TRAVEL BY NUMBERS

Blog, Travel, Uncategorized

Here’s my one month trip around Europe summarised into numbers:

Days: 29

Countries: 10

Cities: 13

Trains caught: 21

Trains missed: 1

Steps walked: 409,271

Miles walked: 63.47

Books read: 5

Pictures taken: 3,943

Time on trains: 70hrs 8mins (2.9 days)

Novel ideas thought of: 

Poems written: 11 

Pizzas eaten: 12

Wallets lost: 1

Wallets found: 1 (thank God)

Series of ‘The Walking Dead’ watched: 3

Men seen shitting in the street: 1

Men seen pissing in the street: 5

Men seen talking to pigeons: 1

 

 

 

FINITO! – TRAVELLING DAY #24/5

Blog, Travel, Uncategorized

After a couple of nights in Florence without any sleep, we were so tired yesterday morning that we sunk regretfully into our beds until 13:00PM, yet without this monstrous rest we would have been unable to enjoy the day.

Our first stop was a 2 mile walk to “The National Roman Museum” ; it’s just outside the main train station so if you have some changeovers in Rome with an hour or two to spare, you could easily pop over the road to this cheap and interesting museum! There are three floors of frescoes, statues, mosaics, and sculpture, and it’s only EUR 3.50 for the entrance fee! I actually saw two exhibits here that are my favourite pieces of the whole trip; the first is entitled ‘The Boxer’, a statue of exceptional quality depicting a post-fight boxer resting his battered body. Sitting with his legs apart, his hands are clasped together and still in gloves, and the way in which he is positioned draws the viewer’s gaze to his face. He concentrates with intensity from empty eye sockets, his cheeks and eyebrows covered in blood, bruises, and scars. It reeks of the brutality of combat and is really a sight to see.

The second, and best, exhibit that I will mention is “The Portonaccio Sarcophagus”. Found in 1932, the piece shows the progress of Roman horsemen as they annihilate those in their path; in a collage of soldiers, spears and devastating blows, the sculpture seems to leap from its bounds and re-enact each swing of the sword, stab of the spearhead, and crush of the fist as if it’s happening before your eyes. It’s absolutely incredible, and will definitely be remembered for years to come as a highlight of the trip.

Next, we trotted off to the “Capuchin Crypt” . Now, this place has no end of regulations that I’ll list so you don’t get caught out like the woman in front of us: no camera, no phones, no bare shoulders, no shorts, no smoking, no food, no drink. Who says the Church isn’t fun, right? Anyway, after paying EUR 8.50, we walked through the small museum rooms depicting monk’s clothing, religious artwork, and other interesting exhibits relating to their lives. We, however, were there for more macabre reasons, and swiftly made our way to the crypt itself. When the monks arrived at this church in the early 1600s, they trucked 300 cartloads of deceased friars with them, and packed some 3,700 skeletal remains into arrangements contained within the burial crypt. It’s really, really fucking weird.

Apparently, according to the Church, it isn’t macabre but rather an uplifting demonstration of the passage between life and death. For the monks, who lived lives of poverty waiting to earn their reward of being with Christ, that may have been so, but don’t ask me to walk into a dark room of decorated skulls, pelvic bones, and all sorts of deathly imagery and expect it to raise me up into some ecstatic state of freedom. It’s definitely worth visiting, as I suppose everyone will respond in different ways, but I found it a tiny bit unsettling, a tiny bit amusing (I have no idea why), and extremely interesting nonetheless. In the final crypt a sign, in five languages, declares: “What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be…” Spooky.

After a little stroll about the place, we wanted some dinner and a good night out, finding both at “The Meeting Place”. This is one of my favourite night spots and was rammed with students dressed up for a fun night of drinks and food; their menu of cocktails, beers, and wines is given to you as a newspaper, and after ordering two glasses of Old Fashioned, we paid our EUR 10 each to access the buffet and cracked on with dinner. Forget the image of lukewarm shitty food in dirty bowls, this buffet was amazing; one corner held a sushi chef creating eleven different types of sushi and sashimi, which all tasted divine, and led to a bar top counter with paella, fresh pizzas, cold wheat salads, cold rice salads, pastries, and pasta. Everything was of amazing quality and prepared on the spot, and after a few runs we were stuffed.

After a couple of hours, there was barely room to move. The students had descended in their hoards and turned the spot into a vibrant space of conversation, drinks, and good music; if you want a few cocktails in a brilliant environment, then I’d definitely recommend going. Cocktails are about EUR. 8 each, and there’s even a room selling cigarettes in there if that’s something you’d need.

Today, I woke up to find out my dog had died, so wasn’t feeling too adventurous. As luck would have it, Jacob was also feeling pretty tired, so we’ve sauntered around in the sun, read our books, and had a bit of decent grub, ready for the two days of 12 hour trains that begin tomorrow, and will result in us being home.

It’s been an amazing month, it really has, and I’ll be posting some summaries and reflections as soon as I can. You guys have helped us find some incredible nights out, fantastic restaurants, and enjoyable day trips, so I can’t thank you enough. Special homage paid to Rebecca as she’s travelled near enough everywhere and is a walking encyclopaedia when it comes to this stuff. Check out her blog!

Ciao! 

Fred x 

ROME-ING AROUND – TRAVELLING DAY #23

Blog, Travel, Uncategorized

The train to Rome was short and sweet, leaving us a near full day to see some sights. We then made a rather poor decision to dump our bags in the hotel and set off to see the “Colosseum” just as the sun was reaching its hottest. 

After three miles of walking through the heat, the 48m high colossal goliath of the colosseum walls had come into view, and it somehow made it worth the trek. Situated just east of the “Roman Forum”, this incredible feat of architecture dates back to an astounding AD 80 under the rule of Emperor Titus. At full capacity, it could seat up to 80,000 spectators eager to see some blood spilled upon the central stage. Aside from gladiatorial contests, there were also dramatic plays, mock sea-battles, and executions, so it provided a violent yet varied set of activities for those wanting to be entertained. 

We paid the discount price of EUR 7.50 (as we are under 25 years of age and EU citizens) for tickets, and although told by every single guided tour representative we would have to queue for 45 minutes, we were through in about 5. There are three floors open to the public, and you can see everything right down to initial foundations. It’s a surprisingly cheap and entertaining little visit.

Just outside is the “Arch of Constantine”, which is yet another example of the wealth and genius the Romans had at their disposal. Erected in 312 AD, it’s the largest Roman triumphal arch and commemorates’s victory over Maxentious; it’s situated on a road called “Via Triumphalis”, which is the route the emperors took when returning from a victorious campaign. Standing at 21m high and 25m wide, it literally cannot be missed, and coupled with the colosseum at its side, the two certainly make you appreciate that Roman’s were the masters of their craft.

With the same ticket, you can also enter “The Temple of Venus and Rome” which is a short stroll away, the “Foro Romano”, and the “Domus Aurea”. It really is worth it to spend at least half a day here as there’s so much to take in, and don’t do what we did and go when it’s hottest, as you will swiftly suffer.

After regaining some energy in the cool of the hotel room, we headed out for some dinner, choosing the nearby “Senba” Japanese restaurant. They have a really good menu of sushi, rice dishes, teriyaki, and tempura, all of which are some of my favourite dishes; they provide you with a small pen and piece of paper which you write your chosen food upon, and it’s EUR 19.99 a head for all you can eat. We tasted: Chicken Katsu, Ebi Tempura, Tora Kara Age, Teriyaki Skewers, Teriyaki Sushi, and Spring Rolls. Everything we ordered tasted wonderful, and with a EUR 15 bottle of white, it came to EUR 50 for the both of us.

There’s a strike tomorrow for all metro and bus workers, so we will try and find something near the hotel to occupy ourselves with, and failing that I think we’re going to try and find the catacombs. Either way, I’ll be sure to wear my hat this time so I don’t feel like climbing into a freezer by lunch.

Ciao!

Fred x

PHOTOS OF THE DAY – HERE 

 

FLORENCE SUMMARY/HOTEL REVIEW 

Blog, Travel

Florence – Our See, Eat, Visit Shortlist

See – 

  • The architectural splendour of the Duomo
  • The historical Ponte Vecchio

Eat – 

  • The best steak in Florence at Braciere Malatesta
  • A ‘pizza wrap’ for lunch with a view of the Duomo at “Caffe Giotto”
  • Some snacks from one of the many food stalls at the “San Lorenzo Market”

Visit –

  • The iconic “San Lorenzo Market” for leather goods, food, and other assorted wares.
  • The Galleria dell’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David and other fantastic works.
  • The Da Vinci Museum to explore the mind, and works, of an absolute genius. 

Hotel Review – Hotel Sempione

We had one of the best days of the entire trip in Florence, but some of the worst nights sleep. The hotel has a lot of faults, yet I still maintain that it’s fine for those looking for a couple nights crash like we did. Under no circumstances, however, should you book this for a family or anyone expecting comfort – it’s nice enough, but nowhere near the level of others we’ve experienced. Here’s the lowdown on the room:

Rates – we got this much, much cheaper due to booking way in advance, but a twin room tonight would be EUR 150.

Beds – tiny, uncomfortable, and with pillows so shit I’d have preferred to use rock. 

Shower/Bathroom – the bathroom itself was actually quite good, although very small, yet the shower was about as effective as a dying man spitting on you from across the street. 

Storage – There was one giant wardrobe and a couple of drawers; this wardrobe was the cause of the room being so cramped, and I think they need to rethink their storage solutions.

A/C – effective, but extremely loud. I’d rather have a leaf blower.

WiFi – horrendous, so it’s not very useful for those needed to keep on top of business or submit anything online.

Notes – the room was cramped, yet still wasn’t as bad as our experience in Paris. It had a mini-fridge, was kept clean, and has sky on the television for those interested. 

Staff – absolutely amazing. They were one of two highlights of the hotel, and were some of the friendliest people we’ve encountered. They’re also the reason I’d ever consider staying there again.

Food – not tested but breakfast is included.

Location – other than the brilliant staff, the location is the only other fantastic element of Sempione. It’s literally a two minute stroll to the Duomo, and a short walk to the Ponte Vecchio, Museums, and San Lorenzo Market. It’s one block down from the train station, so for interrailing it’s great, but be warned the streets around are busy from dawn till dusk.

To conclude, Hotel Sempione wasn’t the best hotel we’ve stayed in, but it certainly wasn’t the worst. The friendly staff make you feel extremely welcome, and the location is unbelievable; if the room wasn’t as cramped and the beds weren’t as shit as they were, I’d give this place a higher score, but for now we’ve decided upon a 3*/5*.

FLORENCE TRAVEL BLOG – HERE

FLORENCE PHOTOS – HERE 

THE BEST DAY OF THE TRIP – TRAVELLING DAY #22

Blog, Travel, Uncategorized

After waking up and participating in our new favourite past time of looking out the window to see if anyone gets run over (driving in Florence looks a bit scary), we set off for a spot of brunch and to visit the “Galleria dell’Accamedia”. We didn’t research anywhere to eat, but wanted to spend our last day in the city as near to the Duomo as possible; after a brief recon mission of the local cafés, we chose “Caffe Giotto” and sat right outside the church!

Although extremely busy, the food was fantastic; we both ordered wraps (at a very reasonable EUR. 5 each), but didn’t realise just how good they were going to be. Whoever decided to make a wrap out of pizza dough should win a Nobel prize or something. I had the ‘pollo e salsa’ and would recommend you do the same. 

Just next door is the “Galleria dell’Accamedia”, which boasts the honour of exhibiting the works of Michelangelo, Giambologna, Pampaloni, and Bartolini, amongst other artists of legendary status. The queue was tiny compared to what it could have been, and after a fifteen minute wait we managed to get our tickets and get in (it’s only EUR. 4 for students). The first room holds the incredible “Rape of the Sabines” by Giambologna, a giant statue dating from 1582, depicting three figures in a serpentine fashion. One man towers as victor over a defeated and cowering adversary, whilst holding a nude woman up in celebration. The entire piece was crafted from a single piece of marble, and I was totally blown away.

I won’t spew about the other work there (as it would make this post horrendously long and boring for those not interested in sculpture), but I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t tell you guys that MICHELANGELO’S DAVID IS THERE. For those of you that don’t know, David is considered to be one of, if not the, greatest example of Renaissance sculpture. In the words of Giorgio Vasari: “When all was finished, it cannot be denied that this work has carried off the palm from all other statues, modern or ancient, Greek or Latin; no other artwork is equal to it in any respect, with such just proportion, beauty and excellence did Michelagnolo finish it”.

It’s 14ft tall, was completed in 1504, and represents the Biblical figure of David. Towering above the tourists, it took a 26 year old Michelangelo (who was already the highest paid artist of his time) two years of constant work to craft this masterpiece; instead of following suit and sculpting David in battle, he chose to show him in a contrapposto pose, relaxed yet alert, calm yet tense. The detail is incredible; every vein on his hand and arm gleams through, and every muscle is defined as if you’re looking at a real life adonis. Breathtaking. 

After taking about 800 photos of the piece and wishing that my Grandmother was still alive so I could ring her and tell her all about it (Italy was her favourite place on Earth, and her lively passion for art and literature was a tremendous part of my childhood), we decided that it would be a good time to visit “San Lorenzo Market”, the iconic market of Florence. There’s a plethora of wares sold here, but the leather is what we had gone for. After a lot of research and about 20 shops, Jacob and I walked away with new jackets; mine is the nicest piece of clothing I’ve ever owned: it’s a fitted leather bomber made from 100% lamb skin, hand tanned and hand coloured in Florence. I am a very, very happy boy. 

Feeling chuffed, we went to get another fix of genius at the “Da Vinci Museum” . It was EUR 12 for both of us to enter, and although very small, it’s a really interesting visit. You don’t quite realise the breadth of his work and the sheer brilliance of his mind until faced with full scale replicas inside that room; there’s machines for everything. I don’t know if he even had time to sleep or visit the toilet; from ball bearings, cog wheels, flywheels and the world’s first robot, to flying bikes, tanks, mortars, the Mona Lisa, there’s literally nothing this man couldn’t do. He even made a Hygrometer, which measured atmospheric conditions using only wool and wax. 

After a brief rest at the hotel, we recharged and set off for the only ‘fancy’ (expensive) meal of the trip, and were excited at the promise of Florence’s best steak. “Braciere Malatesta” is no ordinary restaurant; it’s sleek, modern, retains an air of Tuscan tradition, has a meat counter and a chef with the butchering skills of Edward Scissorhands on crystal meth, and has a fucking tree growing in the middle of the room (no, that’s not an exaggeration). Taking your girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife/family/self for the meal of a lifetime? Go here.

The menu is quite frankly ridiculous. If you left me your credit card and a full week, I’d come out obese and happier than anyone you’ve ever met; they have wood-fired pizzas, pasta made fresh every service, and fish/meat dishes to make even the fussiest eaters without anything to complain of. Jacob and I opt for “Le Polpettine Street” to start, which is essentially the single best meatball dish that exits upon the soil of this Earth. For EUR. 10 each, we got a huge bag of crispy fried meatballs packed with soft and flavourful pork, and three homemade dips of Florentine pesto (my favourite thing), a spicy tomato salsa, and vampire killing garlic mayonnaise. It was absolute perfection. 

The waiter recommended a bottle of ‘Diaccio’ wine for EUR. 17, and we listened. It was the perfect accompaniment to our meal (although he jokingly hated us for not wanting red), and has been added to my collection of things to try and buy in England. Okay, now it’s time to talk about steak.

I thought, prior to this culinary adventure, that I had eaten a good steak. I’d even gone to the butchers myself before and picked out a good’un, but, my friends, I had not eaten steak. I had eaten lies. Braciere Malatesta serves steak. There are four different types on offer, all T-Bone, and all worth their weight in gold. We, out of budget reasons, had to opt for the EUR. 47 a kilo “Fiorentina Lombata Scottona”, the original Florentine cut. I was genuinely almost nervous when the waiter arrived with a knife the size of a machete and handed it to me as if he was crowning me a knight, and when that 1.3KG slab of heaven was plopped down upon the table cloth, I could have cried with happiness. I even rang my friend Joe, the biggest meat lover I know, as I had to tell someone about it.

It was, fellow bloggers and esteemed guests, hands down, without a shadow of a doubt, the best fucking thing that I’ve ever, ever, eaten. We ate in silence. In awe. In confusion as to what God had sprung up from the depths of Tuscany to grace us with this dish. The meat, bloody and rare, was so tender I literally pulled it apart with my hands. The depth of flavour was unfathomable; marbled fat fed each inch of glistening pink meat a well of never-ending smoky goodness, and with the addition of fresh herbs and careful seasoning, I don’t think I’ll ever eat something so glorious again.

The bill was EUR. 120 for both of us. Judge us if you will, but it’s the best 60 quid I’ve spent in my life.

I’m going to sleep now and dream of beef. Rome waits for us tomorrow, so if you know of any secret sights or treasured restaurants, please comment them below.

Ciao!

Fred x

PHOTOS FROM TODAY – HERE

PACKED STREETS AND CHICKEN FEET – TRAVELLING DAY #21

Blog, Travel, Uncategorized

I was actually quite sad to get the train from Venice to Florence; it’s such a shame that we only spent one full day there, and it’s the first place I’ve actually felt a genuine connection with. It does mean, however, that I know where I want to return to in the future, and I can’t wait to further explore there for a good few nights!

After dropping our bags off at the hotel, we found out that we couldn’t check in for a couple of hours as the room wasn’t ready; this was actually relatively good news, as it meant we could investigate the sights we needed to put on our list for tomorrow. Heading towards the “Duomo”, or for those wanting full names, the “Cathedral of St Mary of the Flower”, we wrangled our way through the busiest streets encountered so far, and went to gawp at one of the biggest churches in Italy. It dates back a staggering 581 years, and Jacob and I found it hard to believe they managed to construct such a feat of engineering without the technology available in modern society; the striking exterior is made of polychrome marble panels coloured in green, pink and white, reaching up to the highest point of 114m. It really is a sight to behold.

Just a short walk away is the “Palazzo Vecchio”, the town hall of Florence. There were so many tourists here that we were crammed in like sardines, and chose not to queue in the growing heat as we would have been there for hours. It’s also not very wise to spend too much time in such crowded areas as pickpockets are rife, so I snapped a few photos of the replica of Michelangelo’s David (the original stood here yet was moved to the “Accademia Gallery”) and the impressive marble frontispiece before going to the “Ponte Vecchio”, which is my girlfriend’s favourite place.

It is an incredibly unusual sight; crossing over the Arno river, this medieval bridge still retains the old Italian tradition of having shops built upon it’s path, and although once occupied by butchers (which would have been preferred for today’s budget), there are now around twenty jewellery, antiques, and souvenir shops. Interestingly enough, this is where the term “bankrupt” stems from: when a money-changer could no longer pay his debts, the table which he sold his stock from (called a “banco”) would be broken in two by soldiers (“rotto”). Not having a table to sell from anymore, the merchant would be penniless. 

Hunger struck, so we ducked into the nearby “Ristorante a Borghetto”. We didn’t expect much due to the touristy areas usually serving crappy food, but this was surprisingly good. We ordered some bruschetta to start, and whilst Jacob was up for having yet another pizza, I diverged to carbonara, my favourite pasta dish. Although this definitely wasn’t the best I’ve eaten, it wasn’t unpleasant, and we spent an hour or two relaxing with our drinks. The bill for four drinks, a starter and two mains came to EUR. 37.50. 

I’d finished my book on the train over to Florence, so it was lucky that we passed by a decent bookstore in the form of “La Feltrinelli Librerie”. It stocks a fair number of authors in English, ranging from fantasy to all-time classics, so there’s something there for everyone. Jacob purchased “A Game of Thrones”, and I got “Catch-22” and “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”. It was time to head back and recoup some energy, so I spent the next few hours reading/slipping into a coma.

Right. Chicken feet. I am aware they are a delicacy, or at least considered so, in the Eastern side of this world, yet I never thought I’d end up trying them in Italy. Jacob and I had thought a restaurant called “Ina”, which promised asian fusion dishes in abundance, looked good, so we popped in and tried to order. The problem was, every dish that we selected was reportedly out of stock, so out of desperation we pointed to some random thing that said “Chicken leg” and thought nothing of it. Next thing we know, we’re staring into a bamboo cage of boiled chicken legs, with the waiter standing nearby. I made eye contact with Jacob as if to say “I am so very sorry for my mistake” as I picked one up, grimacing at the texture being exactly that of a condom. I cannot tell you how foul it tasted. They laughed at us quite a lot.

Running next door out of equal parts disgust and embarrassment, we went into “Capitale Della Cina”, a Chinese restaurant that had good reviews online. At this point we were starving, so without even looking properly we selected a load of random things, and within minutes they were there (sesame chicken, sweet and sour pork, chicken noodles, and prawn toast). The chicken was footless, which is all I cared about. On a serious note, the prawn toast had a one inch thick layer of prawn on there and were the highlight of the meal, so if you fancy some asian food I’d recommend going there. The whole meal was ginormous and cost EUR. 30 for the both of us, which is a price I’m willing to pay to forget all about the previous incident.

Tomorrow, amongst other things, we’re going to try “the best steak in Florence”, so I’m preparing myself for something spectacular. It’s been a fun afternoon, but it’s just not quite Venice. 

Ciao!

Fred x

PHOTOS FROM TODAY – HERE