Summer City Break: Porto

Porto was the last stop on our 10 day summer city break after four days in Madrid for the Madcool Festival, then a few nights in Lisbon. We caught the train from Lisbon to Porto so our welcome to this beautiful city was the stunning São Bento train station. The interior is covered in azulejo tiles depicting scenes from Portuguese history. It was truly stunning and worth checking out, even if you don’t arrive by train.

We then wandered through the city on the lookout for our next Airbnb apartment. We were situated in downtown Porto in the Ribeira historic centre and again had a balcony with a stunning view of the Douro River. I was super organised for this trip and managed to book the accommodation months in advance and it really paid off. 20170713_Porto_Day7_012020170713_Porto_Day7_0124^^ You might also spot a decanter of Port sitting next to me, a very nice welcome present from the host. Ben made the most of that throughout our stay.20170713_204953After basking in the sun for a few hours overlooking the riverside we decided to go down and explore it. There were heaps of people out and eating in the early evening dusk, but as we wandered past the restaurants it looked like there was two extremes, either really lovely Michelin-esque places or overpriced tourist traps – neither of which suited us that night (I’m sure we could have found something by getting on Trip advisor but we were following our feet that night). So we walked up from the riverside promenade to the city centre and ended up at a cheap and cheerful Chinese Restaurant.

I hadn’t done much research about what to do in Porto, it being the end of our trip but I did know that we had to get to a port house and we had to go to the Livraria Lello bookshop.

Livraria Lello is credited with inspiring the Hogwarts library form JK Rowling and it is easy to see why stepping inside.

You line up (it definitely helps to book tickets in advance online) and enter the most lavishly ornate shop on the street but you can’t see inside it’s so dark compared to outside. 20170714_Porto_Day8_0078As your eyes adjust to the change in light this amazing staircase comes to life in front of you. Are you feeling like Hermione yet?

You climb the well-worn red stairs and find yourself in the library of your dreams.

Don’t forget to look up, it’s pretty spectacular from all angles. 20170714_Porto_Day8_0021Of course it’s no secret, so you will be sharing the space with hundreds of other tourists. Once you can’t take the crowds anymore head out and have a wander around the neighbourhood.

We went for quite a walk actually and headed over the Dom Luis bridge to the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the Douro River. This is where all the port houses are. The only one we had heard of before was Taylors so we decided to head there.

Our friends, who had been in Porto the previous weekend, had raved about the brilliant coffee cart they had found by chance and told us to look out for the green van. So when a green van came into view as we stepped off the bridge we thought it was the perfect time for a much-needed refreshment stop. We will second their recommendation, Combi Coffee is awesome. I got a milky iced tea and we sat looking back over the river.

It was so hot outside so it was nice to finally make it (up the hill!) to Taylor’s port house and enter the temperature controlled cellars. We did a self paced audio tour with a tasting in the gardens at the end. 20170714_Porto_Day8_0192

^^ Some pretty peahens joined us for our tipple, too.

On a bit of a schedule for our day in Porto, we couldn’t linger, although we would have loved to (must go back!) and we caught an Uber to make it to our next meeting point in time.

This was for our Taste Porto food tour. We did the Downtown Porto Food Tour which starts near the Bolhão food market. We got a walking tour of the city, along with its interesting history and ate so much food along the way. By the time we finished the three and a half hour tour we were so full we couldn’t even contemplate dinner. Such a great way to experience the city and really good value for money. Do this if you go to Porto!

My highlight was the different flavoured éclairs from Leitaria Da Quinta Do Paco. Sweets of course! I think Ben’s was the cured meats and flame grilled sausage from Taberna Do Largo. This is a great little bar and we hung about after chatting American politics with the honeymooning American couple on our tour. I felt bad as Trump had just been elected so they must have been defending their country the whole trip.

We spent the rest of the night perched above the river drinking our port and plotting how we can stay in this city forever. I definitely think we saved the best city for last. 20170714_Porto_Day8_0373We slept late on our last full day of holiday and had a great value breakfast in what we thought was a cute cafe, but it turns out that it is an Argentinian steak restaurant called Belos Aires. The decor is somewhat misleading but they do a nice all you can eat continental breakfast.  20170715_Porto_Day9_0015It’s in the Baxia area, which is worth going to as the streets look like this ^^^.

Being our summer holiday, we were determined to spend our last day on the beach. So we headed out to Foz which is where the Douro river meets the Atlantic Ocean and a nice seaside town. Our Airbnb host recommended we take the tram that almost left from our doorstep and follows the river out to the sea.

Ben was a bit excited about tram riding! So much old school mechanics.

When we arrived at about 12 o’clock, the beach was still shrowded in fog. We wandered along the promenade and out to the wharf, hoping it would burn off. Some locals were already set up on the beach, although you could barely see the water in front of them. We took it as a sign that eventually the sun would come out.

We realised as we waited around, that we were a bit matchy. We are big fans of mint green, apparently.20170715_Porto_Day9_0136Happily, the sun came out strong in the end and we lay in the sun taking intermittent dips in the sea all afternoon. Bliss!

Ben then snapped photos all the way home on the tram and even managed to get a pose from some hangers on.

20170715_Porto_Day9_0209We waved goodbye to the tram and headed back up to our all too welcoming balcony. There was a decanter of port to finish – not to mention some white wine for me, too.

After what seemed like a whole week of great eating we struck out by saving the best for last, Tapabento. Don’t miss this place while in Porto. I had rung up to try to get a reservation as we arrived and the only time they could accommodate us, was for an early lunch just before we flew out.

We were one of their first sittings for the day, but as we got through our meal it soon filled up. For good reason, the food here is exquisite. We shared two starters, one main (the wild prawn risotto) and a desert. 20170716_133417Look at me staring lovingly at that fruit of the forest tart. I really wished I had ordered one all to myself! A great way to end the trip. We left so satisfied and raving about Portuguese food and hospitality all the way back to Luton.

Porto – I really hope we will be back soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Summer City Break: Lisbon

20170712_Lisbon_Day6_0044Tiles, trams and tarts in Lisbon!

It’s hard not to get obsessed with all three while in this gorgeous city, certainly looking back and editing photos now all three featured heavily in front of our camera lens.

Lisbon was city number two on our summer holiday break after Mad Cool Festival and Madrid. Ben and I landed mid afternoon and made our way to the lofty Barrio Alto apartment that was to be ours for the next three nights. We found the apartment on Airbnb and booked it based on the glowing reviews received, here is the link if you’re planning a Lisbon break yourself – it will not disappoint!

Being right on dinner time when we settled ourselves in the apartment our host recommended, Noobai, a casual bar on the hilltop around the corner for dinner and drinks. A perfect place to soak in the view and start planning our Lisbon adventure.

Our friendly waiter was all too keen to help us plan too, advising that Belem, Sintra and Cascais can’t be missed. We made it to two out of three – we’ll have to go back to explore Cascais.

But first of course, a walking tour. We joined a Sandemans morning tour of Lisbon to find out a bit of the history of the city and wander the cobbled streets as the were just waking up for the day.

After the walking tour we went on to book a paid tour with Sandemans to Belem, a town just outside of Lisbon about 30 minutes on the train.

After a cooler morning, the sun soon came out baking hot and we were wondering why we hadn’t booked a beach holiday instead.

Dipping my toes in on the shores of the River Tagus in Belem was the closest I got to a swim in Lisbon.

20170711_Lisbon_Day5_0163Belem is home to the  Monument to the Discoveries above commemorating the Age of Discoveries in Portugal. A time of great exploration and the begining of globalisation.

Oh and it is the home of the Pastie de nata! Wow that is a pastry. We had our first (three) from the famous Pasteis de Belem and continued to have them for breakfast for the next two days.

Our apartment was overlooking a tram route and so we woke up to drink tea on the balcony and watch the trams pass up and down below us.

A tram couldn’t go by without us lining up a picture of it, along with all the other tourists. I’m sure we must give the locals a good laugh, I know I roll my eyes at the tourists snapping pictures of the buses on Oxford street now.

Our last day in Lisbon was spent visiting the palaces and castles of Sintra. We managed to visit Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle. I would have loved to see more but we left a little late after having to sort out train tickets to Porto in person. 20170712_Lisbon_Day6_0199I knew we couldn’t miss Pena Palace though, as the colours were so striking in photos I really wanted to see it in person. This is where my fascination with tiles really started, too. There are so many different textures and colours in this place.

20170712_Lisbon_Day6_0148You can tell I had the camera most of the day as I have dragged Ben in to pose for me.

Late afternoon we trudged up to the Moorish Castle. My feet were hurting by then but the discomfort was worth it for the views.

Getting back from Sintra quite late we opted for an easy dinner at a restaurant just below our apartment called Santa Bica. Being about 10.30 we were starving, but the meal was worth the wait. I had a beautiful steak, but Ben was the winner of the night ordering their signature BBQ octopus. The softest most delicious piece of meat you can imagine. I say meat as it was so chunky its hard to think of it as fish.

Oh, the dessert here was very good, too. I think this was their signature dessert a condensed milk and biscuit-y sundae. Devine!

Little did we know we were in for even more food heaven, our next stop is Porto.

Summer City Break: Madrid

20170708_Madrid_Day2_0022After three great days at Mad Cool Festival we had a few days to explore Madrid before heading on to Portugal for our next city stops.

We headed straight for the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Almudena Cathedral which faces the palace across the plaza. 20170709_Madrid_Day3_006120170709_Madrid_Day3_0072The Royal Palace of Madrid is the largest royal palace in Europe with 2,800 rooms. We explored about 23 of them on the ticketed tour and that was a long trek!

It certainly felt huge. We spent most of the morning looking through the throne room, crown room and the Royal Armoury which is all worth seeing.

We then walked up to the Egyptian Temple of Debod. The temple was originally from Aswan in Egypt and had to be moved for the Aswan High Dam to be built as it would have flooded. It was gifted to Spain supposedly to thank Spanish archeologists who had helped to save monuments in Egypt. 20170709_Madrid_Day3_0185The temple sits in a big park so we stopped for a while to have a picnic and read our books in the sun. It was weird to see an Egyptian Temple in such a different setting, but nice to know it was gifted to Spain. There is an Egyptian obelisk in Paris that, according to our bike tour guide, the Egyptian government keeps asking to be returned.

We then met back up with Harry and Jodie at the rooftop bar of the San Anton market. We had a cocktail as the sun set but it was a bit too trendy for us so we decided to move on.

We ended up going on to Muniz, a tapas bar Harry and Jodie had found earlier. We spent the evening drinking beer and eating so many tapas while celebrating the birthday of the bartender. 20170709_21472120170709_214619Muniz was a little family run bar on Calle Calatrava in the tapas district. If you do find yourself around there, pop in for a local tapas experience.

After finishing up at Muniz we decided to try one of the ‘best’ tapas bars as recommended by The Guardian, El Tempranillo. We managed to squeeze in and order some Spanish wine which was served with delicious Iberian ham. This was a much fancier place than Muniz and had much more of an atmosphere. This bar is on Calle Cava Baja which seemed like a whole street of tapas places.

On our last day in Madrid we got up early and headed for Buen Retiro Park which was calling out to me as a huge green space on the city map. But before taking off on the Metro we stopped for a quintessential Madrid snap, in front of the Bear and the Strawberry tree in Sol plaza. 20170710_Madrid_Day4_0012We had a gorgeous morning for the park and wandered as long as our legs would take us, feeling righteous for getting up so early on holiday.

20170710_121249^^ practicing our selfies.

We were a bit obsessed with this ornate tiled seat, too. #poser

For our last meal in Madrid we met up with Harry and Jodie to have a giant omelette at La Buha. Ben had been recommended this place by a colleague before leaving and I got a bit obsessed with trying it.

There were about 10 options to try off the menu and we chose a caramelised onion and cheese omelette. It tasted amazing but being filled with potato and served with a side of bread, even four of us didn’t get through it.

With full bellies we said goodbye to our flatmates and headed out to the airport to fly to our next stop, Lisbon, Portugal. I’m glad we spent some time in Madrid, it’s not as flashy as Barcelona but definitely worth a weekend break, if only for the delicious tapas.

Madrid & MadCool Festival

20170708_222623It’s so nice looking over photos of  our summer holiday while rugged up in woolies and slippers. It’s making me so excited about what this year will bring for sure, I’m in full holiday planning mode. Bring on spring and summer!

But for now here is my recap of Madrid. We travelled here for the Mad Cool Festival in July 2017 with our flatmates Harry and Jodie. Madrid is not somewhere I ever planned on going, but I’m glad we did as it’s a great city and a great festival. Here is what we got up to..

Day 1

19756487_10154446159606222_4748958270739578986_nWe arrived to a storm in Madrid. As our taxi from the airport passed through the city, with windscreen wipers going hell for leather, we all looked at each other like ‘how it this going to go down?’ we had only planned for the sunny Spanish summer.

Although we ended up having huge rainstorms for all three days of the festival, the rain would always ease off around 6pm which is around the time the festival starts. Perfect! There was no Glastonbury style mud pits either as the festival is at a tennis complex all the ‘fields’ were actually fake grass over tarmac. No gumboots required!

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We started with so chilled out sounds from The Foals and the discovery that drinks at this festival were sold by the litre. Gulp! What is great though is that rather than using fresh cups for every drink they give you a lanyard to hold onto your cup and refill it at a discounted price. Such a good way for a festival to be.

We had a wander around, then Ben and I settled in for the night at the Foo Fighters who were headlining the main stage. Such a good show and great way to kick off the festival.

We regrouped after the Foos for a dance along to Kurt Vile and the Violators. Then hung around to see Catfish and the Bottlemen who were brilliant! I spent the rest of the summer listening to their albums. 20170707_021735

Deciding not to stay on for the closers Boys Noize we ventured out into the night. Although ended up wandering around for about an hour trying to figure out how to get a taxi then seeing the queue deciding to try our luck flagging one down just outside the festival area as taxis were on the way in. Dirty but it had to be done – we ended up doing it for all three nights of the festival.

This would be my only gripe about Mad Cool. They had buses you could book for the end of the event (at about 5am) but if you wanted to leave at a more reasonable hour (like 3am) taxi seemed to be the only option. A few more buses shuttling people to the city centre would have been helpful.

Day 2

After rain in the afternoon the sun came out hot!

Today we tried out all the little activities the advertisers put on including bull riding..

Trampolining!20170707_194056Today the headliners were Green Day and for me, they were the unexpected highlight of the festival. They put on such a good show and I forgot how many absolute tunes they have written throughout the years. Definitely see a Green day gig if you get the chance, even if you wouldn’t call yourself a fan.

Day 3

Today we discovered the Aperol tent and got free pairs of sweet orange sunglasses. I briefly switched to drinking an Aperol spritz then remembered that although I love the colour of the drink, I really don’t like the taste. I went back to Tinto de verano, my wine and lemonade combo I had been drinking all festival.

The Aperol tongue!

We chilled out in front of Wilco during the afternoon.

The headliners for the closing night were Kings of Leon. The put on a belter of a show but there is something I always find lacking in their live performances. They’re not super interactive and after Green Day the previous night they really didn’t measure up.

20170709_000546We closed out the night by seeing MIA. A big change from the mainly indie rock bands we had seen all weekend. She was fabulous! Owning the stage in a brilliant red suit!20170709_005936All in all great fun for our first European festival, and our first proper festival since Glastonbury.

We still had a few days in Madrid to explore before Ben and I moved on to Portugal. That’s coming next.

Italian Spring Road Trip – Amalfi Coast & Naples

So, lets jump in where we left off.. road tripping from Rome to Sorrento. Brace yourself as there are so many photos to get through…

If you missed it, check out part 1 of our Italian Road trip here, Italian Spring Road Trip – Florence, Sienna & Rome.
20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day7_0245The drive from Rome to Sorrento was one of the most eventful in my life. Italian drivers have such an infamous reputation, but up until this point we hadn’t really experienced it. We had been driving the whole week with a GPS that was out of date, so most of the time it was spot on, but every once in a while it would advise that we turn down a road that no longer exists, or tell us to go left at a T-intersection that is now a round-about, things like that. Sometimes  we would miss the correct turn, but it was no worry as the GPS would just re-calculate and we would be on our way again.

While making our way to Sorrento, the GPS took us off the highway that was supposed to take us around the coastal side of Mt Vesuvius and ended up diverting us through Nola. I can’t find much about Nola online, other than the wiki entry stating that it is a town on the outskirts of Naples. Anyway, we drove through the centre of Nola at around 5pm on a Wednesday evening. We drove down the most hectic main street I have ever seen. The road was narrow with barely enough room for two lanes. There were cars darting out from all directions, car doors opening straight out into the road, people everywhere and uncontrolled intersections on every block. Our hearts were in our mouths the whole way.

A big cheer for our driver, Jake, who drove us through there without so much as a nick to the car, despite many occasions where the brakes were slammed on, or a car door was swerved just in time. It was an experience for sure, we knew we were in southern Italy now and it was such a contrast to the wider, more controlled roads of the north.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day6_0199As the sun was setting we pulled into our campsite in Sorrento, this would be our base for the rest of the trip . With with views straight out to Mt Vesuvius from our cabins, we really couldn’t have picked a better site. We saw the mountain in so many different lights. My favourite is the photo above from when we first arrived with the highest peak towering above the clouds.

As well as being surrounded by breathtaking views we found Sorrento a great place to base ourselves and explore Naples, Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. I thought of Sorrento as the gateway to the Amalfi Coast, super beautiful but not quite as busy with tourists as Positano and Amalfi. It was also really central for all the things we wanted to do while in the area.

^^ Exploring Sorrento20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day5_0002

After our long day driving,  we were all rearing to go and do some exploring. We got up early and headed to Mt Vesuvius. It was a little bit underwhelming as the clouds from the day before hung around making the views really hazy and the caldera was not much to look at. It was nice to get a big walk in though and we stayed on our feet in the afternoon heading down into Pompeii.

Having studied Pompeii in school I thought I had a fair idea of what to expect, but the reality was so much grander than I had ever expected. You really were walking through an entire city, which is hard to imagine when you read about it in books. We were there all afternoon and covered a fair amount of ground but still there were areas we didn’t get to.

^^ Being springtime lots of poppies were growing in grasses of the ruins. The contrasts were beautiful and naturally poppies became a feature of our Pompeii photos.

We didn’t take a guide through Pompeii, preferring to follow the map provided at our own pace. But I must admit that I sometimes found myself cheekily tuning into the guides around me for interesting stories and facts about the surroundings. I think if I went again I would opt for a guided tour.

As the weather was supposed to be better the following day, we opted to spend it on the island of Capri. I had completely fallen in love with pictures of the Grotto Azzurra in my Lonely Planet guidebook. The Grotto Azzurra is one of many sea caves dotted around the cliff faces of the island. It’s the most popular as the light entering the cave gives the whole cave an electric blue hue. The entrance to the cave is small, so you can only enter it by small fishing boats manned by locals singing old fishing songs into the eery cave. Unfortunately for us the wind was up during our visit, meaning it was too dangerous to enter the cave. We did have a lovely wander around the island though and lots of Limoncello samples from the tourist shops we passed helped ease disappointment.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day7_0117We finally hit the coast the next day, driving the ‘Green Ribbon’ route from Sorrento to Amalfi stopping at some amazing viewpoints on the way. The drive took about two hours and although there were some crazy hairpin corners and a few occasions where we queued coming into towns or waiting for buses to pass, it was generally quite a peaceful trip. I hate to think what driving around there would be like in high season, because as it was we struggled to park anywhere near the towns.

^^ Seafood cones in Amalfi

^^ More scenic view points along the drive.

Our next stop was Ravello, a little town in the hills above Amalfi. It was pictures from the guidebook that enticed us up here but ironically our camera battery died at this point so I have no views to share. It really is worth the steep drive up here though. We ended up in the Gardens of the Villa Cimbrone. The villa is a very upmarket hotel, far out of our price range but we could afford the gardens which are well worth a look. We were walking through archways of wisteria and well-groomed rose gardens that overlooked stunning cliff tops. 20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Jake_1360457This is one of Jake’s group shots. We’re standing on what is called The Terrace of Infinity, a natural balcony over the cliff face, opening up endless vistas of sparkling blue waters and the colourful coastal towns below. We tried to have a bit of a snoop around the hotel’s dining areas and pool, too. All I can say is – if I ever win the lotto this will be my first stop. 20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day7_0239We drove in to Positano as our final stop for the afternoon. It was everything I had hoped it would be, a gorgeous jumble of pink and peach houses cascading down to the sea.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day7_0248

20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day7_0273We ambled through the narrow cobbled streets down towards the beach, stopping for ice cream on the way and played cards as the sun set over the hills.

We had an ongoing game of Scala Quaranta, or in English 40 Stairs, going and we played at every opportunity we got. Most nights of our trip were spent on our cabin balconies nibbling on BBQ food and sipping wine, or Montenegro for the boys, while playing Scala Quaranta well into the night.

We didn’t go back to Sorrento for a BBQ that evening though. After calling time on Positano we drove back to the west of Sorrento to try out La Torre, a slow food restaurant run by a local family. Over three courses we got to sample some amazing local delicacies and so much seafood. It was delicious and a great way to finish our time on the coast. 20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day7_0310The next morning we were on our way to Naples and with heavy hearts saying goodbye to the lovely, romantic coast.

We parked at Naples airport and caught a bus into the city to soak it up for a few hours and of course try some pizza before we flew back to real life in London. The city was overwhelming, narrow streets in the shade of highrise apartments, scooters and cars everywhere and so much poverty.

Even though it was a Sunday morning the streets were alive with people and performers.

Church processions clattered through the town squares ringing bells and bringing brass bands.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day9_0089We sat watching it all unfold while eating some of the best pizza in town from Pizzeria Vesi. It really does taste better in Naples.

Can I go back and do it all again? It’s much harder to write a blog post about a trip that happened over a year ago now, as I struggled to remember a lot of the things we did. But the important parts have stayed in my mind and it has also been so much fun to relive it.

I don’t think I’ll ever stop going to Italy, there is still so much I want to see and explore. First on my list is another attempt to see the Grotto Azzurra of course…

Thanks to Ben and Jake for their photo contributions xx

Italian Spring Road Trip – Florence, Sienna & Rome

20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day3_0238Better late than never right? It is just over a year since we embarked in one of the most interesting and relaxing holidays I have ever had and I have finally organised myself with some pictures and words to tell you about it. There is so much to say I have split this post into two parts. Part Two coming soon.

We had been planning this holiday for years! Ben’s older brother Jake and his girlfriend Giorgia have lived in Italy a couple of years longer than Ben and I have lived in the UK. They met working at a ski resort and have been in and around Italy on and off since then. So it is no surprise that we have been out to visit them a lot. We’ve been snowboarding (and more recently for me, skiing) in Canazei many times and spent time with them during summer in Venice and summer on the mountain.

Throughout all these trips we have talked about doing a road trip around Italy, to see the famous sights of Florence and Rome and the southern landscapes. Jake and Giorgia, and by proxy us, have seen heaps of the north of Italy but never the south. In 2016 it became a now or never kind of situation, Jake and Giorgia were planning on moving to New Zealand for two years and didn’t know when they’d be back in Italy. With all the gear and the car they had with them, the time was now!

We had a loose plan to cover 9 days in the country with Ben and I flying in to Pisa and out of Naples. Here is how we spent the in between..

We flew in to Pisa and met Jake and Giorgia early morning for some obligatory tourist shots with the tower.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Jake_1350197After a coffee and brioche and realising there was nothing more we wanted to do in Pisa, we made our way to the car and started the road trip. First stop, Florence.

20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day1_0180Throughout the whole trip we stayed in a fantastic group of holiday parks. They are situated all over Italy and offer cabins, campsites and camper van sites. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the group, but I do know the places we stayed. As we left a site and paid our bill we would get vouchers for other sites in Italy, Perfect for travellers on a budget.  The campsites were always situated just outside a city and offered cheap, clean accommodation. We would leave the car there and take public transport into the heart of the city which meant no stressful city driving, no parking fees and no hassles. We stayed here in Florence, it was up in the hills and nice and quiet.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day1_0214_1The advantage of staying outside the city is as we were driving out we found this great viewpoint over the city.

The next morning we woke up for the long trip to Rome through Tuscany and Sienna and a stop off at Lake Bolsena.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day2_0030_1^^ I slept a lot of the drive through Tuscany as I was still recovering from a cold. But I woke for the photo stops..and to goof off in group shots.

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^^ We spotted the scene on the right and thought it was a real life Romeo and Juliet. I loved walking the sun kissed streets of Sienna.

^^ A beautiful detour to Lake Bolsena as the sun was lowering in the sky. We wandered past wine shops and restaurants on the way to the lakeside. Stopping for ice cream on the way.

We arrived on the outskirts of Rome to a sprawling holiday park for our next campsite stay. We attempted out first BBQ dinner here but waited hours for the coals to heat up and ended up eating well after 11pm.. fail. All the while waiting for our BBQ food we made a plan of attack for our day and a half in Rome.

We started the morning early with a walking tour of the city. We joined the Vatican Walk with Rome Free Walking Tours.  The itinerary hit all the important spots and the guide was really knowledgeable and friendly and gave us all the interesting facts as we walked. It started at the Spanish Steps and left us at the Vatican. I was particularly taken with the Pantheon. What an amazing building? We came back at night, too, to explore around the whole building without the masses of tourists.

I also like the Piazza Navona, we briefly wandered through here on the walking tour and came back in the evening to explore more and have dinner in the restaurants on the little streets around there.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day3_0057As I said, the walking tour left us outside the Vatican. We hadn’t planned on going in at all, but when we got there something compelled us to go in and see it for ourselves. The queue in at midday though was (no surprises here) long! So, uncharacteristically for us, we paid for a guided tour, allowing us to skip the queues and find out a few of the secrets and stories of Vatican City on the way.  I’m glad we did as I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this.

^^ It’s well worth going up to the dome. The views over the cathedral and the city were worth all the stairs up I promise.20160409_Italy_AmalfiRoadTrip_Day3_0390Our last stop in Rome for the day was the Trevi Fountain. We fought our way to the front of the crowds to throw our pennies in and make a wish before running off to catch the last train out of the city.

A trip to Rome just wouldn’t be complete without a wander around the Colosseum though would it? We saved that for our fresh legs the next morning, getting up bright and early in an attempt to beat the crowds, which happily we managed anyway by getting in the right queue. People seemed to just be jumping on the end of the pre-booked ticket queue but without a pre-booked ticket we sauntered up to a much shorter queue and were standing gazing out over the 2000 year old arena within 15 minutes.

I particularly enjoyed seeing the exhibitions here and would recommend devoting at least an hour to seeing this place. They displayed artifacts recovered from the ruins that give insight into how the people were living and what kind of things would have been going on in the arena, like the gladiator duels, but also the gambling games and trinkets bought in by the watching crowds.

With no time to lose we reluctantly said goodbye to Rome and got back on the road heading to the Amalfi Coast. With 5 days left to spend in and around Naples and the Amalfi we weren’t complaining though.

Although, we had to make it through Nola and the craziest drivers I have ever experienced first. More on that in Part Two coming soon.

Thanks to Ben for contributing and helping edit these photos. It’s been so nice looking back at them.

 

 

Home for Christmas

20161220_102744We hadn’t been home for two years and 10 months when we touched down in Wellington on a gorgeous sunny Friday afternoon. One week before Christmas and the start of a four-week holiday. I felt so many things getting off the plane and hugging my mum, dad younger sister and best friend who had all come to the airport to meet us. Tired being the number one thing after a gruelling 26 hours in the air and 6 hours waiting at airports in Dubai and then Sydney. I also felt relieved, happy, nervous, excited, sadness and so, so, so much love.

It was all going on at once and I probably came across as quite shell-shocked, it was overwhelming. But as we got in our old family car, drove the familiar roads to my mum’s place, the conversations picked up where we left off from our last Skype calls and I felt comforted and home.20170107_114343Home was a funny word while I was at home. People were careful about how they used it around me. I was careful about how I used it, too. When I was discussing London I would say “going back to London” not the more natural, “going home to London”. I felt that I was home in Wellington, but I was also going home to London.

After living in London for almost five years, it would be weird if I didn’t think of it as home. It’s where my life is now, my friends, my things, my routines all my habits are formed from living in the crazy, busy, vibrant and beautiful city. London is my normal now.

I’m so proud of how Ben and I have made our lives in London, the experiences we’re having are so different from what we would have had, had we spent our twenties in New Zealand. I never thought big city life would suit me, I was actually very scared moving to London as I was worried I would hate it. Now I worry that I will never be able to leave this big city, how will I ever manage waiting longer than three minutes for public transport? Where will I get my Pret A Manger sandwich fix?

But then I spend time in New Zealand and see photos like these and realise I won’t care. I  loved the lifestyle in NZ. Being invited in to people’s houses, the ease of getting around and the ability to just roll up anywhere without encountering queues or missing out entirely. I know that eventually NZ will be my forever home. Not quite yet, but when the time is right.20161228_161231Also, how could we forego these views!?!

Here are a few things we got up to while home…

A quick mission up to the Belmont trig for views over Wellington harbour.

Hiking Karangahake Gorge near Waihi and spotting fantails in the trees.

Many days on the beach in Waihi. Exploring, swimming, sunbathing and Ben even learned to surf!

So many cuddles with this beauty. She wasn’t that into my selfie taking though!

I had better mention the food, too. Pavlova on Christmas day, ice creams as we road-tripped around the country and so much caramel slice. For Christmas I was given a recipe book called Treats from Little & Friday with what looks like a cracking caramel slice recipe, I can’t wait to try it out.

There was cards on New Years Eve in Auckland and Scrabble at Dad’s. I even managed to win a few 😉20170107_104645So many hours chatting in cars…20161228_150623And so many beautiful views. This is Maraetai Beach on the outskirts of Auckland City.

I love being able to feel like a tourist in a country that is also so familiar. There is always so much to discover. 20161228_150357I hope you enjoyed my photo round-up of our New Zealand trip. I have a few more photos to come of two really special days out. A day out at the zoo with my dad which was my Christmas present and as my birthday present, day out at Zealandia, a bird sanctuary, with my mum and sisters. I was really spoilt, so blogs on those days to follow.

I am enjoying going through these photos so much. The weather was pretty patchy when we were home and we got lots of spring rain, but when the sun shone we definitely got out and made the most of it.

What do you get up to while visiting friends and family at home? I love having lots of chilled days, but also recognise that this is my holiday time so make an effort to explore as well.