Touring Bali

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I hope you enjoyed my last blog post where I showed you the work I was doing as a volunteer, but perhaps meeting with prisoners and playing football with street children isn’t on your travel agenda (though it really should be). So I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite spots in Bali that I got to visit on my days off.

I was really lucky to meet some amazing friends who were either volunteers like myself or full-time staff. Many were from Indonesia or had learned Bahasa Indonesia (the language of Indonesia) and had been in Bali a lot longer than I, so they knew all the local spots where the “cool kids” hang out… so to speak.

 

Transport

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Getting around was never going to be easy, or so I thought! Here’s the thing, getting around in a car tends to cut a chunk out of most of your day as you sit in traffic and bake (or freeze if your driver has the aircon on like mine did at times). So how else are you supposed to get around? Yeah, you guessed, scooter!

The scooter! Also known as a motorbike, bike, moped, or whatever. It has two wheels and it weaves in and out of traffic like magic. Everyone has one and everyone uses this method of transport unless you are like foreign and don’t know about Go-Jek.

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I’m going to tell you about Go-Jek, and Grab. These are apps you must download before you go to Bali. Must. This is your Asian version of Uber and it is suuuper cheap. Seriously. An hour’s journey cost me £0.45p. Although you can select the car option, I’m going to tell you to choose the motorbike option because your journey time will cut at least in half. You have to be prepared to wear their helmets which have been worn by who-knows-how-many but it’s a small price to pay for a cheap, fast ride.

 

Temples

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Bali has many notable temples, and being a majority Hindu country, you will see many people bringing their offerings and incense thrice daily and laying them all around their houses, businesses and the temples. These colourful offerings are supposed to give back to the gods and bring health and prosperity to their families.

There are many beautiful temples in Bali, but I only had time to visit one. Maybe I’m biased but I would definitely put the Uluwatu temple on your list of places to visit.

You are given a purple and orange sarong to wear around your waist before you enter and then you are nearly immediately faced with breath-taking cliff-top views. It doesn’t take long before you spot a monkey or two in the trees, and next thing you know you are surrounded by these cheeky creatures as you clutch tightly to your bags. And you should, these monkeys are well known for stealing sunglasses off your face and purses out of your hands so be careful!

 

Street Food

Having local Indonesian friends meant never being far from tasty treats from the streets (see what I did there?). I’ll try my best to describe some of these Balinese treats but you have to promise not to knock it ’til you’ve tried it!

Fried Banana

So this is literally bananas that are dipped in some kind of batter, deep fried and topped with chocolate and cheese. And… it just works… somehow!

Martabak Manis

I also heard this referred to as a different name, but whatever you want to call it, it’s delicious. It’s a mix between an English crumpet and a pancake (so maybe call it a crumpcake?!) and this thick pancake is doubled up with a layer of chocolate and crushed peanuts sandwiched in between.

Deep Fried Pancakes with Egg & Leek

I don’t actually know the official name for this but it is a savoury snack you will definitely get an appetite for. Pastry is thinned out to a large circle and then placed in hot oil to start frying, then the egg/leek mix is added to the middle and encased within the pastry. This parcel is deep fried on both sides until it is ready, then sliced into squares for your consumption.

Satay

It’s just basically chicken (or other) kebab sticks marinated in a peanut sauce and cooked over a fire/grill.

Tempeh

Tempeh is a traditional soy product originating from Indonesia.It is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form (source: wikipedia, cheers bro!). They love this stuff here, and it is often marinated in a sweet sauce and served with rice.

Nasi Goreng

Don’t get me started on how much Indonesians love their rice! They just love it! So it should come as no surprise to find the most famous Balinese meal is Nasi Goreng, or basically, fried rice. Now, it is good, and you can get it everywhere and it is cheap, so you can’t really not love it! #nasigorengforever

 

Cafés

Okay, so Bali is basically café heaven! Everywhere you go, you will find a gorgeous café selling really flipping tasty food and equally stunning smoothie bowls! For the vegan, the Canggu area is bliss! Here is a list of my top 12 cafés.

  1. NOOK, Denpasar |Rice Fields|Smoothie Bowls|Avocado Toast on point|Fresh
  2. Smoothie Shop, Uluwatu |Vegetarian|Organic|Takeaway smoothies in glass bottles
  3. Café Organic, Canggu |Organic|Fresh|Locally Sourced|Vegetarian
  4. Crumb & Coaster, Kuta |Fresh|Locally Sourced|Smoothie Bowls|Paper Straws|Coffee on point
  5. Revolver Espresso, Seminyak |Quirky|Good Coffee|Buy Coffee Beans|Locally Sourced
    Revolver Espresso
  6. Zeus Café & Secret Garden, Jimbaran |Bean Bags|Fresh Juices|Smoothies|Glass Straws|Relaxing Vibe
    Zeus Cafe & Secret Garden
  7. Mac Eleven Café & Roastery, Jimbaran |Good Coffee|Buy Coffee Beans|Relaxing Vibe
  8. Peekaboo, Canggu |Quirky|Good Vibes|Good Food|Totes Instagrammable
  9. Betelnut Cafe, Canggu |Airy Upstairs Seating|Healthy|Amazing Food
  10. Locas Waroeng, Keramas Beach |Beanbags|Smoothies|Great Ocean Views
    Locas Waroeng
  11. Kitchenette, Beachwalk, Kuta |Best Avocado Toast Ever|Beach|Shops
  12. J.Co, Bali |Best Doughnuts Ever|Free Doughnut with every Drink|Chill Vibe

 

Shopping

The Balinese Rupiah is not a strong currency which makes for dirt-cheap shopping and with the haggling culture, prices are rarely set. That in mind, please remember that what you earn in a year is probably more than some earn in a lifetime, so be generous- you can afford to be!

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One of my favourite shopping spots was Kuta, I didn’t really bother with the Beachwalk mall but in the streets surrounding the mall there are several unique shops and stalls all selling anything you could imagine from very large paintings (guilty) to super cute clothes. The other favourite spot was in Ubud, there is a huge outdoor market in Ubud with each stall packed closely to the next making a sea of merchandise before your eyes. It’s hard to know where to look, but the stunning silver jewellery may just catch your eye. Indonesia is famous for it’s silver so be sure you will find some great quality pieces, and with a set of earrings and two rings for 100 rupiah, it’s a steal.

A little more pricey but worth a visit was the Mal Bali Galleria in Kuta where you can find your typical high street shops but also some quirky and cute stalls. Lastly, and most expensively, is the Love Anchor in Canggu which has some of the most beautiful and unique jewellery I have seen but also gorgeous bags, clothes, shoes or souvenirs. Make sure you pay a visit to the shops upstairs too!

 

Beaches

The volunteer base just happened to be opposite the beach most famous for it’s sunsets and seafood restaurants. Jimbaran Beach has one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen and if you head there after hours, you can enjoy a seafood BBQ on the beachfront with the waves lapping at your toes (or in my case swallowing my ankles).

If you enjoy surfing then you will love Keramas Beach in Kuta, this black sand beach hosted a surf competition which I enjoyed under the shade of an umbrella (you definitely need one in the Bali heat). You get to see the surfers right up close and many photographers gather to get “the shot”, which my lovely friend Guia was lucky enough to get with the winning surfer!

Also great for beginner surfers is Echo Beach in Canggu, a great time to go is just before sunset as you can watch the surfers surfing and the sun setting at the same time, then head into Canggu for drinks in one of the quirky bars, or dinner at one of the vegetarian cafés.

A more touristic area is Nusa Dua with some stunning views and the famous Water Blow where the waves smash against the jagged rocks with their alien-like appearance. But a local gem was known as the “Secret Point” only ten minutes from Jimbaran where you have insane sunset views and you can cliff jump (permitting the tide is high enough)! To make it extra special, bring marshmallows and make a small fire to roast them whilst you watch the sun go down.

 

Waterfalls

Waterfall

You can’t visit Bali without visiting a waterfall, there are so many beautiful falls hidden away in the center of Bali. I can recommend a visit to Kantolampo Waterfall but I can’t recommend the route that I took to get there.

You see, a friend who I trusted, took me to visit this waterfall. Except, when we arrived, it wasn’t immediately obvious exactly where this waterfall was. But my friend insisted that he knew where it was and it wasn’t far, so I followed him into the jungle (never follow anyone into the jungle).

Several traumatic slips and slides later (including one where we both slipped and landed in decomposing fruit turning into mud – eeeek!) we found the water fall. But needless to say, on the other side of the river, there was a clean cut staircase that lead from the road directly to the waterfall.

So don’t go through the jungle kids, just don’t.

 

Night Life

There’s plenty to do in Bali during the day, but it’s worth staying up because you don’t want to miss some of these magical places.

Sunset Seafood BBQ @ Jimbaran Beach

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If you are looking for the perfect romantic setting, you will be hard pressed to find one that competes with this beautiful beach. This is the perfect spot for dinner before you head to the next destination.

Nav Karaoke

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So you’ve had a few drinks and you’re feeling like you’re meant to be famous, don’t just keep that thought to yourself; get your own private Karaoke booth! This colourful Karaoke “bar” allows you to rent a booth for a period of time with your friends so you can explore your inner Beyonce. You can order drinks, choose from a very large library of songs and artists and of course, sing your heart out!

Old Man’s Beachfront Bar

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Maybe you are feeling super chill and you want to sit with some friends simply chatting and sipping on some Bintang (local beer), take a seat in the open outside area. If you can tolerate bumping into the occasional celeb, and you can shake a leg with some stag and hen parties, you might also find yourself enjoying the more enclosed area near the bar.

La Laguna

La Laguna

You haven’t seen magic until you’ve seen this place. Seriously. La Laguna had me at “wow” from the start. I stared at the magical lighting and medieval style wagons that lead down to the main restaurant. I crossed the stunning bridge, dimly lit, with vines drooping from above, wondering where it would end. I delightfully ran through the sand as I realised the bridge lead me to the sea, and played with photos around the teepee.
But, I couldn’t stay on the beach long because I had a date with my friends at the outdoor cinema where beanbags were lined up and blankets laid on the ground beneath us.

This. Was. Magic.

 

So I hope you have enjoyed following me on a short trip through Bali, keep following (and subscribe) for my future adventures.

Sunset Heart
“Thank You Bali!” – Secret Point. Photo Credit: @totosamurai
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Volunteering in Bali

Wow, 3 weeks have flown by and already I am sat in the Ngurah Rai airport eating a grilled falafel panini and waiting for my plane to Kuala Lumpur. It’s been a crazy, unique and unexpected few weeks and while I wait, I’ll take this opportunity to share with you some of the experiences I had as a volunteer here in Bali.

So after I arrived and settled in, I was given an orientation to let me know how things worked and where I could help. I also found out that there were several significant holidays happening for the people of Bali, which is fantastic for the Balinese, but for me it meant that several of the volunteering opportunities were not on for the weeks that I would be staying. That left me with limited options, but I was keen to be involved in any way that I could. I ended up getting involved with the following activities.

 

Cleaning and Meal Preparations

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For any voluntary organisation to operate, you need hands on deck to run it in every way. There are people who staff “full time” but they do not get paid to be there, actually they need to pay staff fees (and I volunteer fees) to be able to stay and these cover the cost of keeping the Bali base going.

We are provided with accommodation and three meals a day, so as you can imagine, somebody needs to maintain it and prepare it. So every volunteer is rota’d into cleaning and food preparations which would normally be around 3 times a week. It was a good opportunity to get to know the other volunteers/staff here at the base but also felt good to be able to contribute to keeping this amazing organisation running.

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In addition to this we would help with any other tasks needed for the voluntary work such as wrapping the gifts to be given out to the girls stuck in prostitution.

 

“Soccer” with Street Children

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Okay, yeah so maybe I was ill-equipped to facilitate the actual training in “soccer” (which is actually football, guys), but I really wanted a chance to meet and interact with these local children.

There were many children of various ages and they were split into groups according to age. Some children wore kit so big for them that they were pretty much being held up by the string that runs through the waistline. I helped one child tie the laces of his shoes that were falling apart, at the same time I peeled of part of his rubber sole that was flapping off to avoid him tripping and falling.

One girl in particular took my interest, she was the only girl who came to soccer but she didn’t let that fact put her off. She smiled and took my hand, then lifted it to her forehead as is the Balinese custom for showing respect to your elders and I was charmed! Though a very little girl, no more than 7 years old, she easily competed with the boys around her.

As we asked a very lighthearted question about a time when these little 7 year olds had made their parents annoyed, some of the children opened up to us about the abuse they suffer at home where some are beaten so badly that they have scars. They laughed about it, because for them it’s just normal life. But it really touched our hearts as we realised for these children, soccer may be the only escape from their tough situations at home and the only place they can really let loose and express themselves.

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At the end of soccer, they all sit down and we tell them a story which always has a life lesson for them to learn about how to behave or to deal with difficult situations. I watched as they got so involved in the story, laughing and shouting and my heart went out.

 

Prison

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Photo Credit: @guiagogogo

Unsure what to expect but eager to get stuck in, I desperately convinced one of the base staff to swap my cleaning day so I could visit the prisons of Bali.

I visited 3 prisons on different days and each had their own impact on my heart.

The first time I went, we visited two women and a man in one of the Bangli prisons. Not long before one of the inmates had committed suicide there. The two women particularly were so happy to see us and speak with us. We were able to share words of encouragement with these women, and one of them couldn’t stop crying- the other on the verge of tears also. One due to be free in 1 month and the other with a life sentence, the girls shared their struggles but also the times they were thankful for. The man, however, didn’t stay long to chat. We gave them gifts of food and toiletries and left feeling so thankful for the opportunity to get to know these women.

The second time I visited was a male-only drug prison also in Bangli. A very different prison with much tighter security, a larger group of us went to visit the prisoners. The organisation I went with had actually been invited to come to this prison because one of the inmates had transferred from another prison that they visited and told the officers of the work we do.

There was around 15 of us who went, including a 3 year old boy (who they absolutely love seeing), and we each brought the skills that we had to invest in the people here. The main purpose is to build relationships and support the inmates here in the hopes that they will turn their lives around and when released, leave the life of drugs behind. We also teach English, and train in football (or “soccer’). I initially planned to help with teaching English, but when one of the inmates stepped out of the team I was invited to fill in for football. You have no idea how excited the inmates were to see me playing soccer, I soon had a fan base who cheered loudly if I so much as tapped the ball.

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One thing that really stuck out to me here was how polite these men were, treating the women visiting with respect and generally behaving well. I can only imagine the type of behaviour that would take place in a British prison (having a friend who is a Prison officer in the UK, I have heard enough awful stories). The other thing was how accepting they were of the mistakes they had made and how keen they were to change when they eventually got out. I spoke to one man who desperately wanted to ensure he never went back to drugs, even asking me for advice on how to stay off when he’s free.

The prison sentences in Bali can be quite harsh; particularly for drugs. This may be because it’s one of the biggest drug trafficking routes. One man I spoke to had 6 years for possession of marijuana. The other sad thing to note is that due to corruption, those with money can often pay their way out of harsh sentences.

Kerobokan

The last prison I visited was the most secure and this was the Kerobokan prison in Denpasar. This time I visited a specific woman who told me she had a 16 year sentence and had had to leave a son behind. This woman amazed me with the positivity and hope that she had despite losing all that she had, believing even that maybe she was there for a reason; to help others in this place. I could barely keep my jaw from dropping as she passionately talked with me about the hope that she had and the faith she had in God to look after her little boy, and her.

Her face lit up when I showed her a selection of nail polishes that I had nearly not been allowed to take in, she looked at her battered nails and smiled at me saying “God knows what your heart desires”. Again, jaw dropped as I saw the pure gratitude of such a simple thing.

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Not the same woman who I met in Kerobokan but another very thankful woman after I did her nails. Photo Credit: @guiagogogo

In the end, I thought I was coming here to give to the people of Bali, but I didn’t realise how much they would give to me instead. My heart goes out to the amazing people that I’ve met, normal human beings who have just fallen on hard times. People who deserve to be loved and not forgotten. People who despite the odds still hold so much hope in their hearts.

I reflected on this one night with my sandals half on, vision blurred, riding in the dark on the back of a motorbike with no idea where I was going. My heart was full, and I only wanted to give more.

Maybe it’s not about the four walls that surround us, it’s about the souls within.

 

In my next post, I would love to also show you the sights of beautiful Bali that you shouldn’t miss!

Italy Bound; A Day in Pisa, San Gimignano & Siena

One of the great things about Florence was that it was so well connected to other parts of Italy. So, when we were approached by a tour salesman offering a day trip to Pisa, we readily agreed. The tour was to include a morning trip to Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa to see the leaning bell tower, Duomo and the Baptistery. Then we would be taken to the medieval town of San Gimignano to explore the wonderful views, have lunch and wine tasting in a local vineyard and finish with a tour of Siena.

 

Pisa

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“You can’t go all the way to Florence and not see the leaning tower of Pisa” is what my younger brother told me, and I have to agree. This famous symbol of Italy is a must-see if you visit this side of the world, only 1 hour 30 mins away from Florence by car.

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Aside from the iconic leaning tower shot that everyone will be getting (I include you, no matter how strong willed you are, you won’t be able to resist), you can actually go to the top of the bell tower for great views over Pisa. I warn you now, walking up will feel wonky!

After you have got your shots and climbed wonkily to the top, make sure you visit the Duomo next door and the baptistery. I didn’t feel like I needed more than a morning in Pisa to see the Piazza dei Miracoli (square of miracles) but there is more to Pisa than the tower if you do want to spend the day!

 

San Gimignano

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A magical town, built upon a hill, enclosed in medieval walls; this beautiful location happened to also be the place that my colleague and friend got engaged, in fact the friends whose wedding I attended the day before my very first solo adventure (read about it here… it was emosh).

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It’s easy to see why it is a popular romantic spot for many couples from all over the world when you approach the castle-like walls and wander through the inclining and declining walkways defined by the towering medieval stone shops and houses.

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Between buildings you may find winding alleys that lead you to magical views, history-infused sculptures, medieval buildings or local Italian restaurants, gelaterias and cafes.
Take your time and explore, you will certainly find something you love here.

 

Wine Tasting

We were taken to a local family vineyard, the vineyard of Famiglia Mazzarrini, for a tour of the winery, a taste of the Tuscan Italian wines and a delicious pasta for lunch. We enjoyed a selection of refreshing and rich red and white wines, as well as a sparkling, and this was a chance to really get to know others on our tour who were sat with us.

In addition to the wines, we were given a platter of meats and cheeses with breads to try a drop of the most expensive and potent truffle oil I’ve ever tried (probably the only truffle oil I’ve tried).

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Afterwards, we were also educated on real olive oil/balsamic vinegar; extra extra virgin olive oil comes with extra bullshit and if you buy balsamic vinegar that contains sugar or colourant then throw it in the bin. Consider yourself now also educated.

A few glasses later this was us…

Shout out to spinach boy and to the girl who got wasted on the wine tasting, fell asleep on the bus and then wandered off so we couldn’t find her. What a lad.

 

Siena

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So the final part of the excursion was a guided walking tour of Siena, by which time my feet were so sore it felt like I was wearing down the heel bone. But, I hobbled through the tour paying particular note to the bi-annual 90 second Palio horse race that takes place around the Piazza del Campo. They transform their main square into an arena by adding sand to the outer square whilst people gather in the centre by the thousands, or if they are lucky (rich) they can nab a balcony above one of the many shops and restaurants surrounding the square.

I also learned that there’s an equally weird reason for the weird breastfeeding wolf symbol of Siena and that’s all thanks to a legend of two brothers, Senius and Aschius, who were suposedly raised by wolves.
A final point worth noting is the Cathedral in the centre was built by the same architect who built the leaning tower of Pisa as well as Florence’s esteemed Duomo.

Thus ends my Italian mini adventure.

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Italy Bound; Florence

Firenze, or Florence, the heart of Tuscany. Historic and romantic, sense tingling and taste teasing, beautiful and intriguing… so where could I possibly begin?

The three of us met at the Venezia Miestre train station; Rachelle, Pablo and I. If you read my last post on Venice, you may remember that I met this honeymoon couple in a queue and invited them to join me in Florence… after a quick discussion as to whether or not I am a serial killer it was a “sure, why not?”!

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So two hours of delightful scenery, freezing air-con and awkward phone charging later, we arrived in Florence. Immediately we felt like the floor beneath us was moving when we made our way out of the station, maybe it was a mini earthquake or maybe it was just the rumbles of the trains or maybe Florence just felt different somehow. A short bus ride then walk away was the two-bed, light and airy top floor apartment.

Exploring Florence 

Florence is much bigger than Venice and has a lot to offer. One moment you are surrounded by high street shops like Zara and H&M, the next you are staring up at a marble clad Cathedral.

Surrounded by mountains, and with the river Arno through the heart of it, Florence has everything for every type of person. For the history geeks, there are over 80 museums, for the foodie there are many restaurants, cafes and sandwich shops, and for the explorer the winding streets will always lead you somewhere new.

Here are some of the things not to miss.

The Duomo


Il Duomo di Firenze, previously known as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower) is one of Italy’s largest churches and until recently, was the largest dome in the world but is still the largest brick dome ever built. This Gothic-styled Cathedral was built in 1436 with the exterior of the basilica clad with white, green and pink marble panels.

A major tourist attraction, the cathedral includes the Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile.

Other churches are full of historical art, with their walls covered in beautiful paintings as well as marble sculptures. Even the most outwardly unassuming church can have the most stunning art inside so make sure you wander in when you come across a church.

Museums
Michelangelo's David

For the keen history and art boffs, Florence is heaven! With over 80 museums, you are sure to find one you can get completely lost in. The Galleria dell’Accademia and Uffizi are two of the most popular museums.
The Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, an art museum, is best known as the home of Michelangelo’s sculpture David. But it has many other sculptures by Michelangelo and a large collection of paintings by Florentine artists, mostly from the period 1300-1600.
The Uffizi, however, is the main art museum in Florence. It is one of the largest and most visited art museums in the world with a collection of priceless art. Waiting times to get in can be up to 5 hours, so if you plan to visit, get your tickets in advance online.

Ponte Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio, Firenze

The Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) is a medieval stone bridge that crosses the Arno River. It is famous for the expensive jewellery shops built along it, and each night the jewellers cover their jewels and bring down large wooden chest-like barriers to protect their shops.  Also enchanting are the Ponte Vecchio’s two neighbouring bridges; the Ponte Santa Trinita and the Ponte alle Grazie. Make sure you make a sunset visit for some very romantic views of the Arno River.

The Beach

Urban Beach on the Arno

Who knew there was a beach in Florence? Not me!
Located in the middle of the city, on the banks of the Arno, is a recently built urban beach. The city council decided to use part of the river bank of the Arno for a relaxation spot in the summer, free of charge for locals and tourists alike!
Sunbathe, play ball or dip your toes in the water… but I don’t know if I would swim in the river!

Double Helix Slide in Palazzo Strozzi

Double Helix Slides

Installed by a German artist, Carsten Höller, who is also known for his playful interactive installations, this pair of slides in a double helix formation can be found within the famed Palazzo Strozzi of Florence. It’s open quite late, doesn’t cost a lot, and at the bottom you can find a couple of bars and restaurants. I don’t suggest going on after a few drinks though!

Piazzale Michelangelo
Piazzale Michelangelo

A long walk from the centre, and an even longer climb, this Piazza is not worth missing! The best views over Florence, you can also find churches to explore and if you’re lucky you may find yourself in a Gelato festival!

Gelato Festival

I stumbled across this festival which took place between 20th – 22nd April this year (2018) but check the website to see when it’s next on. A festival dedicated to tasting ice-cream, the Italian and international gelato makers will prepare pounds and pounds of ice cream and with one ticket you can taste all of them!

Food in Florence

Let’s face it, you don’t go to Italy for McDonalds. Probably one of the most popular cuisine worldwide, Italian food is easily a palette-pleaser with its heartwarming combination of pastas, tomatoes, meats, herbs and cheeses. In Tuscany, pasta (especially pappardelle) is traditionally served with meat sauce (including game meat). Also famous for its wine, there are so many reasons your tastebuds will fall in love with Tuscany.

Here are some of the places you must not walk by.

All’Antico Vinaio Sandwich

After seeing queues nearly 30 people long, I felt it would be foolish not to join the crowds, each holding their own foccacia sandwich filled with an array of meats and cheeses, as they sat along the curbs drinking and eating.

Make sure you choose enough of the more succulent ingredients as the foccacia is quite a dry bread, and this large €5 sandwich won’t let you down.

Officina

By far one of my favourite places to eat, this restaurant had it all. Great food, great vibes and great staff, it was no surprise that I came back more than once. I recommend the fresh pasta, the meat plate, the burgers, all of it! Just pay this place a visit!

€2 Pizza on Via dei Neri
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Who wouldn’t give this place a try for €2?? I admit, I didn’t actually expect much from this place being so cheap and my being dairy free but I was pleasantly surprised! I was offered a marinara pizza custom topped with parma ham at my request and it was delicious! I admit, I didn’t catch the name but you can’t miss it on Via dei Neri.

Ditta Artigianale
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Come to this cafe for a chilled out vibe, freshly blended juices or a coffee on the go. They have dairy free options which was a first for me here in Tuscany, and whilst some relaxed on the bench outside, others worked on their laptops inside. I simply enjoyed my pancakes and soya chai latte.

Desserts

Wherever you go, whatever you do, make sure you grab one of Italy’s delicious pastries; most famously, Cannoli. You won’t miss all of the gorgeous cafes lined with colourful sweet treats as you explore the city of Florence.

In my next post, you can hear about my day tour to Pisa, San Gimignano and Sienna.

Italy Bound; Venice

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It all started with Kim, my amazing Montana raised, country and state-hopping friend who, thanks to her new job, was back in England for four months whilst she toured Europe. Sounds glam right? I thought so too, but you can talk to her about that! It didn’t take long before I realised I could turn envy into fun by tagging along with her on one or two of her adventures. She listed her locations, I picked Venice and Florence.

At the last minute, Kim’s job had to cancel the rest of her Europe trip and keep her London based, so thus began my next solo adventure…

My weekend started Friday with a relaxing Church retreat in Denham Grove, set in the quiet and peaceful English countryside. By Saturday I had joined a barbershop club that happened to also be staying in Denham Grove and by Sunday evening I was in Venice.

 

The Hostel
Hostel

It was past 10pm when I landed, with no idea how to get to my Hostel, I used the airport wifi to get directions. You could book a water taxi from the airport but I opted for a cheaper bus which took me to Piazzale Roma. From there, I got the equivalent of the tube (underground trains in London for those from other parts of the world) in the form of a boat called the Vaporetti which pulls up into different docks around Venice. Similarly to the tube, they have different colours and numbers to represent each route they take and there are maps for you to see where they stop.

Zitelle was my stop, on the Giudecca Island, the Vaporetti driver threw his rope around the metal stubs on the dock and waited for the boat to settle beside it then lifted the bars as passengers flocked off.

It was so dark, I couldn’t see where I was supposed to go. With no directions and no signal, I would have been wandering with my backpack for ages had I not been found by three Spanish-speaking girls who directed me to the hostel.

At the hostel on the way to my room, a large, hairy and sweaty man sat in his underpants passed out on a stool leaning against a wall. I edged past him cautiously and entered my 16-bed dorm, my bed was the last at the other end of the room. Whilst I was bent down unpacking, I heard a voice behind me saying “hello” and I jumped nearly out of my skin with a scream. I didn’t have to turn around, I knew exactly who it would be; the sweaty fat man in his see-through Y fronts. “What do you want?” I snapped, my heart still racing from the scare. “I’m in the bunk above you”, he said.

So, that was my bunk buddy for the next 4 nights. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well the first night.

 

Exploring Venice

I didn’t know where to start with exploring Venice, but luckily a colleague lent me a guide book of Venice, and Kim had given me a number of suggestions herself. The first thing I got for myself was a 3 day pass that gives you unlimited boat, bus, train and tram access for €40. I had to buy this from a tobacco/bits and bobs shop which was next to the Zitelle dock.

breakfast

First stop was San Marco, there was so much to explore just in this little area, but not before I got breakfast in a local cafe.

Some of the highlights of Venice:

Piazza San Marco
st marks square
This square has so much going on. By day, you can enter the Basilica, view the Palazzo Ducale, or Torre dell’Orologio and you can go up the Campanile di San Marco for fantastic views over Venice.


Libreria Acqua Alta

books
A little unassuming shop which just so happens to be a library built around a gondola overflowing with books with a staircase made out of old books out back. Climb the book staircase to see a view of the canals.


Farini
Farini

A fantastic pizza bar near the square, they also have sockets for you to re-charge if you need to. 

Rialto Bridge

Rialto
This is the most famous bridge in Venice, built of marble it crosses the grand canal and it has three paths: one wide central walkway which has shops on its either sides and two along the railings of the bridge for the perfect photo op.


Bacareto da Lele

 


I stumbled across this little pub by mistake whilst exploring the Dorsoduro area, but overflowing with local students, I couldn’t ignore it. And it was easy to see why it was so busy; you could buy an Aperol spritz for a puny €1.50 or a Chardonnay for as little as €0.60. Students then sat along the canal or on the steps of the cathedral to drink, chat and chill out.


Lido Beach
beach
Who knew Venice had a beach?! I didn’t, until I found out that the Lido had a beach that stretched along one side of the island. Of course, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to relax on the beach.


Burano Island
burano
This island is an essential part of your visit to Venice, nothing can quite describe the feel of this island. With every building a different colour, it’s full of life and not like anything you’ve seen before.

 

Making Friends

So aside from ‘Y-fronts’, aka my bunkie, I met a whole bunch of people and made a few friends on this trip.

In my hostel, I met Matt and Dave; also from the UK, and we spent the day in Burano together witnessing a pretty crazy argument between an old woman on a zimmerframe and her equally old and frail husband. We also shared a romantic dinner for three in VinoVino, a gorgeous little restaurant that Kim recommended, and we played ball on the Lido beach together whilst Matt’s neck likened to a lobster more and more as the day went. Suzannah, a California girl I met in my hostel room, joined us for some cheap Aperol spritz’s in Dorsoduro and a late game of cards before Matt and Dave returned home to the UK.

 


Relaxing with an Aperol spritz in Piazza San Marco, I met a couple from Holland and we exchanged stories of our motherlands. Promising to meet them up the Campanile di San Marco, I queued to pay the €8 fee to get in and that’s where I met Pablo and Rachelle. This couple on their honeymoon from the US had just landed in Venice, Rachelle had lost her case and the hotel they were staying in was out in the mainland, far from the Islands but they didn’t let it stop them from making the most of their time here. Wandering around in San Marco, they queued behind me and asked me what I was queuing for… I admit I didn’t have much info to offer them but we made friends near on instantly.

gondola

By the time we got up the bell tower, we’d already decided I’d third wheel with them on a gondola ride seeing as it was a whopping €80 for the gondola; the more the merrier. And by the end of the gondola ride, I’d invited them to join me in my two bed apartment I had booked in Florence… and they said yes!

You’re going to have to read about how that went in my next blog post!