Europe

How to day trip to Europe... and other things to do in Brussels, Belgium

"I'm off to Europe for the weekend, dahhhling" sounds like something the Kim Ks of the world would say, right? But what if I said you could one up that with a day trip AND you could do the whole thing for less than £150? Yep, it is totally doable; all you need is a passport and a well-timed Eurostar sale and you're away.

Train travel lends itself more easily to day trips than flights do, and with the Eurostar, you've got direct trains to various locations across France, the Netherlands, and Belgium (and even more options if you’re happy to change). Eurostar often has sales where tickets are far cheaper than heading up north; I took advantage of this and opted for Brussels, as I had not yet been to Belgium.

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Going to a new city for the day may seem quick, but you can pack a lot in without rushing - and you get all the fun of travel without the cost of a hotel or hassle of living out of a suitcase. Here's how to make the most of a day in Brussels (or elsewhere on the continent):

Choose your dates wisely

You'll be governed by the dates of the cheap tickets, but the earlier you book, the better choice you have; we were able to get the first train out and the last train in on a Saturday (which is just as well as my annual leave is spread pretty thin already…) We had such good experiences at both terminals: the staff at the Pret in the morning were super friendly and one even let me off the extra change for my water, so I didn't have to break a larger note, while the one in Brussels in the evening had pedal bikes to charge your phone and a football table to while away the waiting time.

Had we been less impulsive, we would have probably chosen a Saturday later on in the year; Brussels abounds with beautiful parks, such as Jubilee Park, Brussels Park and Elizabeth Park, and it would have been lovely to chill out with a picnic of sweet waffles, salty frites and beer in the warmer weather at one - or all - of them. However, no amount of on-off rain will hinder a Brit, no matter the time of year.

What to pack

I am guilty of pretty much always over packing for my trips, prepared for all manner events that are unlikely to happen, but going for a day trip means just picking up a (small) backpack or handbag and heading out. Apart from the weather-appropriate gear, such as an umbrella, scarf and gloves, all you need is:

- Passport

- Eurostar tickets

- Money

- Oyster (or travel) card (for getting to and from Kings Cross in London)

- Headphones

- Lipstick (totes essential for me)

Getting around

It's so easy to get from Brussels Midi to the central station: there's a four-minute train or you can hop on the metro (via the ticket machine that has an English option and directions on how to navigate the interface above the screen) for a few stops to De Broukeer, and either change or walk for 10 minutes.

Those who have read my previous travel guide posts will know that I love a city sightseeing bus, and when you're doing a day trip they're an absolute no-brainer. For £20-something (it varies city to city for a 24-hour ticket), you can see the city's top landmarks on a whistle-stop tour, hopping off at the ones you wanna see a little closer, without having to faff about with public transport. All the while, you’ll be getting information through your personal headphones. In Brussels, there are two stops at the central station, one each for different tours. This is the only point where they cross over, so make sure you're on the right one if you don't want to do both lines (which we did easily and had plenty of time for other stuff, but this may not be everyone's cup of tea).

Food and drink

Image: Emily Jenkins

Image: Emily Jenkins

You can definitely do 'top line' Brussels in a day. Of course, you can't see and do everything the art nouveau capital of the world has to offer, but you can get a real taste for the city - something we did pretty literally. The sweet smell of waffles tempts from around the corner, and not in a whimsical way: the city literally smelt sweet AF in a lot of places we visited or streets we wandered down. Our afternoon pit stop was at the Waffle Factory near Grand Place, which was teeming with tourists and locals. I opted for a Brussels waffle with dark Belgian chocolate. It was DELICIOUS and strangely light for such an indulgence.

Earlier in the day, we stopped for lunch at Le Faucon Den Valk, a cosy pub-type joint with an open fireplace. Heeding the advice of some of my colleagues, I opted for mussels (alongside a hot choco) and my flatmate had the onion soup and a beer, and we were both happy with our choices. They weren't the best mussels I've had - this goes to Oslo - but they were pretty good.

Going back to the beer for a minute, the beer scene in Brussels is highly rated and for those who even just tolerate the stuff, it is essential to try on a day trip. Now, I'm not a beer drinker myself, but my housemate is, and we ventured into Poechenellekelder, the most kitsch cool beer house ever. Atmospherically lit, from the ceilings hung puppets, musical instruments, upside down beer glasses and mannequins, with some tables made from old barrels. Each beer (and there are loads!) comes with its own uniquely styled glass - bog standard pints this ain't. However, at €4 a pop for really good local beer (according to my flatmate), standard pint prices this is. Recommended is the Brugse Zot.

What to do

Hopping on and off the city sighting bus, we saw a fair bit. The city abounds with Horta-designed buildings, much like Barcelona has a strong Gaudi influence, which are lovely to admire. We hopped off at the European Parliament, where you can take a virtual selfie in the arena at the Visitor Centre, see original pieces of the Berlin Wall (but, ya know, in Belgium) and get as close to the EU as us UK folk can probably get for a while after March...

Ascend the Atomium for a unique bird's eye view of the city, and to observe Mini Europe from above, if you don’t have time to go in, and check out the Manneken-Pis (which is exactly what it sounds like). It's smaller than it looks like in pics and sits behind a small barrier, but is still major lols.

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In the morning, and again in the evening, we stumbled across the Grand Place square with its gorgeous, gold-gilded buildings and Town Hall - they are an absolute must-see. Round off your day with a walk back to the Midi station, so you can experience the city by night, even if only for a short while. In the centre, the way the cobble-stone roads are lit with their overhanging street lights is pretty fairy-tale like, especially with the romantically, art nouveau buildings. On your way back to Brussels-Midi, you'll also pass through a more 'Hackney-esque' part of the city. Be sure to grab some frites for the walk home.

So, there you have it - a full day in Brussels! And, if you're not knackered (and live in London), you'll be back in London before your local pub closes. Shame about the beer here though, eh.

Admiring natural wonders... and other things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland

Spellbinding. Breathtaking. Epic. These grand words seem all too puny to describe the beauty of Iceland's landscapes. From the moment we disembarked the airport transfer bus in the centre of town (it’s an easy 45-minute drive, hella cheaper than getting a cab, and you catch it right outside the arrivals terminal) and walked to our Airbnb, the onslaught of snow set the tone instantly; this was going to be some sort of winter wonderland trip - and, boy, did Iceland deliver. Funnily enough though, apart from on this first evening, we had perfect weather. No snow fell in our three days, yet there was a thick, powder-soft blanket of the stuff wherever we went, sitting under clear blue skies all day long. 

From our short trip, we learned three things about Iceland and Reykjavik pretty quickly: firstly, everyone is so friendly! Regrettably, I didn't utter a word of Icelandic during my stay, as everyone speaks English, and the way they are... well, let's just say, you’ll hear a hell of a lot politer English on their streets than in London. Their laid-back attitude is probably owing to the fact that their whole country has 4% of the population that there is in our capital city alone.

The second thing we learned is that the whole country abounds with such #nofilter beauty and wonders - I genuinely think it’s the most naturally beautiful place I’ve ever been. Yes, everyone knows about the Northern Lights (more below) - and obvs I wanted to see them too - but there is so much more to discover, too.

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The third is that, while money is always a bone of contention for visitors to Iceland, the cost isn’t as crazy as you’d imagine. Yes, it is expensive, but you can minimise a complete kamikaze of your bank balance and still get to soak up the country’s spectacles. It is advised to get any alcohol at the airport due to the crazy prices and when it comes to food, you can eat in on some nights (hence the Airbnb - self catering!) There is a well-stocked 24-hour supermarket near Hallgrimskirkja where we stocked up on mixers, snacks and brekkie bits, and while it was (v roughly) about £40 for what would have been perhaps a £25 Tesco shop, we were prepared. You can swap out dishes too - a pack of bacon costs the equivalent of nearly a tenner, while Frankfurter sausages were soooo much cheaper. Also, we pre-booked all transfers and tours - and it was these tours that predominately led us to these stunning natural wonders…

Northern Lights

Okay, starting with the one most people travel to Iceland for between September and April. We used Reykjavik Excursions, one of just a few tour companies operating in the capital city. They put on a minibus service to pick you up from a predetermined bus stop or your hotel that drops you off to the actual coach, which sits at the city's main bus terminal. Saved us a 10-minute chilly walk.

On journey, the guide explained the science behind the Northern Lights, and how three things are needed for us to see them: complete darkness with no light pollution (we had to turn our backs on oncoming cars during the hunt); the ideal weather of clear skies, so we can see towards the higher altitude more easily; and mother nature to actually play nice, so they come out. Arguably, more interesting were the myths surrounding the lights in different communities and counties, for example, the Vikings thought the Northern Lights were a reflection of their shields flying across the sky when they passed over. We also learned that some believed in night trolls and night ravens coming out after dark - and to this day, 80% of Icelandic people recently surveyed said that they couldn't "rule out" the existence of elves.

Right, I'll come out and say it, and probably sound like an ungrateful typpi, but the lights themselves were a little bit... underwhelming. Sure, we got to see a naturally occurring phenomenon that people would kill to see, but on our night, to the naked eye, it was a little dull. Our tour guide explained how the camera often captures it a lot better than we can see with our eyes - it literally looked like a stagnant light grey cloud to our peepers. But, here’s how it looked to our tour guide’s camera:

Image: Lydia Geirsdóttir

Image: Lydia Geirsdóttir

However, for someone who has grown up with light polluted skies most of her life, seeing a clear sky peppered with sparkling stars, and feeling as if I was in my own personal snow globe? Yeah, that sight absolutely took my breath away. There's something magical about being under a million stars with your feet in crunchy snow, just standing in the pitch black looking at something a phone can't capture (yeah, I'm a secret hippy).

Dark mornings

From dark nights to dark mornings; it's proper weird waking up at 8.40am, 9.00am (aaaand a hell of a lot earlier on tour day) and it still being pitch black out. I'd say that's my only negative about the country, actually. It goes dark in the evenings at around 4.30pm, just like in British wintertime, but because it took so long to get bright in the first place, it feels weird. When we weren't getting up for tours, we spent the dark mornings and evenings playing cards to a 90s playlist, with the optional duty-free beverage, awaiting the sky to be lit up again, so we could see the grand Hallgrimskirkja from our window.

Hot springs

The country’s hot springs are another natural wonder that you have to immerse yourself in - literally. Laugarvatn Fontana is nestled just after the eerily foggy mountains (especially at night) of the Þingvellir National Park. Essentially, they are a series of outdoor pool-like hot tubs, but with naturally geothermic hot water, cooled down to varying temperatures (between 36 and 42 degrees) by water from a naturally freezing lake. There are natural saunas too, heated by the hot springs as well, so the temperature varies as the springs and plates underneath shift. FYI, the sulfur smell is strong in there. The Laugarvatn Fontana even serves a bread in its restaurant that has been baked by the heat of earth over 24 hours. Commitment to the cause, or what?

You may think being in -6 degrees in your swimmers is strange, as you run (but carefully cos, you know, slippery ice) towards one of the warm pools, but for proper strange, be sure to get your hair wet. ACTUAL ICICLES will form. It's so strange because you genuinely do not feel cold once you're in the water.

South Coast drive

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For a long ol' journey - but where you'll see some of the most spectacular natural landscapes of your life - driving along the South Coast is absolutely unmissable. Again, we opted for a tour, Grayline this time, so all we had to do is sit pretty, hop off and on when told, and listen to the tour guide’s knowledge and love of Justin Bieber. You'll drive past lots of little towns, including Springfield, which was actually named for the Simpsons’ Springfield, and a constant slew of otherworldly snowy mountainscapes that will honestly take. your. breath. away. It's genuinely like stepping foot into an epic action sequence you've seen in movies. It's quite a full day because hello, oh there you are, finally, daylight hours, but so so worth it.

I can't count the number of times during this day that I muttered "wow", or "it's beautiful" under my breath (or actively voiced it to my travel buddies). From watching the sunrise with streaks of candy pinks and purples against the stark white expanse to observing sheets of ice flowing down the river, I felt like I was in a live Pinterest board. For a country that's made up of a little over 10% ice, there so much more depth to the landscapes than just snow. We drove through the largest national park in Europe, passed a farm whose owner hangs bras along his fence and leaves them blowing in the wind to raise money for a breast cancer charity and stopped at Skogarfoss and Seljalandfos waterfalls and Vik's black sand beach. The town is only home to 300 people, who actually practise running up the hills in case of landslides. Standing here, and later on the breathtaking beach of Jokulsarlon Lagoon with its even blacker sand punctuated by dramatic shards of ice, it was incredible that in one 360-degree turn, I could take in sea, sand, snow, mountains and, later, a gorgeous sunset. I enjoyed some tasty chips from a fish and chip van, before I waved goodbye to that heavenly spot. Be wary when you're packing that the temperature varies hugely between your stops; it was a balmy -3 (who thought I'd ever say that unironically) in Vik and -15 at the lagoon in the wind (which, FYI, makes a beautifully ethereal layer of whispy snow atop the regular stuff).

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An actual chilled-out capital city

Coming from London, this is probably equally as shocking: Reykjavik, the most northern capital city in the world, is SO laid-back and generally quiet. They even had their Christmas lights up while we were there - end of January - because they are their "winter lights" to brighten up the dark months. We headed up to the top of Hallgrimskirkja to look out across the city, walk down to the water's edge to take photos (where my shoe got momentarily stuck in the snow, awks) and even frequented the largest penis museum in the world... yup. Laugavegur, the main shopping street, is no claustrophobic, maddening Oxford Street, that's for sure. We stopped at Svarta Kaffid, a traditional eatery serving soup and beer, the former in a bread bowl where they "close when the soup runs out or between 9 and 10" and the soup is a surprise when you return the next day. We also visited a highly recommended bakery during our stay, Braud & Co, and on our last day, checked out a lauded hot dog stand (yes, an actual stand is lauded) that had the perfect crispy onions.

We went to this pub called Bastard on our last day with a really cool aesthetic and a bathroom I could have spent a few hours in as comedy sketches played on loop; an Irish coffee was the equivalent of about £11, which compared to London prices, isn’t actually terrible.

One thing that did surprise me, not just in the city but out in the Icelandic countryside with the Icelandic horses, is the 4G coverage. My Instagram posting was shameless because it could be... but I strongly recommend switching your phone to aeroplane mode during the day and just enjoying the surroundings.

Treating yourself when travelling… and other things to do in Loch Lomond, Scotland

#nomakeupselfie

#nomakeupselfie

As I begin writing this, I can hear the familiar gentle lapping of waves hitting the shore and pulling back, repeatedly. It's one of my favourite sounds. Except this time, it's not coming from the Rain Rain app, so I can drift to sleep, or a video that I took at the beach on my travels; it's the sound of Loch Lomond right outside my window. 

You know how Colin Firth goes to a lake to write while sat in a cute cabin in Love Actually? Yeah, that's me right now. But whether or not you're a writer, illustrator or working in finance, it's important to treat yourself on your solo travels. It is perpetuated far too much that to be a proper 'traveller' - solo or otherwise - you have to don a backpack, sturdy shoes, and go on relentlessly about sticking your budget. While I'm donning the first two and usually guilty of the latter, I broke the mould with this trip to the village of Luss on the west bank of Loch Lomond in Scotland - without breaking the bank too much.

Book early

The early bird always gets the worm, hence all the so-called early bird offers. I had my heart set on a particular hotel, the Lodge on Loch Lomond, from the very start of planning this trip. From its close proximity to the Loch to the brilliant reviews from previous guests, all the cheaper hotels, B&Bs and even the gorgeous waterside hostel didn't compare (though the latter was a close second, but had no availability - see, gotta get in quick!) I booked around eight weeks in advance and got discounted rates, as well as breakfast included, and I was able to specify that I wanted a loch-facing room. Don't get me wrong, it was still the most expensive room I’d stayed in for a night, but I got a good rate and, boyyyy, was it worth it - more on that later.

Train tickets are another thing that are hella cheaper when booking advance. Yes, flights might have been quicker than the five-hour ride (plus the rather scenic hour's bus ride from Glasgow to Luss), but at just over £30 each way, I couldn't go wrong. Virgin Trains are pretty good when you're lucky enough to catch the deals. If you have an unreserved ticket, get there half an hour before, so as soon as the gate is open you can bag a good seat. There are one or two reserved cabins, depending on the size of the train. I hopped on the U cabin and managed to bag a full four table to myself in a forward facing seat, next to the window. However, if I was a little smarter with it, I'd have gone with the C cabin for all this, plus all the snacks...

Choose one thing you're happy to properly splash all out on

That view… this photo doesn’t do it justice.

That view… this photo doesn’t do it justice.

For me, it was the hotel. The boujis-ass hotel with the award-winning, two AA Rosette restaurant, Molton Brown bath amenities and a location right on the water's edge. Hey, if you're going to splash out on something, it might as well be the place you'll retreat to at the end of the day (or in my case, all evening because I couldn't tear myself away from the window). With its panelled wood interiors from floor to ceiling, gorgeous water and mountain views from the large windows and the soothing soundtrack of the waves, I felt like I was on a luxury boat. 

Room service was all part of this indulgence: a two-course dinner, with prosecco - garnished with a raspberry - plus Scottish shortbread biscuits, which I'm not ashamed to say I ate in between my meal, not after, then finished off in the bath just because. Doing it for the 'gram (except I didn't cos I was #livingmybestlife in REAL life). I have never felt so happily stuffed, apart from on Christmas Day. While the deep bath was something, the bed was something more. I'm a petite gal as it is, but I've genuinely never slept in that huge a bed. I have no regrets.

Remember that some experiences are priceless...

I have never awoken to a more beautiful sight as I did in the morning (hotel windows and male suitors inclusive). I naturally woke up at around 7.15am, my body probably anticipating a day of work, and watched the sunrise over Loch Lomond from my bed. 

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Even as a writer, I don't think I can adequately put into words how content I felt for that hour or so. I did a Ross Gellar and stayed until the very last minute of my check-out, wanting to soak in every minute of this view that I could.

Other wonderfully free and freeing moments on this trip included seeing a pretty rainbow over the rolling countryside green on my train journey up, and strolling through Luss, sheep to the left of me, chocolate-box houses and mountains to the right, feeling like I was in the village off Postman Pat (the original, not the new computer-animated version, urgh).

... And get the most out of the ones that aren't

I told a lie earlier as I actually do have one regret from this trip: the hotel had some great spa facilities included in the room price that I didn't make the most of. However, breakfast I most definitely did, piling my plate high with hot Scottish breakfast goodies, including tattie scones and black pudding. I'll also only mention it one more time - promise - but I defo made the most of the view from my bedroom...

However, it's worth saying, that you shouldn't do yourself a disservice by forcing yourself to do something you don't want to do just to get your money’s worth. After all, the whole joy of solo travel is that you don't have to stick to a plan you previously committed to with someone else; you can do as you damn well please. 

Loch Lomond and Luss are also a nerve centre for a whole host of activities from water sports and cruises to hikes and wildlife excursions. While I had plans to take advantage of the activities here, in the end, I didn’t - and that’s okay! I will on my return.

Don't let anyone make you feel bad

Personally, I never drop big sums of money on the likes of clothes, shoes or bags (or anything less archetypal of a girl either - whoops, sorry PC police). Instead, trips abroad are my vice and, even then, I always make sure I have a good deal for what it is. Still, in flip mode to how people used to flash the cash, I genuinely feel there is a kind of millennial competition at times for who's the worst off in some circles. Don't fall into that. You work hard and save hard day in, day out - you can afford yourself a treat, so go ahead and do it! 

Releasing your inner child... and other things to do in Disneyland Paris, France

This year has seen a few activities ticked off my childhood bucket list. I saw the Sydney Opera House with my own eyes back in May, I am off to watch the actual Queen B - B for Britney Spears - at the end of the month and I finally spent a day at a decent outdoor pool in England like we all do on holiday (there are so many London lidos about... who knew?)

As a child, I didn't have any actual proper interest in the world of Disney. While my brother and I would watch our Alice in Wonderland video on repeat - and I would lie to my mum and say my teachers had taken me to visit the blue moorcroft during the school day - that was about it. The Lion King was emotionally stressful, Ursula was scary AF and while Aladdin had cool songs (and my fancy dress party alter-ego of Jasmine), I just liked the films. However, I soon learned young Tamsin was missing a trick when I set foot in the Happiest Place on Earth a few weekends ago. 

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A whirlwind weekend, thanks to my lack of available annual leave and other adulty constraints, I donned my Disney manicure, my two friends and my friend's 9-year-old son and headed to Paris on the Saturday, smashed pretty much everything Disneyland's main park had to offer in 14 hours on the Sunday, and commuted to work from Paris, via Lille, on the Monday morning. It was one of THE BEST weekends I'd had in ages.

We get so caught up in our day-to-day responsibilities, life admin and how good our lives supposedly look on Instagram, that sometimes we forget to have the good old fashioned fun we had in childhood. That is exactly what we did this weekend. Here's how to rediscover your inner child with a trip to Disneyland Paris...

Wake up early

I am guilty of wanting a long lay-in on the weekend; we work so damn hard in the week and live by an alarm most of the time, so why not? I still stand by this belief but, when it comes to Disneyland, channel your inner six-year-old, get up and GO! Despite a late night because of our late train being delayed, we got up at the crack of dawn (well, 7.30am) and were in the queue for the park by 9am. 

The doors opened at 9.30am and we headed straight for the shop to get our ears on. Make sure you buy your mouse ears from inside the park - after you've scanned your ticket, not just from stalls after the security checkpoint - as there is a huge range. In fact, we probably missed a trick by getting them at the shop that sold around 10 options; you'll find more and more designs throughout the different 'lands'. 

It was a good thing we got in early as, two attractions in, my friend's son had a little accident. As we exited Alice's Curious Labyrinth, he collided with a rather ill-placed pole, catching the corner. This meant a trip to the fully-functional Disney hospital (with a nice French fire warden escort) where we observed a couple in their early 40s jokingly miffed that the plaster the husband had received was not a Mickey Mouse one. It was okay though, as the wife then drew one on for him - true love, that. This is one of the things I loved about the park; grown adults, Shoreditch hipster-types, the Phil Mitchells of the world - everyone I saw had a grin from ear to ear, some singing, some bopping along, nearly ALL with some sort of Disney paraphernalia on their head, getting into the Disney spirit.  

Be willing to let go of the purse strings

Right, I'm gonna get this out of the way early. Remember when you were a kid and had no concept of money? Yeah, you're gonna need that attitude here. While I live a very budget-focused life at the moment, you've got to be willing to let that go in the Happiest Place on Earth. Thankfully, I came with a set amount of mullah that I was willing to spend throughout the weekend, so I could only go mad within that realm. 

Our must-get Disney ears were a bit on the expensive side, but we'd have done ourselves an injustice had we not got a pair each. Water was another essential; it was hot, so you've gotta keep hydrated. I wince a little bit now though, looking back on how we each spent about €15 on aqua, especially when I remember how I left three different bottles on three different rides. Whoops.

Now, food. Mate. You're gonna spend a lot. My loaded chips and four chicken nuggets cost me the equivalent of £15. FIFTEEN POUNDS. FOR CHICKEN NUGGETS AND CHIPS. Yeah, I'm not yet over that one. 

Rides, shows and the parade

It's a Small World

It's a Small World

Despite going at the start of the summer holidays on a sunny weekend, we were pretty lucky with the queues. We waited between 20 and 45 minutes to get on the rides, apart from Big Thunder Mountain, which was an hour's wait. If you wish, you can opt for a 'fast pass': you'll receive a time for the ride, go off and enjoy yourself, then return at the stated time, missing out the queues. 

Right, I will say it now: I hate rides. I hate that stomach drop feeling and I hate not knowing what's around the corner. In fact, I watched the other three take on Big Thunder Mountain from the comfort of a nice rock on the ground. At Disneyland Paris, sure, there are those kinds of rides, but there are also a lot of chilled-out rides that aren't just the plain old teacups.

There are a few rides that you sit on and just watch a story or show, for example, Pinocchio's Daring Journey and It's a Small World. The latter was one of my faves as I enjoyed the recreation of all the different countries and how the song (a proper earworm) was sung in different languages. 

There are more interactive rides, such as Buzz Lightyear's Laser Blast, which involves competitively shooting targets with a laser (we got quite into this), and Autopia, where you drive a car around a track. My favourite ride was Pirates of the Caribbean which, despite being in darkness and beholding a few unexpected drops, I found thrilling. Once that theme tune starts playing, you're transported to the world of Jack Sparrow and Davy Jones in an instant. The production values on all the rides, and even their queueing areas, are incredible. It genuinely felt like a tropical night as we waited to board our 'boat' on the Pirates ride, despite being 3pm on a hot summer's afternoon.   

As we were at the park during the 25th anniversary year, there was a 25th anniversary show that we sat and enjoyed, croissants in hand. Again, I loved how they integrated different languages throughout in a way that flowed and was non-repetitive, rather than doing it purely in French or English. 

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The parade that takes place a few times a day is a Disneyland classic. Head to the main concourse to grab a spot, but get there early. We, unfortunately, headed over just before it began, so we were a few people deep in the crowd. There are acts and characters doing 'floor work', which was a little hard to see from our low vantage point, however, there are huge floats you can enjoy no matter how far back you are. Again, incredible production values - the dragon from Sleeping Beauty was mesmerizing!

Of course, a trip to Disneyland would be incomplete without meeting the man himself. Not Walt, obviously, but Mickey Mouse. Unlike the other characters who roam about the park, or are stationed outdoors, Mickey gets his own theatrical experience and room. While you queue (again, this was about 40 minutes), you can watch reruns of the cartoon, before being ushered into a room with just your group, the photographer, and Mickey himself. Now, I don't know if it is just me, but there is something weird about knowing there is an actual human being behind that huge animal head, and not knowing whether his/her eyes are in the eyes, in the nose, in the cheeks... it's unsettling. However, don't be apprehensive like me - just embrace the magic! Yes, even when Mickey tries to run off with your friend... 

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Put down that camera and enjoy the moment!

I love taking photos all. the. time. I print them out and have them in an album, and I love spending a Sunday afternoon leafing through and reliving good experiences. I often take short videos when I'm on holiday, so I can truly relive the moment, especially when I'm on a grotty tube. 

However, make sure that you're not just viewing your surrounds through a camera lens or phone screen - smell it, see it, hear it and feel it in the moment. The whole of Disneyland is great at keeping your mood up, especially when you're 9 years old, or feel 9 years old again, and have done over 31,000 steps. They play music constantly in the Central Plaza and at various points throughout the park, so you can't help but feel upbeat, too. 

The most magical part of the day, by far, was the illuminations. The world-renowned daily show at 11pm is just... words cannot describe it. We got to the Central Plaza at around 9.30pm, kitted out with our snacks, and thank God we did; it got packed. Fast. We opted for a spot near the fences a little further back from the fountains and protected our space like a lioness would her cubs. Come 11pm, we had a great view and what proceeded was an absolute feast for the eyes, ears and even the soul, tbh. The fireworks were incredible, the music was touching and, the last time I'll say this, I promise, but the production values were AMAZING. The whole thing was genuinely tear-provoking. It wasn't even just the classic Beauty and the Beast montage and scenes the more recent Frozen, either; Star Wars got their moment, too.  A very special 20 minutes... and there have only been a few moments in my life that I can say that about... 

No matter your age, no matter whether or not you have a son/daughter/niece/nephew/family friend, Disneyland needs to be on your list. It really is the happiest place on earth and is truly MAGICAL.  

How to staycation properly... and other things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland

For New Year's last year, I headed up the country to Edinburgh and, despite clearly being a different city, it still very much had the UK vibes (hi cold weather, hi).

Going on 'holiday' in your home country has its perks. Cost, for example, is likely to be lower than international travel, the language is the same (or, if not, then pretty similar), and there'll be no worry of the currency exchange rate doing you over #BloodyBrexiters.

However, holidaying at home may sometimes take away the feeling of, you know, actually being on holiday. But, by making these seemingly small decisions, I could have easily been somewhere else in Europe (with equally as shite weather as the UK).

New Year's Eve crew

New Year's Eve crew

Getting there
Driving for seven hours (well, being a passenger; it's a hard life) definitely generated the road trip feeling. There's just something about service stations, isn't there? Once we got in to the city, we dropped our bags off at the AirBnb and headed to a pub on the recommendation of our host.

On our way back, flying was our mode of transport. Just being at an airport oozes holiday vibes, even if it is the end of the hols. For someone who hates flying, I absolutely love being at the airport and, in this case, flights from Edinburgh to London were actually hella cheaper than train tickets #winning.

Surround yourself with locals and their traditions
You're bound to soak up the culture and traditions of the town you're visiting, even if it's only a couple hundred miles way from home, by surrounding yourself with locals. The Scottish festival of Hogmanay was in full swing throughout our stay, which we found entailed a hell of a lot more than the fireworks at the turn of the year. We got up close and personal with ye olde Scotsmen (unfortunately not in kilts) on countless occasions during our trip.

We took part in the Torchlight Festival on New Year's Eve eve (or the 30th December, as some people call it), and it was incredible. We each had a 'torch' between a group of three: basically a long stick lit at one end with an entirely open flame. Very trusting are the Scots. We toured the streets in our thousands, taking in all the sights by night as we went. It was beautiful to see the streets lit up by some many individual little fires constantly moving forward.

Torchlight Festival - Scots Monument

Torchlight Festival - Scots Monument

The next evening, we DEFINITELY surrounded ourselves with the locals, tourists, and every man, woman and child Edinburgh had to offer. As you can imagine, the fireworks were a very close affair. At one point, we joined forces with two other groups of people to guard our standing point and create a human wall to stop people squashing us even more than we were. The fireworks themselves were beautiful though, and were a great way to welcome in the new year. As were the post-fireworks visit to the pub to wait out the taxi until 3am. We had a great laugh playing Heads Up and drinking until we could get home. Alas, we were too hanging to take part in the run into the sea the next day...

See the sights
Of course, aside from Hogmanay, there are the sights in Edinburgh that are there the whole year round. I don't know how I always end up trekking huge heights whenever I'm on holiday, but we headed up to Arthur's Seat prior to the Torchlight Parade to get a good view of Edinburgh below. A year on and I'm still in awe of my friend who did it all in heeled boots (which many tourists passing us seemed compelled to remind her). The view was great and really drove home that I wasn't in London anymore.

Half of us also explored Edinburgh Castle, myself wrapped in a tartan scarf, obvs. Apart from another great view of the city below, the castle is like a mini museum with old jail cells, historical armour and painted artwork. I enjoyed discovering Edinburgh's history and it was good to take time learning new things.

Savour the free time
Although you're still at home (kind of), treasure the fact that you're on holiday. You'd otherwise be working, doing chores, or getting pissed in the same pub week in, week out. Instead, we chose to down whisky at 10am in a distillery, following a ride on a whisky barrel... We learnt a lot and even came away with a couple free gifts!

The distillery

The distillery

Another difference to our frequent Thursday night pub visits was the fact that we played games throughout. There were many a tense game of Jenga and Heads Up throughout our stay and it even earned us a round of shots from a friendly stranger, admiring our impeccable sportsmanship from the bar. Let's not even get onto our own version of Cards Against Humanity... we probably would have earned more than free shots for that.

FINALLY...
The best thing about staycations? You can return pretty soon. Not too far from home, and as I said earlier, likely cheaper than heading abroad. Anything you do miss while you're there can easily be done a few weeks, or months, later. Result!

Mingling with locals... and other things to do in Oslo, Norway

Of course we've all been to countries with friendly and helpful locals, but the Norwegian people we encountered on our short weekend away were some of the loveliest, funniest, warmest (lols, ironic) people I've ever come across. 

From my PT's 7:30am pint (yep, she's a great influence) all the way to stepping off the train at Liverpool Street on Sunday, the laughter was constant, which in turn attracted laughter from those around us, wherever we went. We clearly gave Palladium-level comedic performances...

Our host 
Our AirBnb was in the perfect location, about 7 minutes walk from Majorstuen train station, which was two stops from the town centre. The home itself was quaint and cosy, with a cottage vibe and exactly what you'd want a winter break home-stay to be. The host lived in the house above, and was so accommodating and really down to earth. She chatted with us about her plans for the night, gave us recommendations for our own evening, and offered her daughter's services to drive us into town.

When her daughter came to collect us, we again sat in their home and chatted for ages. She enlightened us on the student traditions in Norway and her aspirations for her next year at university. As she drove us into town, she pointed out landmarks and enlightened us with relevant stories from her own life. 

She dropped us off near the Oslo Opera House, which we proceeded to scuttle up in the dark. There was literally no one else around, so we marveled at Oslo by night without any annoying tourists about - a category we definitely don't fall under, obvs - until our bellies reminded us that crisps and rum had not been a satisfactory dinner.

Wetherspoons (kind of)
After walking about for ages, assessing menus and dipping into (suspiciously quiet) venues, we ended up in what can only be described as a Norwegian Wetherspoons. You can take the ladies out of London, eh. To their merit, there was a live band and their cocktails were pretty superior to our Blue Lagoon pitchers, tbh.

Seeing as Oslo is a port city, myself and another member of our group decided to sample the mussels. BEST. DECISION. EVER. These mussels were the best I'd ever tasted. Like, ever. The flavour in the sauce, the small cubes of chorizo, the size of the mussels themselves... perfection. If I ever return to Oslo, this is where I am heading first. 

Once the food had been cleared away, our singing and love of accessories caught the attention of two Norwegian girls who proceeded to ask if they could join us. What proceeded was a lot of laughter, singing, jubilation and the seed was planted. Karaoke? Okay! 

The girls were a great comedy duo, with one quipping "Okay, let me translate," after everything her friend said, even if it was in English, but alas their sense of direction and knowledge of open bars on a Friday night didn't match up. We went separate ways after a great evening.

Down by the docks

Down by the docks

Sightseeing 
We were up and out fairly early the next day, much to my pleasure as a sightseeing fiend and someone who likes to make the most out of what each country has to offer.

Our sightseeing guide was a uni friend of one of our group who has lived in Norway for the last decade, or so.   

First of all, she took us on the most picturesque tube ride I've ever been on. Central line this was not. What started underground in a snow-less city ended up in a winter wonderland of snow, mountains and incredible views. We walked up to the most Scandi looking cafe-restaurant, Fognerseteren restaurant og kafe, and enjoyed hot chocolate, cookies and cake while we soaked up the Bavarian vibe. With moose antlers in place of chandeliers, it was all very 'big summer blow out' from Frozen.    

After we filled our boots with treats and snow, we headed back down into Oslo's town centre and walked along the dock. The sun set pretty early, so we enjoyed a beautiful pink sky over the waters at about 3:30pm. Much to my sadness, the Christmas vibe wasn't in full force yet as it was only early November, though we did admire a small bauble Christmas tree. I learnt that Norway donate the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree to us Londoners each year. 

On our way back to our AirBnb, we stopped by Vigeland Park where we proceeded to act out the poses of each and every weird and wonderful statue. It was bloody hilarious; you'd never have guessed the average age of the group was 31 years old. My favourite was the observation from one of the group: "but why are they naked? It's so cold here."

Our attempt at bar hopping, take two
The city is covered with clocks nearly everywhere you turn, so we had no excuses to be late to our reservation at a local Norwegian restaurant recommended by our AirBnb host. Again, great food and drink ensued, and the waitress was so helpful with recommendations that we left her a tip; something we learnt wasn't a regular occurrence in Norway. We headed out into the town centre (where there was a lot more of a buzz compared to the previous night) to see where the night would take us. 

Unfortunately, we enjoyed the restaurant a little too much and missed the last entry into the Ice Bar, so instead we headed to a little Norwegian beer house just down the road from it. We learned that the bar only served produce from Norway and, while there was gin, tonic and beer aplenty, soft drinks, like Coke, and spirits, like vodka, weren't on the menu. Personally, I absolutely loved the premise behind the bar and I'm glad we visited. 

We moved on to another bar and were again surprised, but delighted, by the friendliness of the locals. Two guys joined us for the most part of the evening and, like the girls from the night before, tried to take us to some other bars that had since been closed. We ended up back in the same place making even more friends, including some students who proceeded to teach us some sort of drinking ritual! Now, I know drunk bathroom friends is a thing in the UK, but this lot took it to a whole new level. We chatted like old friends and I do think it's a shame that we're not all like this back at home. I mean, I'm happy to try, but I'm not sure I'm ready for the looks I'll get just yet... 

After a great night, we headed home for a particularly short sleep before catching the train back to the airport. Cue sullen faces and the "don't even dare speak to me" eyes on the tube... 

Maintaining peak Britishness... and other things to do in Hvar, Croatia

Croatia is a little piece of paradise you wouldn't expect to find in Europe. The country is home to beautiful beaches, palm trees, a thoroughly chilled atmosphere... and mosquitoes. Well, you can't have it all, can you?

As group of two Brits and an honorary Brit (though her Aussieness came out many a time where bugs were concerned: barefoot spider squishing, knifing a wasp to death, squashing a mosquito with one hand, while calmly holding a glass of wine with the other), we unintentionally hit most British stereotypes while on holiday. Hey, you can take the girl out of London...

Talk about the weather
Come on, the most British thing EVER. Excessively, too. Initially, we were worried as it was forecasted to be stormy on all but our first day. However, this was completely unfounded, and even as we looked at the weather app stating rain, we looked up at the sky to see something very different, thank God. The September temperature was perfect; hot enough to feel completely comfortable in a bikini, but cool enough not to sweat like a waterfall. It averaged at about 27 degrees each day, and at about 18 to 23 each evening.

Waiting for our ferry in Split

Waiting for our ferry in Split

Get a round in
Despite the early start (very early, like could-still-be-on-a-night-out early) the train to the airport and flight were fairly smooth. Of course, the British way is having a tendency for drinking that an alcoholic would be proud of, so my housemate and I cracked on with 7:30am gin and tonics, while playing a round of cards. In front of us were a group of lads lads lads, who were caning it a hell of a lot heavier. Pretty much the most British way to start a holiday.

Apart from our first night, we went out in the evening to explore Hvar's nightlife. The most prolific club on the island is Carpe Diem which, although a good premise - you get a boat to a little island - it was a bit pretentious and expensive AF. Instead, head to the bars and clubs next to the marina like AlohaNautica and Kiva. The drinks are well priced, the vibe is great, you can watch the boats and chat with everyone - people are very social. Maybe a bit too social, as my flatmate found out when we had to rush past the bar, so a certain bartender wouldn't see her the next morning...

Kiva, which we went to on our last night, was our favourite. The music and drinks were good and we had a great chat with an Aussie couple who were 3 months into a 2 year trip in their camper van. We were incredibly jealous. It wasn't the British rowdy atmosphere you'd expect for all the heavy drinking going on either, which was refreshing. There are only 6 policemen in Hvar for a reason!

Take advantage of any freebies
Our AirBnb, which reminded us of an old Italian winery (and they actually made their own wine and olive oil there, too), was situated walking distance from everything and had a great view of the sea and islands of Hvar. We had no need for a car; each day, we would walk down through the beautiful old town and down to the coast. The beaches in Hvar are rocky, but the water is breathtakingly clear. It's like being on a European version of a Caribbean island. We sunbathed on rocks, on stone walls, on concrete, wherever basically, because we didn't want to pay that 100kn for a sunbed. And, you know what? We got just as tanned and enjoyed the beautiful sea view anyway!

The fortress is a free viewpoint that looks over the town and other islands below and is thoroughly recommended. For someone who isn't an active fan of hiking, I always end up climbing up some sort of viewpoint in cities I visit, but this one really wasn't a hard climb and could be done by most people.

View from the outside the fortress

View from the outside the fortress

Another freebie we loved was the use of a pool in the neighbouring hotel. It was fashioned with ornate stone, surrounded by palm trees, and you walk into it in the same way you'd walk into the sea (i.e. you don't climb into the pool using steps or a ladder; the water starts at about two inches and gets progressively deeper).

We even managed to score another freebie in the form of bread and shots from a restaurant we visited a couple of times. Carbs and alcohol, what more could you want?! 

Being the heath and safety police
So, us Brits do take health and safety a little too far sometimes, but even our flat's "it'll be fiiiiiine" attitude was tested as we stepped into a tiny boat on rough waters to Zdrilca. Who was driving the boat, you ask? A seasoned sailor and Croatian native who has been on these waters everyday of his life? Nope, my flatmate. But we had life jackets just incase, right? WRONG AGAIN. To be fair to my flatmate, he actually did so well, driving, anchoring, and whatever else he had to do to keep us afloat while I had a mid-sea panic that we were about to capsize and drown.

The mild panic attack was worth it though, as we docked on the first beautiful island. We headed straight for the beach bar and ordered mussels, bread and roasted vegetables, as we listened to jazz and observed the incredible view, not quite believing where we were. We soon moved to sun loungers, played fetch with dogs in the sea, and had a dreamy afternoon. The other two went to explore other coves on the boat, but I was not stepping back on that thing until absolutely necessary. Instead, I found out what happened in the "24 hours that shatter Walford" thanks to BBC iPlayer and my 4G.

We were in what literally felt like paradise. We even had jazz versions of Christmas songs playing at one point; surreal, but why not fuse together the two really great things?

Last but not least...

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Queueing! This was much better than queuing at the bus stop, though.

Following such an incredible break, coming back to London wasn't a fun task. Not only was it 12 hours door-to-door and involved about five different modes of transport, but of course, it ended in the most British way possible: a rail replacement bus and drizzly rain. Classic. 

How to 'express sight-see'... and other things to do in Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is a city that ticks ALL my travelling boxes: tasty food, sea, beautiful buildings and mountains. You'd think this would be somewhere I would spend a week or two, but alas, financial obligations and annual leave allowance made it not so.

Thankfully, Barcelona is one of those cities you can hit up in a long weekend and still not miss out, if you're smart about your planning. Think of it like the capsule wardrobe of city breaks: so many combinations, but you can pretty much wear it all out in record time. Just make sure you hit these three pillars:

Food
Spanish food is one of my favourite cuisines and my trip to Barca did not disappoint. Over the course of three nights, we ate muchos tapas, drank muchos sangria and seafood was pretty much a staple at each meal. Weirdly though, the best patatas bravas came from an American diner in the town centre, rather than one of the many tapas bars. My personal fave was Spanish omelette with some sort of chorizo dish on the side, but the squid was ex-squid-site (heh heh) and I ordered calamari with most meals. 

On one of our afternoons, we trekked up Tibidabo and ate at a restaurant that overlooked the whole city. The view was AMAZING; you could see Montjuic, the sea, Sagrada Familia, and even the planes coming in and out of the airport... Although the Jardins del Turo del Putxet had great views of the city, too, this restaurant visit just pipped it!

Back firmly on street level, we went exploring one night and ended up in a mojito bar called Mamaine. Each mojoto came with unlimited salted popcorn (win for me, obvs, but I know what they were trying to do) and cute, relevant snacks to your cocktail. An example was a cookie mojito, which came with an actual cookie!

Inside Sagrada Familia

Inside Sagrada Familia

Beach
There's not much to say here, really, but as a seaside lover (hey, I'm a Londoner, and the Thames is no picturesque lake), it's definitely worth taking a trip to the beach. It was a first for me heading to the beach in a jumper, let alone in February, but thankfully, it wasn't cold at all. In fact, it was so mild, I had an ice cream. I even went sans tights at one point; not something you could ever do within the first six weeks of the year in England.

Sights and culture
Now for the main pillar.. and the longest, sorry! I promise the below is more than doable in two, or three, days!

Gaudi pretty much runs this town, amiright? His presence is felt throughout the city, despite having died a tram-related death almost 100 years ago. Most buildings feature his original designs, or are inspired by his work and, of course, the head honcho is the vast Sagrada Familia, which he not only designed, but is his final resting place, too. Despite still not being finished (Gaudi once quipped "my client [God] has all the time in the world"), the intricate architecture on the outside is astonishing and, inside, it is hands down the most beautiful church I have set foot in. 

Aside from the Sagrada Familia and those in Park Güell - which was quite close to our hotel, and lovely to walk around, even without entering the famous rooftop section - there are many beautiful buildings to admire when walking around the town. Some transpire to be simple shops, while others are just as magnificent wonders on the inside. Funnily enough, the city is also littered with weird and wonderful sculptures, which we noticed while on a bus tour (as you know, I love a sight seeing bus #busw*nker a la The Inbetweeners). It's worth checking out the smaller churches in the city too, as they are just as beautiful as city's crowning glory.

For good food and drink, walk down the famous La Rambla boulevard. It's popular with many tourists and locals, so keep an eye on your bag, don't buy the knock offs from the street vendors and maybe pop into the La Bogueria market hailed as one of the best food markets in DA WORLD. The smells are great, but unless you're in a B&B and can cook said delights, you'll leave sad and hungry. That's probably why there are so many food places so close by... they know what you want.

Another notable sight is the city's Arc de Triomf (personally, I prefer it to France's - the deep red and bulbous tips give it a kind of exotic, Mediterranean vibe). It's a little out of the way compared to the others. but just hop on Barcelona's tube service and you'll be there in no time. Explore Ciutadella Park and it's grand fountain, or stop for a sangria at a nearby bar to really make the trip worthwhile.

Gaudi-designed buildings

Gaudi-designed buildings

On the final night, we attended a Flamenco show. I have dabbled in learning the dance at various stages of my life, but my little toe-heel tap had nothing on these dancers. The fact that some of the guy's sweat *may* have entered the audience arena after a particularly vigorous spin speaks volumes as to how they were really going for it. The guitar playing was great, and it was an all-round, authentic, feel good evening.

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...