Our Long Weekend in Rome; Day 2 by Alec Warriner

On our second day in Rome we took upon ourselves to jump on a tour bus. There are now many choices for tours and from what we could gather they all covered pretty much the same stops, but what you don’t want is to get scalped for over priced tickets from an unsavory character in the street. So our tip is to head to Roma Termini, which is the main train / bus station in Rome as a lot of the tours start here and you can buy legitimate tickets from the tours themselves.

The tour we chose went as far out as the Vatican City which was our main goal for the day and as most do provided the luxury of being able to jump on and off at landmarks. The one thing I will say on this is be sure to plan when you want to get off and on as the stops do get very crowded and you could be waiting for several buses to come before you are allowed on.

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The first half of the tour took us around ancient Rome and having experienced most of this on foot the day before we stuck to our original plan stayed on until the Vatican City stop. This was of course perfectly enjoyable,as although it was mid Feb and slightly nippy the weather was clear blue skies and we could sit on the top deck and listen to audio talk us through the histories of Rome.

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Once we arrived at the Vatican City we hopped off and walked across St. Angelo Bridge. Built in 134 A.D the bridge gives access to Castel San’Angelo, a vast circular 2nd Century castle now used to house a collection of Renaissance furniture and paintings. But equally as interesting, Castel San’Angelo was the hiding place of Pope Clement VII during the sack of Rome.

We walked with the crowds up to St. Peters square and not for the first time nor the last we were stunned by the architectural beauty of the buildings. We stood in the square and avoided the many people trying to persuade us to part with our cash and follow them to someone selling tickets to the Sistine Chapel. Another tip here guys is to try and be as early as possible if you want to visit the Sistine Chapel and purchase your tickets at licence vendors; there plenty many in the square. We chose not to go into the Chapel as the line which was HUGE, because we did not get there early ha.

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After walking back across St Angelo Bridge we caught the open topped bus for the second half of our tour of Rome and settled back into the romantic audio of our tour guide and historic Rome. Our next stop was the Spanish steps and by this time the afternoon was coming to end and a beautiful purple sunset was on its way.

Unfortunately the majority of the steps were closed to the public due to much need TCL, but we were able to walk down the right hand side of them. Even then the marble was spectacular looking and smooth enough to slide down, not advisable. As expected the Spanish Steps and the area around the baroque ship fountain at the foot of the steps was packed with tourists taking photos, which makes getting any personal photos quite difficult, but when in Rome you need to give it a go!

If you can be at the steps for the end of the day it is 100% worth it as the sun strikes the Trinita dei Monti, which is the 16th century church at the top of the steps and creates another amazing photo opportunity. Our photo of this was taken from the balcony of a wonderful little restaurant called Mariotti, which is directly to the right of the steps if you’re standing at the top.  We perched there for an hour or so drinking prosecco and red wine whilst the sun went down on our 2nd day.

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We ended our day with a wonderful evening walk through the streets to Trevi Fountain, which is a short walk from the steps and only took us 15/20mins after a few large glasses of wine. This for me was the most impressive moment of our trip, the fountain after dark is illuminated by underwater lighting creating a magical environment and stunning view of the statues grandeur. Once again the crowds are slightly too many, but be patient and get the all-important selfie with the fountain and throw a coin over your shoulder into the water, making a wish!

To be continued…

Our Long Weekend in Rome: Day 1 by Alec Warriner

In February of this year we were lucky enough to spend a long weekend in the beautiful city of Rome, Italy. We’ve always wanted to travel to Italy and experience the ancient city, all the history and romance of Italian culture, so we took this opportunity to really try and experience as much of Rome as possible. Firstly we wanted to do all the classic tourist routes and spots, but equally as important to us was to try and get lost and find ourselves a Rome that you wouldn’t find on the page of Tourism Guide.

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After an easy flight from London we pitched up at our Airbnb which was located in the heart of historic Rome. This beautiful private flat in a classically kept gated community was a stones throw the ruins of the Roman Forum, which in turn meant that we were ideally placed to experience Ancient Rome and were exactly 400m from the Colosseum. We began by getting our bearings and decided to explore the area around us known as Rione X Campitelli. This area of Ancient Rome is home to some of Rome’s most famous and incredible buildings; walking just around the corner from our flat we were on top on the Roman Forum, which in its hay day was the centre of Rome’s government buildings, temples and a vibrant public area.  These astonishing ruins are something to behold, confusing as the geography has been somewhat lost amongst the remaining structures and the less durable remains. But what took us by surprise was the sheer size of these buildings, which was only surpassed by the realisation that they were hundreds of years old and were built and constructed by hand!

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A short walk from the Forum is the Piazza del Campidoglio, a stunning courtyard which is bordered by three equally stunning buildings which now house the Capitoline Museums. Walking down the Cordonata, grand stone steps, on the main road we arrived at the right hand side of the Piazza Venezia, home to the Vittoriano. This incredible marble building has many impressive attributes and stands proudly at the head of Via dei Fori Imperiali, or to you and I, the road that leads to the Colosseum. However, our favourite attribute of the Vittoriano had to be the Terrace of Chariots which stood at the back, which had giant iron horse drawn chariots at each end, lording over Rome like Roman gods!

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We then walked up to the Colosseum, which did not disappoint. I think the only way I can possibly do this amazing building justice is to simply say you have to see it for yourself! As we walked around the circumference of it, sadly it was closed for the day when we were there, our conversation bounced between Gladiators, Emperors and the splendour it would have been to see when fully constructed. Its easy to see how it is described as the worlds first stadium as it does rival many stadiums today.  The complete enormity of the Colosseum is breath taking, our eyes scanned every crack and every shade of stone oozing with history. Again our conversations came back to how on earth such a building was completed, by this stage we fancied ourselves quite the engineers so reckon we could figure it out, but in truth if you do look hard enough you can see the different stages and ages of which the Colosseum was built and birthed giving some indication as to how such a mammoth building has lasted so long.

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Our day ended with a lovely walk along to the Circus Maximus, which is now a vast open space where once stood a large stone and marble arena capable of seating over 250,000 people. This giant of an arena was where chariots racing took place and truly was a site. To this day the dirt sand track can be made out and walked on and opposite is Palatine Hill on which stands the ruins of a vast Roman palace and Rome’s second ever temple, Temple of Apollo.

To be continued…….

 

Top Ten Things To Do In Tuscany – By Harry Balfour

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In the heart of Europe, lies the beautiful country of Italy, packed full of awe-inspiring beauty and rich in culture. The Tuscan region of Italy has so much to offer. Full of the ripe renaissance art and architecture, the City of Florence is a must see.

Pisa is of course held in high regards, as no trip to Tuscany is complete without a visit to the leaning tower of Pisa. There are also a few hidden gems within this region, and the less touristy Lucca is a terrific way to spend a few days.

If you are an art connoisseur or are a fan of culture, then a trip to Tuscany should be high on your agenda. With so much to see in one region of the country, it makes it difficult to cut it down into ten things to do… but I’ll give it a go. 

1 THE CATHEDRAL OF FLORENCE

By far the most notable and impressive building to see, is the Cathedral of Florence, the 450 ft structure towers over the old rustic roofs of the surrounding buildings. The fact that Assassins creed was based around Florence makes it even cooler.

The Dome was constructed by Filippo Brunelleschi between 1420 and 1434. This dome is significant as it wasn’t built the conventional way but instead had an inner and outer layer with a staircase in the middle. From the inside of the cathedral, you can see the beautiful fresco on the ceiling depicting the Last Judgement.

It is the cupola (dome) that catches most attention, however the bell tower (the campanile) is also a stunning structure. The 414 steps it takes to reach the top are certainly worthwhile as you gain a full viewpoint of the Duomo and the scenery behind.

The Cathedral is certainly worth a visit and if you have enough time, you are able to climb the stairs inside the dome itself which leads to wonderful view of Firenze (Florence).

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2 PONTE VECCHIO (THE OLD BRIDGE)

The Ponte Vecchio crosses the Arno River and is the oldest bridge in Florence. This bridge was constructed and completed in 1565 and was reserved for the goldsmiths in the 1500s.

The old bridge is a magnificent structure and unusual as it has shops situated along the bridge itself. We visited the Ponte Vecchio during the night, when all the lights were on and buskers were playing on the bridge.

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3 IL LATINI

After a long day of sight seeing around the old town in Firenze, the best way to spend your evening is to go to a restaurant, and what better way to do so then Il Latini, a local Tuscan restaurant with outstanding authentic food.

Situated on a cobbled street near the river Arno, Il Latini has a beautiful atmosphere. The food is delicious and has all sorts of local delicacies ranging from the al dente pastas to something a bit more unusual like rabbit.

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4 UFFIZI AND ACCADEMIA ART GALLERIES

I’m not the biggest art enthusiast myself but even I can appreciate the amazing works of some of the greatest sculptors and artists on show at the galleries in Firenze. The Uffizi art gallery is situated by the Palazzo Vecchio and the river Arno. Work from great artists such as Botticelli, da Vinci and Raphael are all found in the Uffizi gallery.

The Accademia was a highlight of my trip to Florence as it is adorned with the famous work of Michelangelo, ‘David’. In 1501 he was commissioned to sculpt the figure. It supposedly represents perfect beauty. At 13.6 ft, David towers above and sticks out like a giant.

Although  the figure, attracts most attention, for me what surrounds the sculpture is more interesting. Four statues light the way to the David, known as the Prisoners. These gifts for Cosimo I from Michelangelo were never finished but that is what stirs debate amongst artists as we never know whether or not he was meant to finish the sculptures, as the sculptures are depicted trapped in stone, hence the name.

 

5 BASILLICA OF SAINT MICHAELANGELO

If you’re looking for the perfect photo of Firenze, then the Basillica of Saint Michaelangelo is worth a visit. With breathtaking views of the Duomo and the rustic rooftops of Firenze, it’s almost impossible to mess up a photo of it (unless you’re my brother).

Not only is it complete with the views, the basilica is also unique as it’s outside the old city walls and up a hillside unlike most which are situated in the old town. Blessed with lush gardens full of cypress trees and adorned with the most beautiful frescos inside the church, the basilica is well worth a pit stop.

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6 WINE TASTING IN TUSCANY

As an 18-year-old boy, most people would expect me not to be interested in wine, unfortunately I have a rather expensive taste for wines, which comes as a disappointment to my parents. Nevertheless, the Tuscan region is renowned for its great tasting wine and fresh olives, which I had to try. Try and go out in to the more rural areas of the region and visit a few vineyards along the way.

7 MEDICI PALACE

Situated one street away from the San Lorenzo church, the Medici Palace is easily accessible and easy to find. This was where Cosimo the Elder, Piero and Lorenzo ‘il Magnifico’ resided. At the Medici palace, you gain an insight in to the most powerful family during the renaissance period.

In the summer of 2015, when we visited the Tuscan region, we thought it would be a good idea to bring our dog (the most well traveled dog). Stupidly, it never crossed our minds why you didn’t see many dogs in art galleries, especially a large black Labrador. Before we went into the Medici Palace, we saw a sign that said ‘no dogs allowed’ but we thought they would be lenient anyway. The women behind the counter, kindly asked if it was a small dog, which we nodded, before dragging this huge black Labrador more like a bear across the floor, trying to sneak him past the counter. As a rule of thumb, if you want to go sight-seeing in Tuscany, don’t bring a dog.

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8 LUCCA

Most people who visit Tuscany, end up spending most time in Florence or Pisa, however if you want to explore the real Italia, then a day trip to Lucca should be on your itinerary. Lucca is most famous for its in-tact renaissance city walls which surrounds the beautiful city. There are tonnes of shops which rent out bikes for the day, which is perfect for those people who want to ride across the city walls. Lucca also holds many Gelato (Ice cream) shops which has the true taste of Italy.

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9 THE LEANING TOWER OF PISA

The leaning tower of Pisa is the true landmark of not only Tuscany, but Italy as a whole. It’s funny to watch the swarms of people coming to the landmark to take the almost obligatory photo now, like the one below. Pisa is ideal for a two-three day trip but all activities could be fitted into one day. Once the photos have been taken, and for those who chose to climb it have done so, then a lunch seems fitting. We went across the main square and found a restaurant still in sight of the tower and had a pizza. The Cathedral which stands next to the tower is just as interesting and is worth a look after lunch.

*really nailed my pic at the Leaning Tower!

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10 STREET MARKETS OF FLORENCE & PISA

During our time in Tuscany, we visited a few street markets and found almost all of them to be unique and versatile. In Florence, we visited the San Lorenzo market which is full of cheap football shirts, chorizo, olives and wines, perfect for a backpacker on a budget.

Tuscany is so rich in culture that it was almost impossible to narrow it down to 10 things to do, feel free to comment if you feel I have missed out any things to see and don’t hesitate to  ask questions about my trip and if you are looking for certain itineraries for Tuscany then feel free to ask.

Rome – The Photography Edit. By Nicole Duncan

Italy is an incredible place to visit and so I was extremely happy when I found out I was being taken to Rome for my birthday. There is so much to see and do in this city and  I loved that you could just turn a corner and there would be an amazing statue or  building or there would be a beautiful street that was so Italian it took your breath away!

The following collection are just a fraction of my pictures from my time in the ancient city, but are ones that I feel really showcase some of Rome’s beauty and character. I hope you enjoy and there is even a few sneaky tips in there for good luck!

IMG_5890IMG_5886The Vatican – * It can get extremely busy here and if you want to get in to see the Sistine Chapel I would advise pre-booking tickets to avoid several hours in a queue! Otherwise you can just take a walk around as it truely is a breath taking building!

IMG_5882IMG_5947The Trevi Fountain – *A traditional legend holds that if visitors throw a coin into the fountain, they are ensured a return to Rome. So make sure you give it a visit!

IMG_5942The view from the Spanish steps – *There is a great rooftop bar here, make sure and pop in and have a glass of wine whilst watching the sunset – it is gorgeous!

IMG_5867IMG_5929IMG_5970*Don’t forget to look up – there is beauty everywhere!

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