Italy

The pros and cons of a spontaneous trip... and other things to do in Milan, Italy

Having started a new job, holiday allowance is in a much shorter supply than in my last place. Some might see that as a sign from the holiday Gods (or my bank account) to slow down on the holiday bookings... yeah, not today matey.

CLEARLY this means it is time to become one of those people that just dash off to the continent for the weekend instead, right?

A quick chat with my housemates, a Skyscanner search and an AirBnb message later, and our little trio were off to Milan. Wham bam thank-you ma'am. 

Now, I'm big on planning. I like a list, I like an itinerary; organizing is my thing. A spontaneous holiday isn't my usual kind of vibe, but, sometimes, you've gotta go with the flow.

The Duamo

The Duamo

Booking
Pros - Erm, GOING ON A FRIGGING HOLIDAY. And not one you've got to wait for two months to come around either. In less than three weeks, we would be on a plane, in a sunny foreign country with great food and a great culture. Some parts in Italy can seem a bit 'disheveled' - it is part of the charm though, and I love it - but Milan appears refined, pruned and modern throughout.

Another difference was the driving. It shocked me, as it was almost normal! If you've ever been to Rome, Naples, Amalfi, or any road in Italy for that matter, you'll know the madness that is an Italian driver. Crossing the road is usually like a dance with death, but not in Milano.  

The AirBnb was amazing too. It was very centrally located and our host was brilliant. My favourite room in a house is always a bathroom, and this one was top notch.

Cons - Booking a holiday in the same month you intend to travel does require some planning. One must remember that from one paycheck, you will need to pay for the following, at least:
- flights
- accommodation
- travel insurance
- transfers
- travel money
Yeah, I didn't take this into consideration. Whoops.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

Being a Tourist
Pros - Obviously, everyone knows about the Duomo. It is absolutely beautiful, and looks breathtaking in white against a backdrop of blue sunny sky. The architecture is so intricate. Not pre-buying tickets and going inside actually worked out better as we had some time to chill out. Sitting in a cafe across the road from the Duomo allows an incredible view of the magnificent church, the piazza and surrounding palm trees and it gives a real holiday vibe one doesn't often get from a city break. 

Weirdly, we also visited a graveyard. The City of the Dead, which isn't in the centre of Milan, was eerie but incredibly cool. The graves are crafted statues that tell a story and go on for miles (okay, that's an exaggeration, but it is huge) and the church in the middle is very picturesque. It kind of feels a European version of the big temple in Brighton.

Not planning an itinerary had other pros too, as it allowed us to get lost and immersed in the city, We wouldn't have planned to see the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, filled with expensive designer shops, as it was definitely out of our price range. However, had we not wandered through after leaving the Duomo, we would have missed the incredibility ornate architecture of the building and amazingly artistic window displays. Being welcomed into a locked shop that sells products each worth thousands and thousands euros made me ambitious for that kind of lifestyle.

TOP TIP: Citymapper is a spontaneous traveler's best friend. We were able to get from place to place easily and quickly thanks to the routes on the app (and thanks to my flatmates actually have internet, unlike my phone!)
 
Cons - There were some downfalls to the lack of planning of this trip. When traveling, I don't like to miss out on seeing any notable sights of that country and, unfortunately, I had to do so with the original Leonardo Di Vinci's Last Supper painting. We went to the church and museum, but all slots were full for TWO WEEKS. We learned it is best to book online. Instead, we ate gelato at a little cafe that had a Last Supper print under the tele. Cute.

The spontaneity of the trip also resulted in some extra walking (and missing out on drinking!) in the evenings. As we hadn't fully planned bars to visit, we ended up bar hopping a lot on the Saturday night...without the bars. Google even led us to a club that had been turned into flats. Grr.

City of the Dead

City of the Dead

Food
There are actually no cons. what. so. ever. We drank at warm cafe bars by the canal, by the Duomo, in the sun, and ate the tastiest pizza and pasta. The herbs in Italy make the simplest dishes incredible. 

After eating a particularly tasty serving of pasta, we spotted an ice cream store that had a 15 minute long queue. What do you do when you see one of those? Join it, of course! The ice-cream combos were completely worth it and we indulged as we shuffle-jogged to the train station and hot footed it to the airport. 

Travel Buddies
For someone like me who likes to plan plan plan, being completely spontaneous can be a tad stressful. I am prone to still trying to have a little plan, I cannae help myself. Thankfully, I had great travel buddies - my housemates - so it was probably the least stressful trip I've been on in a while. Despite the stupid plane delays and mad dash through Gatwick Airport at 1:15 in the morning when we got home. We had great laughs, starting with the Girl on the Train (a very chatty, friendly and kind of crazy lady who we sat next to on the way to the airport) and it lasted throughout. And, obvs, we had an unspoken bathroom schedule that could rival Big Bang's Sheldon. 

What to do when it rains on holiday... and other things to do in Verona, Italy

Chances are your first dalliance with Verona was in a Year 7 English class as your poor teacher (probs literally, #teachersalary) tried desperately to take control of the classroom.

Fast forward a decade or so and, Sod's law, the one day that I'm gracing fair Verona, the weather is anything but "fair". I don't remember Shakespeare mentioning grey skies and rain drops in that Romeo and Juliet prologue...   

However, if you are in a city for a day, rain or shine, you've gotta make the most of it.

Hop on, hop off
My favourite way to see a new city is by sightseeing bus. Tickets are great value for money and, if the weather isn't top notch, you can see the sights while staying dry. The Verona tour gives an in depth explanation of the Old Town and New Town, and even takes you up into the hills, so you can gaze over a breathtaking view of the city below. Beautiful! 
 
Stuff yo' face
There's nothing more warm and satisfying than a full stomach. Just as you pass into the Old Town, a few 100 meters from the wall, there is a large piazza with many places to fill your boots. Gnocchi, pizza, pasta, all infused with the most delicious herbs... YUM. Each eatery has those clear plastic roofs, so you can eat outside for a proper holiday feel. 

Mooch around the New Town shops
I'm not a huge advocate of shopping on holiday (unless it's one of those shopping destinations that make those 'top things to see' lists!) as it's something you can already do at home. However, killing a few rainy hours in Italian stores ensure you stay dry, and you may even bag a one-off item that no one else at home has.

Juliet's balcony

Juliet's balcony

Day trips
Obvs, this won't work if you're actually already ON a day trip to Verona.

If you're in the city for a few days, grab a train to another destination for the day. Verona is just a train ride away from only other Italian cities and other countries too. No pre-bought tickets needed, just buy one on the day! Head to Venice, just an hour away, or grab your passport and head to Innsbruck, Austria, via a 3 and a 1/2 half hour ride. Ohmagawdddd, both are AMAZING to see. From water, to mountains, you'll see natural beauty at its finest. 

Take a leaf out of Big Willy's book
Nothing ever ran smoothly in Shakespeare's plays, did they? Embrace the weather and mad frizz that is BOUND to come with it. The arena is great to walk around by day, but for an incredible experience, try and catch an opera there by night. "I'm not a silver-spooned toff who watches operas!", I hear you cry, but trust me, it will be showstopping (hopefully not literally, due to rain).

Visit Juliet's balcony, which is in a courtyard, just off a picturesque main street. You can play at being the star-crossed lover, looking down at her Romeo below, and it's also said to be good luck to rub the boob of the statue in the courtyard. Judging by how shiny that area of the statue is, 'Meh Julie' has been getting a lot of action. There is a similar version in Prague with a male statue. Three guesses what you're meant to rub there...

The Juliet statue

The Juliet statue

Overall, I would say Verona feels very similar to the UK city of Bath.  Except, you know, with Italians and really tasty food. I would recommend a visit, but ideally as part of a larger trip; not as a stand alone destination. Soz, Bill...

How to avoid cheese in Italy... and other things to do in Rome, Italy

No, I don't like it in sauce; no, I don't like it on pizza; no, I don't like it in cakes. Yes, I'm aware there are different types of cheese; yes, I have tried some recently. We good?

People seem unable to believe that I detest the taste of cheese. They proceed to reel off a list of every. single. possible. way. to cook cheese, just to triple check.

What I do love, however, is the city of Rome, which just so happens to be situated in a country famous for majorly cheesing up their dishes.

Here is a little guide to eating cheese-free in this incredible city if you, like me, are a cheese-o-phobe, or if you're just cutting down on the smelly blocks from hell. 

Pizza 
I'm not sure I can trust people who don't know how to season food properly. A dash of salt and pepper will never cut it; if I wanted bland, I'd grab a jar of baby food. But boyyyy, do the Italian's know how to season their food. The Marinara, a simple tomato and garlic pizza, engulfs the taste buds in just one bite. The herbs are mouthwateringly delicious. Watch out for the places that pop anchovies on top though, it's super weird. 

We frequented a small pizzeria near where we stayed, close to the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore. Santa Maria Maggiore has a sightseeing bus stop outside and we used it to get around the city. GENIUS, I TELL YOU. After buying a 48-hour pass, we could get to all the sights and back to our hotel, too. We didn't once step foot on public transport until our last day, in order to get to the airport.

The Colosseum

The Colosseum

Mussels (and other seafood) 
Italy may be famous for its pizza and pasta, but their seafood tastes pretty damn good too. I'd recommend fresh mussels, but I know that's not everyone's bag.

After we filled our gills (lol), we soldiered through our marathon sightseeing day with high energy. We started at the Colosseum (more below), and then jumped back on the sightseeing bus, headed for the Trevi Fountain. I'd wanted to see the fountain for absolute ages and, thankfully, I got to see it and make my wish before the restoration started. 

From the Trevi Fountain, you can walk to the Spanish Steps, via the Pantheon. All breathtaking architecture that you MUST see when you visit Rome. I still had pizza left over so snacked, post-dinner, while sat on the Spanish Steps.

Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps

Get your caffeine hit
Okay, so the weirdest thing about Rome is how casual they are about their amazing history. I mean, the Colosseum is literally in the middle of a roundabout. People casually just on their way to work, driving (and crashing - they be cray, these Roman drivers) around the world-famous Colosseum. Probably cursing about how hard it is to pull off, back onto the main road, like us normal folk.

After you've headed in, looked around and been transported back to the battle times past, grab a coffee at a nearby cafe. Choose one a few hundred meters away from the Colosseum itself, so you can look out onto the bit of history you've just got to touch. The coffee will slide down your throat and hit you like no other cuppa before. Your history class never made you feel so alive!

Gelato
The gelato in Rome is to die for. I'm talking MELT IN YOUR MOUTH, like butter in a hot pan. Like Michael Buble's voice. Like warm pee in the snow. Like your landlord trying to get out of fixing your boiler. Like... basically, smooth AF. 

Grab a cone in the famous square, Piazza Navona, and lap up your surroundings. Selfie in front of the fountain and try not to think about that scene in Angels and Demons where the priest is nearly drowned in said fountain. There's no Tom Hanks here and the gelato isn't literally to die for - I just mean it's frigging fantastic. 

Last, but not least, pasta!
Head down to Vatican City early on a Sunday, or Wednesday, to watch the Pope's address. Even for those less religious, there's something tranquil about hearing the Pope speak in the holy city. In addition, it's free and it's outdoors, so you can top up your tan while getting blessed.  

After the crowds disband, head on into the museums. I promise you, you will never see such incredible art elsewhere. The views ain't that bad, either... My mum says she gets super tired at the end of a day like this, because her brain can't comprehend the beauty she's seen. This is 100% one of those kinds of places. The museums are set upon beautiful grounds and the art throughout the 2 hour walk are beyond belief. Even the ceilings are intricately designed with gold and paint! I will say though, the famous painting in the Sistine Chapel is a little smaller than anticipated (a feeling I'm sure a few of you can relate to...lolololol); the rest of the museum has pieces just as great, if not better. This didn't stop us kneeling down, ever so slyly, and taking a photo though - whoops!

We ate pasta in the Vatican Museum's canteen. Yes, even without the waiter-grated cheese on top, it tasted bloody marvelous. Rich and filling, you know that spag bol sauce definitely did not come out of a jar, so say yes to the bread bowl and mop up the last of that tasty sauce.

Painting inside the Vatican Museums

Painting inside the Vatican Museums

Rome is the first Italian city I visited and will always hold a special place in my heart. The vias are charming and it is a city full of culture. You'll fall in love, faster than the speeding cars on their streets.