’Groats. Whilst, yes, this is correct, when we look at the specifics, the precise point is Duncansbay Head. You can drive up to the lighthouse at Duncansbay Head and then take a walk along the coastal, cliff-top paths. Not only is is incredible to stand at the tip and be able to see coast at either side, but also along the Eastern side lie the Duncansbay stacks.
Duncansbay has some stunning views and it’s also a brilliant place to play “spot the part of the map,” since it’s geographical features and coastline are so distinct!
Finally, we couldn’t drive past John O’Groats itself! We did the classic photograph infront of the sign and I enjoyed photographing the architecture. However there isn’t much in John O’Groats itself – if you want civilisation, then you’re best off stopping in Thurso!
This small taster of the Scottish Highlands has shown me how beautiful the UK is and I certainly want to do the rest of the North Coast 500 one day! If you’re considering it, I’d say do it! Enjoy the photographs!
One of the best advantages of living in a “forgotten” country (Guinea), where no tourists are found, is the opportunity to discover landscapes that only few eyes have seen. Kambadaga falls are found in the Fouta Djallon and were described to us by a colleague as, “the most spectacular waterfall I have ever seen.”
We drove out to Kambadaga for the day which was surely an adventure. We started at the top with a classic picnic of local baguette bread and “laughing cow” cheese triangles, after which we then dived into the pools to cool from the hot African sun. You don’t quite realise the gravity of such a place however, until you drive out and view it across the valley. As you can see, Kambadaga is a humoungous cascade.
As you follow the river to the head of the fall, you pass a wire bridge that is used by locals to cross the falls. If you are daring enough, you can take up the river crossing challenge however neither one of us fancied risking the rickety bridge! Our colleague had a shot but as you can see, we stuck to the wooden ladder and went no further!
Finally, we followed the trail through the bush to the head of the waterfall. We payed a local guide to show us the way and spent so long standing in awe! We had the place to ourselves and with the supervision of our long-term colleagues, went right up to the edge and peered over…
What a drop! Lying down and peeping over the edge allows you to grasp the sheer incredibility of this place. You feel the mist rising against your face and the gushing sound of water fills you with adrenaline. I’m quite a dare devil and I loved it! When you stand up again, you view the surrounding valley of the Green Green Guinea.
Guinea is seen as “undesirable,” or “forgotten,” and even it’s natives are unaware of it’s beauty. As a result, tourism has never really hit this place. Whilst a few travellers may stumble across the beauty of this resource rich African land, it’s beauties will probably only ever be shared with a few, relative to large touristic tropics. In a way this is reassuring – Kambadaga will always be protected. Yet at the same time, I so wish that the people of Guinea would appreciate their own wonders and develop them!
Exploring Kambadaga really does make you feel like you’re on top of the world and I am incredibly grateful for the privelage I had to encounter this unknown wonder. If there’s anything I really took from this day, it was a desire to visit more “forgotten places.” To forget the generic tourist destinations, pick an “undesirable” spot on the map and just go. You never know what you may find. And you may just have it all to yourself!
Which country has always been at the bottom of your list?
If you have read my recent relaunch post, New Perspectives, you will know that I have recently returned from six months in Guinea, West Africa. Guinea Conakry has such a beautiful landscape! Whilst it may not have your typical safari wildlife, it has mountains of jungle, plantation and other greenery.
Flying over Guinea on our arrival was exhilarating. Expectations of desert were tossed away as we encountered such a glowing green landscape! Whilst I’m not quite sure whether this is fortunate or not, I know that seldom people know of Guinea’s existence, and even fewer have visited. It was an honour to spend so much time in such a jaw dropping country!
Here are a few of my best photos from the sixth months, although they can never truly do it justice!
I can’t quite believe that we are at the end of our Baltic 6 series! Travelling the Baltics has been such an amazing experience and it has opened my eyes to the Scandinavian way of life. Today we are visiting no other but the centre for design – Copenhagen! Along with Oslo, Copenhagen is somewhere I’ve always dreamed of visiting and it definitely won’t disappoint…
Copenhagen is a huge city! Unfortunately we didn’t have very long at all since we’d squeezed this trip in on our last day however thanks to previously planning a route through the main sites/districts, we were able to cover a huge amount in just about four hours! To add to the adventure, I created a bucket list of things to do in Copenhagen and somehow managed quite a few!
First of all, we walked to Nyhavn, the more famous 17th century waterfront and canal, adorned with colourful restaurants and cafes. We went over the bridge and followed the canal round to the open water where we came across a lot of modern architecture.
The district was number one on my bucket list so it was great to be able to see it however due to the rush, I felt like I didn’t fully experience it and would love to go back and spend afternoon exploring the region!
Our planned route then took us through the Amaliehavn, past the fountain in the garden of the Amalienborg Palace. We stopped off at the Design Museum, and eventually made it up to the little mermaid statue. The design museum again was a must see on the bucket list. Not only was it free to go in, but the exhibitions were amazing! We set ourselves a strict 40 minutes and were blown away by the features. I have honestly never been inside such a creative design museum! The main exhibitions included a chair design exhibition, full of the most genius and crazy chairs ever, an architecture exhibition, fashion design and also Oriental art and design. It explained design processes and concepts as well as being a maze of creative exploration.
Next on the list? You should know by now that exploring the quieter residential areas is always my goal! We walked back from the Mermaid (that happened to be right on the outskirts) through the Center of Churchill Park in Kastellet and then through residential streets. The neighbourhoods in these regions were so distinct and separate from each other in their architecture! We walked past colourful residentials, cobbled blocks of houses, and little bakeries which led to our next bucket list goal – to hunt down the best danish pastry!
If you think we’d already walked a huge distance at half time, you’re right. But the challenge had only just begun. Surprisingly, danish pastries are hard to find in Copenhagen! We could have settled with a supermarket savoury looking pastry, or we could have walked miles for another hour, winding in and out of cobbled lanes and peering in cafe windows… Of course we chose the latter.
We headed to shopping central, Stroget which is home to designer boutiques, the stork fountain and hundreds of coffee shops. We spent time wandering through the main shopping street, exploring the square and stepping up and down all of the cobbled side-streets, window shopping and trying to sniff out the best place for a coffee (and pastry!) This challenge spurred us on and actually forced us to make the most of our time by constantly looking for more! We just kept turning corners, finding churches or new avenues. Half of what we saw, most wouldn’t have due to disregarding side streets when route planning. It was also an excellent way to try and soak up as much of the atmosphere and lifestyle as possible in our limited time.
Eventually we made our way back to our starting point, Borsen. Then we found it – the trusty 7eleven selling every kind of pastry you could imagine! 7eleven is essentially a Scandinavian chain. I guess it’s a cross between a newsagents and a UK Gregg’s, selling coffee, bakery items, sweets and other snacks… I chose a jumbo kanelsnegle (cinnamon bun) and it was definitely worth the wait! It was enormous too! With about 40 minutes to spare we decided to call it a day, resign to a bench in the square and enjoy pastries whilst watching the city go by. It’s the moments like these that give you that content feeling in your heart – Copenhagen we loved you!
Thank you for coming along with me this summer! We’ve hit Oslo, Gdansk, St.Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm and Copenhagen! Which is your favourite? I have to say that Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen all come close. I would love to visit Copenhagen again one day – it’s one of the largest cities that I visited and there’s a huge list of things still left to do there! But who knows where we will go next? All I know is that I can’t wait to take you all along with me!
GIMME GIMME GIMME a man after midnight… Welcome back to Baltic 6! Today we are heading to the fifth destination: Stockholm. Consisting of 14 Islands and more than 50 bridges, it’s the country’s capital.
Sweden being a huge pop-music producing nation only meant one thing – ABBA. Stockholm was golden. We took the bus into the centre and hopped out onto a side street just over the canal from the palace. For some strange reason the surrounding trees had leaked sap all over the pavement and our feet stuck to the floor, so we essentially landed in Stockholm either looking like cool ninjas, or just silly tourists caught in a sticky situation…
Crisis over, we headed over the canal, up past the palace and towards the Gamla Stan Old Town. Like Finland, Stockholm was strangely quiet for 10am on a Monday morning and shops in the Old Town were all still closed. However it was still wonderful to wander the cobbled streets, winding between orange buildings made golden in the sunlight. It was fun to explore – we found “Galleri Eleanora” and another window with a sign “gone fishing, back 28th August.” Clearly the Swedes are very relaxed and very, very cool.
We then walked back along the river and over to one of the smaller islands, containing lots of museums including an architecture museum which unfortunately was closed. Then we took the ferry to another amusement island, Djugarden Island, containing a theme park and The Abba Museum. This museum was honestly the highlight of our Stockholm trip! It was like one huge Abba party – interactive karaoke, dancing, and piano rooms were mixed with information and hundreds of costume collections, records and more! One room was simply filled with disco lights and played Abba hits nonstop! I felt like I’d been transported back to the 70’s and as a big Abba fan, I LOVED it!
Following this we headed back on foot, stopped at a supermarket for a late lunch and then attempted to head back on the bus. However the transport system is not very tourist friendly at all – locals have travel cards and tourists must buy individual tickets from machines. Except machines are rare to be seen and dotted around the city in random locations. When we eventually found one, it was out of order so in the end we had to walk back to our cruise ship. Although it was nice to trek through the residential areas of Stockholm.
The following day, after slowly weaving in and out of little islands (at some points you could actually reach out and almost touch them) and enjoying panoramic views, we stopped off at Karlskrona. It’s simply a small Swedish town home to the navy museum. We had an afternoon wandering the small town, visiting churches and enjoying the harbour view from the window of Wayne’s Coffee. The landscape of this town was beautiful and it was such an experience to be able to sail from Stockholm to Karlskrona – we saw so many scenic islands and settlements!
Sweden was simply put – Sweden! Again, another country leaving a lasting impression!
Thanks for reading – come back next Wednesday for out final edition of Baltic 6!