Let’s Get Lost, in Venice

Wow, I hadn’t realised how long I had left it since my last blog! Oops! Life has been very busy with back to school, craft fairs and of course Christmas!

Seeing as its day 2 of 2017, I thought I would try to start the year as I mean to go on and be more organised.  Time shall tell!

So, back to the procrastinating….

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My last blog post was about our visit to beautiful Rome, which upon departing we travelled up through the centre of Italy to a little B & B on the outskirts of Venice – Eco B & B.  This is a great place to stay if you are on a bit of a budget and can’t afford the prices of central Venice.  The open plan kitchen and living area is modern with the luxury of a coffee machine and dishwasher – a real treat after carting our dishes across campsites for the last couple of months!  A feature wall with an arial photograph of Venice provides a backdrop for the bedroom – an actual bed was another indulgence after weeks on camping mats.  After a day of enjoying the luxuries of our apartment, we made the short walk to the local bus stop to travel into Venice.

The short  journey across the thin connecting road to the Lido was quite surreal; as soon as you step off the bus into the last hub of usual transport, you immediately find a number of bridges, which upon crossing, you are immediately and obviously in Venice.

We hadn’t been particularly organised for our Venice visit and decided to wonder the streets and canals to see what we could find – assuring ourselves it can’t be that difficult to find your way around.

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Street, after street, bridge after bridge, lead us to dead ends, narrowing walls or just open water.  They do say that you ought to get lost in Venice – not difficult to do!  We made many attempts at following our freebie tourist map but to no avail.

Eventually we managed to get our bearings and found the grand canal – beautiful, romantic, exactly how you’d imagine Venice to be.

We decided not to rush around looking for things book marked in our travel guide, but to simply enjoy meandering the streets and stumbling upon the sites.

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We soon stumbled onto Piazza San Marco and were surprised to find it partially flooded.  Being surrounded by water and walking across the submerged Piazza, it did feel a little like the city was sinking.

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Obliging all touristy stereotypes, we fed a few pigeons before queuing to visit the Basilica San Marco.  Again, the entrance to the Basilica was partially flooded so we walked along raised platforms to enter.

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The whole interior is covered in tiny, golden mosaic tiles which make the walls glow beautifully.  It is truly stunning.  Unfortunately, as with many places so beautiful, cameras were not permitted, which in one way made you appreciate your surroundings better and really take it in – I did manage one sneaky photography though!

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Next stop was the Doge’s Palace – again, no photographs permitted inside.  For me the most interesting of the rooms in the palace was the“Scudo” Room.  Huge maps fill the walls of the room and two giant globes feature Earth and Heaven.

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As with much of our travels (must have been the time of year), the Bridge of Sighs was completely covered in scaffolding due to on going restoration work.  This was a bit of a disappointment but at least they had tried to make is partially visible!

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We debated a gondola ride, but couldn’t really justify it on our budget so we enjoyed watching the Venetian traffic jams and near collisions with the vaporettos – water taxis.

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To finish our day we indulged in pizza slices and gelato before getting lost for nearly 2 hours as we made our way back to the bus station.

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With more time and a bigger budget, I would love to visit Venice again, we spent such a short time here and I feel you need a few days actually within the city to get a real feel for the place.

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The next few days were NOT as pleasant! We made a very brief visit to Vicenza, hoping to look at the architecture and explore a little but I became sick – like I had never before, it was awful.  Looking back, we think it may have been our own fault for not properly  boiling the water we were using at a campsite to cook our pasta.  It did look a bit murky at the time but we were sure it would be ok! Oops!

In the days that followed Mr also became sick and we both felt pretty horrendous. We decided to carry on and travel up through Austria to Bavaria, feeling awful but determined to continue our travels!

Ciao for now Italy!

 

Live, Learn, Love

 

Laura

 

 

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Rome: Veni, vidi, vici

Our next stop on our Tourist trail took us to a lovely campsite – Camping Tiber Roma.  Great site with good facilities and a nice pool to cool down in after a busy day roaming Rome.

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We pitched up  between two trees (a terrible idea seeing as we had a huge storm that night!) and explored our options for the next day’s adventure to Rome.

 

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“Expensive” tastes!

The campsite runs a shuttle service to and from the local train station, so the next day we got up early and caught the train into Rome.  We just about made the train – I got wedged in the closing doors and had to be pulled through them by Guy.  Slightly embarrassing!

The twenty minute journey took us to our first stop of the day – Vatican City.  We joined the long queue to enter St. Peter’s Basilica – not the worst place in the world to queue and take in the majestic surroundings.

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Queue views

Finally reaching the end of the queue, we went through airport style security and a check to ensure we were dressed modestly enough, luckily I knew this in advanced and made sure I had my legs and shoulders/arms covered.

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Walking into St.Basilica you are immediately hit by the scale of the place, you really do feel the importance of building to the Catholic faith and if you were ever unsure you were somewhere special, you are instantly reminded by the elbows and shoulders of people barging you out the way to get their perfect shot.  We spent a while just strolling around the basilica, taking in all it’s intricate detail and marvellous decoration.

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When we’d finally had enough of being elbowed by photographers, we made our way over to the Pantheon.  It is hard to believe that it is almost 2000 years old!  The engineering of the dome is incredible – again, hard to believe given it’s age.

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Next, we accidentally stumbled upon the Trevi Fountain.  Hidden at the junction of two small streets, we wondered what the crowd of people were watching.  It wasn’t until we rounded the corner of the building that we realised where we were.

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Crowds around the Trevi

The fountain is exquisitely beautiful and predictably busy.  We had to wait patiently to squeeze our way to the waters edge to look at some of the estimated 3000 euros that are thrown into the fountain daily.  Of course, we contributed our own 2 Euro donation over our left shoulder for luck.

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The Trevi Fountain

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The colosseum loomed next on our agenda and by a happy coincidence a cultural celebration that week meant we entered for free.

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Colosseum

Walking around the colosseum, the icon of the Roman empire, you could almost be in ancient Rome.

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Arches everywhere
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Details

Again, this structure is almost 2000 years old and so impressive.  The scale of everything is so great that even by today’s standards, this is an incredible piece of architecture.

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Standing at the arena floor
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Uncovered chambers beneath the arena

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From the colosseum you can walk to the ancient Palatine Hill – the most central area of what was ancient Rome.

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Icons of Rome

Walking amongst the ruins, you get a real feel for the ancient streets and buildings that made up the ancient city.

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Looking down on the Roman Forum

Looking down at the ancient centre from the higher view points, you can take in some of the more complete buildings and piece together the ruins to imagine a bustling ancient city.

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Ancient Rome

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We spent the rest of our day wondering around the city, stumbling upon landmarks and picture postcard streets.

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Spanish Steps

We spent some time walking around a peaceful park area where people were filling up water bottles from a water pump – when in Rome, do as the Roman’s do!  This proved to be a mistake as we spent the rest of our trip being pretty sick! We came, we saw and Rome conquered!

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Postcard

Rome is a beautiful city, full of life and bursting with history, it is definitely one to add to your bucket list!  Next on our list; Venice!

Live, Learn, Love

Laura

Under the Tuscan Sun

After a beautiful but tiring few days in Verona, we packed up the tent and headed off to San Vincenzo for a very lazy few days.  We stayed at a huge site called Park Albatros –  5 pools, a supermarket, restaurants – everything you could possibly need really.  We made the most of the next few days, spending most our time either splashing around like kids in the pools or at the gorgeous beach across the road.  I felt like I was 8 years old again; as a child we spend many summers at sites like this across France and Spain, as I had a fear or flying so my poor family were subjected to many driving holidays!

 

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The beach at San Vincenzo
A few days later we packed up again and headed on to San Gimignano, making a stop at Pisa to see the tower. PISA1

The drive into town was interesting, very industrial and quite run down in places really.   The area surrounding the famous tower and Duomo is very beautiful, full of of tourists taking the obligatory leaning on the tower photos and also people trying to sell you watches out of their coats – some came with a “five year guarantee” – hmmmm….

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Obligatory Leaning Tower Photograph
After leaving Pisa we made the journey through the beautiful Tuscan countryside to the town of San Gimignano where wewere staying for a week.  The landscape of Tuscany is truly beautiful; vineyards scattered everywhere, vibrant colours, cypress trees, simply stunning.

On arriving at the campsite we had the second car drama of our trip; this time due to some very suspect air conditioning wiring.  Luckily Guy is quite handy and was able to solve it.

We spent a few days relaxing at the pools on the site and trying to plan where and what we would do in the coming weeks – namely Rome and Venice.  The campsite was ideally located for exploring Tuscany and we made many trips from our base.

The nearest town was San Gimignano, a lovely hill top town with typically Tuscan architecture.

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Pretty San Gimignano
Here we ate some amazing gelato in a lovely little shop called Gelateria Dondoli – yogurt flavoured gelato, amazing!!

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A must! Worth the big queues.
The views from the hilltop were magnificent.  This photo probably illustrates my point more than anything I could possibly write.

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Typically Tuscan
San Gimignano is a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to the preservation of its many tower homes,
which make for a very interesting skyline.  Supposedly during medieval times, the families of the town built their tower homes to represent their wealth; the higher your tower, the greater your wealth.  It would seem that the residents of the towers must have been relatively wealthy as the remaining towers still cast tall shadows over the squares and piazzas below.

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Trying to get some perspective of the height

 

On leaving San Gimignano we drove through Volterra (yes, I confess this was down to Twilight) and then on to Montepulciano – the setting for Volterra in Twilight New Moon.  It was interesting to see the locations used in the film and how the local shops had tried to make the most of the link with the franchise.

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The following day we got up early to travel to Florence.  After following the sat nav for a while to car parks that clearly didn’t exist, we found ourselves parking near the Ponte Vecchio.ponte-1.jpg

The famous bridge into Florence is lined with numerous jewellery shops and plenty of tourists.  It was quite impressive that one small bridge could hold so many jewellery shops.

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This doesn’t look like it should still be standing!
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A quiet spot to read
We had hoped to get to the Gallerie Academia to see Michaelangelo’s David but the queue was so big and we didn’t want to spend our day waiting in line so we abandoned our plans, settling for the copy at the Piazza della Signoria.

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The Piazza is the old Government square of the city and is a wonderful blend of historic buildings and tourists snapping away.  The town hall (Palazzo Vecchio) dominates the square, we had a little snoop inside and can definitely say it is ever so slightly more impressive than our local town hall!

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The replica of Michaelangelo’s David (which dutifully guards the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio) is only out shone by the beautiful Fontana di Nettieno, which is so life like you half expect it to turn its head to look at you.  There really is something quite eerie about the huge sculpture.

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Next walked through the Uffizi – again a huge queue so we just soaked in the atmosphere and Guy haggled with a seller over a tripod; he was very pleased with the deal he got!

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Next stop was the Duomo. The Cathedral di Santa Maria del Fiore stands proudly at the historic centre of Florence.  Building began in 1296 and wasn’t structurally complete until 1436 – this is evident in the incredible details of the marble facade which is beautifully carved in green, white and pink.

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Detail in the marble
The interior of the cathedral is equally impressive.  The huge octagonal dome immediately draws you to the back of the building and you could quite easily spend your time marvelling at the frescos.

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Fabulous Frescos
Immediately in front of the Cathedral is the octagonal Baptistery.  Constructed between 1059 and 1128 and clearly the inspiration for the Cathedral’s design.  For some reason my photograph of the building itself seems to have disappeared 😦 .  I did however manage to find the photos we took of the “Gates of Paradise”.  Artist Lorenzo Ghiberti created the gilded bronze doors with twenty scenes, each illustrating the life of Christ.

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Gates of Paradise
At the end of the day we drove out of Florence via the Piazzale Michelangelo – the view from here is truly breath taking, even the worst photographer would struggle to get abad photograph from here.

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The Duomo
Florence is a beautiful city and is certainly worth a visit if you are visiting Italy.  It looks and feels like the stereotypical Italian images you see in magazines and film.  It really is a wonderful, lively city.

We spent our last day at the campsite relaxing by the pools and sorting out our plans for the next day.  We had such a lovely, relaxed time at this campsite.  We met a lovely older couple staying on the plot next to ours who we still send Christmas cards to now :).

Next stop – Rome.

Live, Learn, Love
Laura

 

xX.

In Fair Verona

Verona.  My favourite Italian city.

We arrived at the the green oasis of Camping San Pietro, hidden on the hillside over looking the city.  San Pietro is a lovely site, very friendly and has a definite travelling vibe. There is a great terrace with plenty of seating, a small bar and a great communal kitchen area.  If that’s not really your scene, stay for the view.  It is spectacular.

Being on the hillside above Verona, it was quite tricky to pitch our tent – as I’ve mentioned before we are more glampers than campers and our large 4 person tent just above squeezed onto the plot.

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Skills

 

After putting the tent up as quickly as possible (it was getting quicker each time), we headed down the hillside and over the bridge into Verona.  Verona has a very different feel to the other cities we’ve visited.  It feels older, medieval even.  Every where you turn is worthy of a photo.

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Views everywhere you turn
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The walk to the Piazza Bra

 

Out first stop was the Piazza Bra, a bustling area of Verona lined with numerous bars, restaurants and hotels.  There was a wonderful buzz at the Piazza, the streets were busy with tourists and locals alike, many of whom we noticed were drinking Italian Spritz (recipe here if you fancy trying it!).

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Delicious pizza slices just off the Piazza Bra

The Piazza is crowned by the magnificent amphitheatre, thought to date back to 30AD. The amphitheatre is still used as a popular concert venue, while we were in Verona the famous opera festival was on.  Our “neighbour” on the campsite was a lovely Austrian man named Max who was a huge opera fan and had been visiting Verona and the festival every year for the last 20 years.  Being 21 at the time we travelled, we didn’t appreciate the option of the festival as much as we possibly would now!

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The magnificent amphitheatre

It was fascinating walking around the amphitheatre, although its a modern concert venue it still retains all of its ancient feel and you almost forget you’re in modern day Italy.

September seemed to be a fantastic month to visit Verona, not only was the opera in full swing but there were also medieval events taking place throughout the city.  We came across crowds of people in squares watching what I can only describe as medieval cheerleader.  It was very impressive!

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Local Celebrations

Perhaps the most obvious sight to visit in Verona would be the Casa di Giulietta –  the home of the Cappelletti, dating back to the 13th and renovated in the last century.  The most famous reasons for visiting the Cappelletti’s family home would be the balcony which inspired the most famous scene in Shakespeare’s  Romeo and Juliet.

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O Romeo, Romeo!

To access the courtyard and view the balcony you walk through a small covered archway.  The walls of the walk way are completely covered in love letters (and also chewing gum!).  Although the tale of the star crossed lovers is fiction, you really get a feel that this is a special place.  I don’t know if it is the letters plastering the walls or the couples all gazing lovingly at each other on the balcony, but this really is a beautiful place to be.  There is also the added bonus of the statue of Juliet – who’s bust when rubbed apparently brings you luck.

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Lucky Rub

 

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“Romeo’s Home” by contrast

Like I mentioned, the town was full of events when we visited and the next thing we stumbled across was an Italian singer called Gianluca Gringnani, who was recording a video for his next song.  Over the next few hours, wondering the city, we heard his song again and again and made it a mission to find it when we returned home – the song, as unlike us as it is, will always now remind me of Verona and always brings a smile to our faces.  Check out the video by click here.

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Gianluca Gringnani

I could write so much more about Verona but I think it’s a city you needs to visit and feel.  Here are a few other photos I took during our stay.  I really hope one day we will revisit this stunning city.

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The beautiful architecture of the city
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Views of Verona
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The most stunning sunsets

 

Live, Learn, Love

 

Laura

xx.

 

First Stop in Italy – Milan

Next stop on our Grand Tour was the fashion capital of Milan.

The drive from Nice to Milan was beautiful – the road hugging the coast to begin with, passing beautiful, typically Italian villages clinging to the cliff sides.

We arrived at Camping Milano, pitched our home for the next few nights and tried to work out how to best get into town the next day – bus.

The next few nights on site involved drying our clothing inside the tent and playing cards under the awning thanks to a storm that decided to follow us from the Côte D’Azur.

 

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How to dry your clothes in a storm

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Friendly resident Cat
The journey into Milan was interesting, travelling by bus allowed us to see areas of the city we probably wouldn’t have ventured through otherwise. I was quite surprised to see a lot of the outer areas of Milan to be built up mostly of 1970s tower blocks.  Much graffiti covered the walls and the streets seemed to be busy with people.

We then got off the bus and onto the underground system which took us to our stop – Duomo. On leaving the station, up the steps, quite an impressive sight greeted us – the imposing Duomo di Milano towering over the square, every bit as impressive as I’d imagined.

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Duomo
We stood for a while taking in the unusual design, surrounded by pigeons and young men trying to sell bird feed to tourists.

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The interior of the cathedral is beautifully intricate. The walls are covered with carvings and the stained glass windows are worth a visit in themselves. It is very dark inside which creates a wonderful atmosphere and the feeling that you are somewhere quite special.

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Internal details at the Duomo

Next stop was the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.   Full of shops to make you realise your travellers budget probably wouldn’t stretch far; we settled instead for some lunch at a lovely little restaurant. We had our first Italian pizzas and as you can imagine, it was good! We sat eating our pizzas admiring the beautiful domed roof of the shopping centre and pondered where to visit next.

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The next day we travelled from our site near Milan to a site with a wonderful view in Verona. Verona, by far was my favourite destination on our trip, so much so that I think it deserves its own dedicated post, so until next time….
Live, Love, Learn
Laura

xX.

Barcelona, Such a Beautiful Horizon

Continuing my reminiscing….

After leaving Paris we drove 130miles before I did my stint of the driving – which turned out to be my only stint, probably for both of our safety!  The drive from Paris to Barcelona is around 650miles so we made a stop over at a good old Formule 1 hotel in a town called Cahors – quite a pretty town.

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The next morning we decided to take the smaller roads to see a bit more of the area, making a stop in Toulouse; a quick visit to the main square which was very pretty.  Upon leaving the centre, we heard a strange popping sound and pulled over to see what it was – a huge screw in our quickly flattening tyre.

As I mentioned in my previous post we had made so many lists of things to pack and the boot of the car was so full it took a while to unpack everything to get to the spare tyre.  When we eventually reached the tyre we found we’d forgotten to bring a wheel brace!  We spent a while driving around looking for a garage, no where was open – it being a Sunday. In the end we resorted to parking in the car park and calling the RAC – luckily we had taken out European cover.  We waited an hour for our rescue in unshaded 39C sun. Thankfully a quick tyre change sorted all out.

CampingPunctures.jpgEventually we made it to Camping Globo Rojo in Canet De Mar – really lovely site with excellent facilities and a pool – hurrah!  We spent the next few days travelling in and out of Barcelona by train – around a 50minute journey for only €6 return.

Barcelona is a fascinating city, we had never been before so we weren’t quite sure what to expect.  After leaving the train station, mapless, we wondered around the streets until we came across Casa Batlló – one of Antoni Gaudi’s masterpieces.  It is immediately obvious that this is a work of Gaudi; covered in tiny mosaic tiles, the unconventional roof, curves and patterns everywhere.  The interior of the house is indescribable – I don’t think we saw many straight lines.  Gaudi refurbished the house in 1904 but much of the interior is strikingly modern. It is hard to believe it was designed over a century ago!

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View from street, roof detail, attic arches and internal light in hall.
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Fireplace, internal hall, door frame details,  unusual light fitting and ceiling.
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Typical tourists.
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Beautiful window on the first floor.
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Chimney Stack

Next we wondered our way to the Sagrada Familia – Gaudi’s greatest, unfinished masterpiece!  Again, like Casa Batlló it is hard to describe, it is very surreal.  Even unfinished and covered in scaffolding (a common theme on our travels!) it is breathtaking.

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Some details from the exterior and interior of the Sagrada Familia
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Watching over Barcelona.

Park Güell is another of Barcelona’s sights that is well worth visiting.  The walk up the steep hill approaching it was a struggle in the heat but the view you are rewarded with on arrival is more than worth it.  The park is full of wonderfully landscaped areas and Gaudi creations, including his home.

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Park Güell

Lastly we wondered down Las Ramblas – lined with street performers and tourists.  We decided to take a break from the hussle and bussle and found the beautiful Plaça Reial where we ate some great tapas and paella.  We also stumbled across the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria – a fantastic market hall selling every food you could think of.

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Colourful sights at St Joseph’s Market
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The beautiful Plaça Reial and Las Ramblas street performer.
We both really enjoyed Barcelona, it is a beautiful city full of amazing architecture and atmosphere.  Our next planned journey was to meet my family in the French town of Roujan for a week.  On our way back up to France we made a stop at the pretty Spanish town of Figueres to visit the Dalì Museum – as you can imagine very bizarre but fascinating!
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Figueres street and the Salvador Dalì Theatre Museum.
We spent the following week with my family, lazing by the pool and visiting the fortified town of Carcassonne – supposedly the inspiration for Disney’s castle.  A very interesting town with some lovely places to eat.
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Carcassonne
Our next planned stop was the Côte D’Azur, particularly Nice and Monte Carlo – day dreams for another day!

Live, learn, love

 

Laura

xx.

Dreams of Travels Gone By

This gloomy, wet, January weather has got me reminiscing about travels gone by, in particularly the 3 months my partner and I spent travelling Europe after we finished university.  I decided I would put this day dreaming to good use and write a few posts about our experiences.

We started planning our trip during our second year as a motivation during the increased workload of the final year.  We both worked the holidays at a local farm shop and pick your own.  In between weighing baskets of fruit and pitting gooseberries I was busy reading my Lonely Planet and Rough Guide, making lists upon lists of places to visit, where to stay and what to take with us.

We toyed initially with the idea of buying a van and converting it into a camper van, however this proved very expensive and distracting to two third year students!  We finally realised the cheapest way to travel was by car and to camp.  Admittedly, we are more “glampers” than campers so the car was stuffed full of everything we could possibly need.

Two weeks after our graduation ceremonies we set off in our Renault Megane, packed to the brim with everything off my list and feeling ridiculously excited.

We travelled by ferry from Dover to Calais and spent the first 3 nights at the lovely Huttopia near Versailles.

 

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We weren’t very good at “roughing it”!

We spent the next few days catching the train into Paris from the nearby station.  Paris is one of my favourite cities and we have visited a few times, I never tire of it.  My favourite part of Paris is the Notre Dame cathedral.  It’s situated so beautifully on an embankment in the Seine.  The building is covered in ornate carvings and to stand and take in its height does make you feel quite small and insignificant.  We also spent some time exploring the Tuileries Gardens that surround the Louvre – which we visited during our previous stay.
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Beautiful Paris
 

One place that we have returned each time we have been to Paris is the Maison de Gyros – unashamed to say the BEST kebabs we have ever eaten, so much so we’ve been 4 times on various visits, definitely check it out if you’re in the area.

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Delicious!

For our last day in Paris we visited the Palace of Versailles; a short walk from the site, down a beautiful tree lined avenue. Upon arriving at the gates I realised we had completely underestimated the scale of the place and should have got up earlier!  It really is a grand palace of a huge scale – occupying 70,000 square metres of land!

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The grounds of the Palace

We spent hours walking the gardens, eating sorbet on the lawns and exploring Marie Antoinette’s Le Hameau – a small hamlet within the grounds built by her architect Richard Mique.
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Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet in the grounds of Versailles
 
The opulence of the palace really is something you have to see to believe.  Beautiful frescos cover the walls, gold gilding everywhere you look, it really is a spectacle.

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A chapel in the Palace

The busiest area of the palace was quite obviously the Hall of Mirrors.  Undeniably it is stunning, if not ostentatious.  We tried to get the best photo we could but the place was packed with tourists – the mirrors made it seem even busier than it probably was.

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The very busy but impressive Hall of Mirrors

The next morning,  we packed the boot of the car (with much difficulty!) and set off again for our next stop – Barcelona.

 

Live, learn, love

 

Laura

xx.