A blog about travel, books and navigating your twenties in one piece

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Currently #10

Every time I come to write a 'Currently' post I'm surprised by how long it's been since I wrote one before because I love writing them and I feel like they're the posts in which I properly catch up with how I'm feeling/what's going on in the moment, if that makes sense. This time it's been five months so it definitely feels like it's time to treat you all to another one and to take stock of what's been going on in my life lately. I'm sure you know the drill by now so I'm just going to dive straight in...

Reading :: Becoming by Laura Jane Williams. This book is something else. Essentially a memoir of the last ten years of Williams' life, it tells the story of how she lost herself after the breakdown of a relationship and learnt to love herself through travelling, a year of celibacy and more. I won't be able to do Laura's writing justice here so all I can say is that no matter who you are, this book will teach you huge amounts and is well-worth reading. We've all struggled to know who we are and with our self-esteem at some point or another so hearing someone else's story is always a comfort. Pair that with Laura's *stunning* writing and you'll truly feel as though you're reading the best advice you've ever been given from a very close friend. I've found myself using little sticky tabs to mark passages I know I'll want to come back to because they resonated with me so much and nearly every chapter so far has a tab! I would really implore you to read it if you haven't already; Laura words things I've felt over these past few years better than I ever could.

Eating :: I've been trying to eat a more healthy, but more importantly, balanced diet over the past couple of months (with the exception of when I was in Italy of course) and I have to say I've really noticed a difference in not only my figure but in how I feel. I don't think I'll ever be someone who will go cold turkey in eliminating chocolate and cake from my diet because, frankly, I think the healthiest thing you can do is have a balanced diet rather than, what is, for me, an unrealistic one, but having it less and balancing it out with healthier meals is making such a difference to how I feel - I've got more energy, am having less IBS cramps and, touch wood, my skin's looking a lot clearer too. Having said all that, I started working at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships on Wednesday and the food I'm provided with is insane and delicious, so all this may go out the window over the next few weeks... 

Thinking about :: Family. My sister and two little nieces are up in Yorkshire from New Zealand where they live, so myself and my other two sisters and our Dad spent six days together last week. It was so lovely to have us all together as well as all my nieces and nephews for the first time as it's such a rare occurrence for us to be under one roof given that my sister lives on the other side of the world! The time we spent there made me so grateful for my family - something I'm sure I don't appreciate enough. Although we'll be together at an extended family party next weekend, I find it really sad to have to say goodbye to my sister Tai and her two little ones not knowing when I'll next see them. Hopefully I'll be able to get out there sometime in the next few years but it's such a shame that they live so far away. It does make the time we spend together more precious though and that's why family and how great they are has been on my mind these past couple of weeks. 

Watching :: New Girl. The latest series started being aired a couple of weeks ago and I'm truly over the moon about it (I know, I should probably get out more!). If you haven't watched New Girl though you really should - I know very few people who have watched it and haven't found it funny, so it's worth giving it a go for sure. I personally find it absolutely hilarious and the central character, Jess, played by the fabulous Zooey Deschanel, is my ultimate spirit animal. I relate to her so much, which some may see as a bad thing (which you'll understand if you've seen the show) but I definitely see it as good, and New Girl is just a series that I will forever come back to when I want to laugh at the wonderfully random things the writers come up with played out by the scenario of a girl living with three male roommates. 

Listening to :: Ever since going to BBC Radio 1's Big Weekend in Exeter last month (which was incredible btw), I have a newfound obsession for One Republic and The 1975. Of course Coldplay stole the show but I was pleasantly surprised by the former two, not expecting them to be as good as they were. Both bands had such incredible stage presence and, as a result, I've been playing them both on repeat ever since. I think I'm starting to drive my Mum insane because I'm listening to my favourite songs by them over and over. I just can't stop, they're both great!

Loving :: Having a car! This is still so new to me since I got it less than two months ago, but already I've found so much more freedom in being able to just get in my car and drive wherever, whenever. Since driving to Exeter and back I've been much more confident than I was and, while I'm still a bit of a nervous driver, I'm trying to get behind the wheel as often as I can to get over it and I really am enjoying how much easier it makes my life. It's the best purchase I've ever made without doubt and, I can see my sister's warning that once you get a car, you can't be without one is definitely going to ring true for me!

Aaand that's everything that's currently on my mind. I hope that you all have a great weekend, and please let me know if you've got any of the same or similar obsessions as me at the moment - it's always nice to know you're not alone in them! 

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Mini-Breaking in Verona & Venice, Italy | Part ii

Following on from yesterday's post about the two days my Mum and I spent in Verona, today I'm writing up about our day trip to Venice. As I wrote in my travel bucket list at the start of this year, Venice is somewhere that I've wanted to visit for as long as I can remember. In my mind it epitomises Italy and its beauty and so I was hugely excited to be able to hop on the train last Wednesday and visit, even just for the day.

Firstly, let me just say that getting the train from Verona to Venice was so easy and quick that I would highly recommend it if you're not completely set on staying in Venice. Of course staying in Venice is such a novelty and I have no doubt that it would be amazing but if you're looking to save a few pennies, you can sort of get two for the price of one by staying in Verona which is a bit cheaper and just a one hour and ten minute train journey away from Venice. It worked perfectly for us, anyway!

We got the train into Venezia Santa Lucia which was about a half an hour walk away from the famous Piazza San Marco. You can get there slightly quicker by water bus apparently, but we thought we may as well walk it to get our bearings and take in Venice. The first thing to note is that, as they all say, it is absolutely beautiful. It really is the most special place and just walking down the streets and over bridges with all the gondolas passing by was magical.

By the time we'd got to the Piazza San Marco it was about 1pm and we were both hungry and wanting to get out of the heat (it was about 30 degrees celsius by this point) and so, again, having done some research, I took us to Ogio - found in this article - which is in the Campo dei Gesuiti. Their lunch menu is amazing as each day the chef prepares a range of fresh pasta dishes for just €8 including a coffee and bottle of water. I had spinach and ricotta tortellini and my Mum had spaghetti bolognese, both were absolutely delicious. Again, like Osteria Al Duca, it was a real hidden gem and, in this case, we were the only tourists in the restaurant. Considering how packed Venice is with tourists, we felt very glad to have found somewhere so cheap, quiet and amazing quality to have our lunch.

The highlight of the day for me though had to be the gondola ride. I've read a lot of pieces on Venice arguing over whether or not it is worth what can be the very expensive prices for a gondola ride. And Mum and I were dubious ourselves considering that for many of them it was €80 for a half an hour ride if it were just us (they charge you that no matter how many people are going in the gondola; usually up to six from what I saw). Luckily, we were stopped by a gondolier and, when we said we thought it was a bit steep for just two people, a mother and daughter were also walking past trying to find a better deal. So we all went in the same one - they were lovely so it worked out really well - and it was just the best way to see Venice. I didn't really think it could be all that different to seeing it all by foot but it truly gives you a different perspective. At the end of the day, it was still a bit extortionate and I'm sure that we could have shopped around a bit to try and get a better deal, but when in Venice, hey? We both thought it was definitely worth it as the gondola ride was really something else! 

We spent the rest of the day exploring some more, Mum bought some new shoes which she was very excited about, we had gelato, looked in a few museums and then went for dinner and had a pizza each which were amazing. Before we knew it we were back on the train heading to Verona. It was a lovely day but we both agreed we could have done with another day there so it would be nice to go back sometime and explore Venice a bit more. 

Mum and I had such a great time on our little break in Italy. I've only been on two holidays to Italy now and I'm definitely biased because of how much I love Italian and just think that Italy is beautiful, but I really do think that it's the perfect place to get away for a few days and immerse yourself in their culture. I can almost guarantee that you'll come back feeling refreshed no matter how much walking you find yourself doing there. 

Friday, 3 June 2016

Mini-Breaking in Verona & Venice, Italy | Part i

Last week my Mum and I went on a little holiday to Italy for three nights. We stayed at the Leon d'Oro hotel in Verona and managed to spend one day in Venice. It was such a lovely break in one of my favourite countries and so I thought I'd do a little write up of the trip in two parts, sharing our time in Verona today. 

Mum and I didn't really know what to expect from Verona at first - of course we'd heard of Juliet's house which it's become somewhat famous for - but, apart from that, it was a completely new city for us to get to know. On the first day, once we'd had a little nap in the hotel and felt a little more alive having had to wake up at 4:30am for our flight that morning, we bought a little guide book and went to explore Verona.

After we'd found the town centre, which was only about a fifteen minute walk from the hotel and clearly marked by Verona's ancient Arena, we decided to walk to the Castelvecchio which is a stunning old castle (as the name suggests!) and is now also a museum showcasing beautiful pieces of art from the Middle Ages. As I've got older I've learnt to appreciate art and exhibitions so much more than I used to and I really think that visiting the castle for its architecture and view of the Adige river alone is reason enough to have a look if you're in the area. On the way you can also stop at the beautiful San Zeno Church or, following the river, the Veronese Duomo Cathedral which is just stunning. I can't remember the exact prices but both the Duomo and Castelvecchio were very reasonable, especially as most such places seem to give student discounts in Italy!

Since both Verona and Venice are notorious for being expensive (especially the latter, which is partly why we chose to stay in Verona), I had looked up the best budget restaurants to go to as I find you can discover some real gems by doing that. It can be so hard to tell whether a restaurant really is authentic or if it's going to be nice and so, I've found that doing a bit of research is definitely worthwhile. The result of this in Verona was dinner at Osteria Al Duca. It's very near the town centre, just off the Piazza dei Signori, serves the most delicious food and is incredibly well-priced, with an offer of two courses for €18. Trust me, two courses will be more than enough to fill you up, with the starters often being what I would consider enough to be a full meal on their own, such as a plate of pasta. A real signal of how good the food was is that the restaurant was packed with Italians who went there for dinner themselves and Mum and I loved it so much that we ended up going two nights in a row! Definitely worth trying if you're in the area. 

On our second day in Verona we of course decided to visit Juliet's house and tomb, as pictured above. I would really recommend going as early in the day as possible to the house as, even by 11am on a weekday not in the school holidays, Juliet's house was crawling with people. Again, entry to both the house and tomb was very reasonable and it was such a novelty to have a look around and stand on 'Juliet's balcony'. Legend has it that if you touch the statue of Juliet's right breast it will bring you luck in love and all the tourists were crowding around it to get a photo touching her breast! The tomb wasn't as busy as the house which was nice and also had its own museum containing some beautiful works of art that I think is worth having a look at. 

In my opinion, the best way to get to know cities like Verona and Venice, however, is to just have a wander around and to see what you stumble upon. It's the way to get a true feel for whatever city you're visiting and can lead you to find things you never would have had you not explored on your own. A case in point of this, is our finding the most amazing and cheap bakery, just on a street on the walk from the hotel into Verona's centre. Boscaini sells all kinds of delicious foods, from pastries (their apple strudels are to *die* for) to pizza, to plates of food for lunch such as breaded chicken, potatoes and roasted vegetables. The lady who ran the shop was so lovely, explaining how absolutely everything in the shop was made by them freshly every day and Mum and I honestly couldn't believe how cheap it was considering the quality. 

Verona is a beautiful city, there's no doubt abut it. And I have to say that I think May is a great time to visit, especially since the weather is just warming up but not too hot (it was around 25 degrees celsius at the time) and, while there were huge numbers of tourists, I imagine there must be many more by the time the school holidays come around. It's definitely worth visiting in my opinion, especially as it has such good transport connections. It was so easy to get the train to Venice, as I'll be back to tell you about tomorrow, and I know that Lake Garda is nearby which I would have loved to have visited had we had more time. One thing I will say is that you don't need more than a few days there - it's ideal for a mini-break, but the city isn't giant and you can explore the majority of it in just a few days so staying for a few nights is what I'd suggest. The hotel we stayed in was lovely, the food was incredible, and once again, an Italian city stole my heart! 

I hope this post was helpful and I'll be back tomorrow with Part ii of my write up of my trip to Italy - telling you all about our day in Venice!
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