Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

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For me nothing conjures up feelings of wonderlust better than seeing a beautiful picturesque photo of Manarola and so I was super excited to be going today to Cinque Terre, one of the most beautiful stretches of dramatic coastline in the world. Fashions in Florence were quite conservative, so in the morning when I put on my Kimono over my jeans and lace dress I felt a little bit out there…but really I had to dress up for a meeting with one of the world’s most beautiful villages and so after throwing caution to the wind, I added some more bracelets and a sequin clutch to make my look that much more bohemian.

We took the train from Florence to Pisa, then from Pisa to La Spezia from which the little villages of Cinque Terre were just a short regional train journey away. It hadn’t taken us long, only 2 hours (with the stop in Pisa) but as we neared the more mountainous Italian Riviera if felt as if we had traveled to the edge of the Earth. We had a short wait to took the opportunity to gorge on Ferrero Rochers and drink Capuccionos before taking the final regional train, which ran smoothly through rock hewn tunnels.It was amazing, the whole journey was so easy and cheap (even without speaking Italian) and had only taken us  just over 2hours. Now that we were in La Spezia, the villages were really close with Riomaggiore only 7 minutes away by train and Manarola 12.

The train started and we followed the ragged coastline. A lot of the time we were in darkness as we sped through the cliffs, but when we emerged we were right on the waters edge and had some amazing views.

Our first stop was Manarola. The little coloured houses were built in clusters on the rocks and the steep mountainside. The streets were really narrow and deserted and down by the waters edge there were beautiful fishing boats and restaurants. We hiked up the wrong way and almost died climbing the step steeps but we saw the town from the back, from the local’s vineyard plantations on the hill. We had the best food of our whole trip in Manarola when we had the Muscle Pasta and fresh seafood at Il Porticciolo. We wanted to get an amazing view of the village, so we walked along the costal path and took pictures of the sun setting over the horizon. On our way back we went through Riomaggiore which was equally spectacular!

These villages were so spectacular and I couldn’t believe that they were so close to La Spezia because they really felt so remote. This was such a dramatic end to our road trip and the returning to an unbelievable stylish hotel. with colour themed rooms in Pisa was the perfect end to our Italian adventure.

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WEARING

Monochrome Kimono – PRIMARK

Black Jeans – GUESS

Sequin Clutch  – PRIMARK

Swarovski Encrusted Bracelet – CASTELLANO ETHNIC ORIGINS

Silver and Opal Bracelet – MARRAKESH SOUKS

Silver Bangle – MACY’S

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The Uffizi Hunger Games

The Uffizi Hunger Games

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We had really soaked up the atmosphere of the city, had gone leather shopping and had drunk shots with a bald midget in some shisha bar after showing off our break dance moves. There was however, one last, very important thing left to do…

I always prefer seeing architecture and getting a feel of a city or a place through its people and learning through living history. So if I have a limited time in a place then I usually prefer spending it outside and taking in the atmosphere. However with one of Europe’s most famous museums and some of the world’s most famous works of art, here in Florence I was going to have to make an exception.

Florence is called the capital of arts; according to statistics produced by UNESCO, 60% of the world’s most important works of art are located in Italy and approximately half of these are in Florence. From the 13th to the 16th century it was a seemingly endless source of creative masterpieces and Italian genius. Both Dante and Michelangelo were born here. Boccaccio wrote his ‘Decameron’ in Florence. The Italian Renaissance, Europe’s richest cultural period, began in Florence when the artist Brunelleschi finished the Duomo, with the huge dome.

It was our last day in Florence. We walked past the bronze wild boar and rubbed its snout for luck. I had to do it twice because my coin bounced back and didn’t fall into the drain as it was supposed to…but the second time it did and so now I can safely tell you all that we will one day return to Florence*

*And also that I WILL now win the National Lottery…

Our first stop was to the the Galleria dell’ Accademia. We walked around the large rooms filled with religious paintings and iconography. Somehow in every room us art connoisseurs recognized the “famous painting” amongst all the others…Our conversations went something like this:

Abi: “I know that one…” “that’s that famous one”…

Stella: Ah yes, I think you’re right, who’s its by again”

Abi: “I can’t remember, but I’ve seen it before…. (Puzzled expression)*

*Move onto the next painting

My favorite things in the Galleria were the medieval religious flat paintings and the sculptures. There was an incredible room of plaster busts, but it was the majestic and spectacularly displayed, Michelangelo’s David, the most famous statue in the world, that was the star of the show. The stunning statue represents the Biblical hero David and because of the nature of the hero it represented, the statue soon came to symbolize the defense of civil liberties embodied in the Republic of Florence, an independent city-state threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states and by the hegemony of the Medici family. The eyes of David, with a warning glare, were turned towards Rome.

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We took a short break from culture and went to watch some hot fitties run the marathon around the streets of Florence after which I ate Tuscan Stew served in a piece of hollowed out bread at the highly recommended II Cernacchino coffee shop.

Then it was on to the Uffizi, one of the oldest and most famous art museums in Europe, which is so popular we had to book tickets to go well in advance. We passed the Vasari Corridor and walked to the gallery where I was struck by its beautiful design and courtyard. Arches lead onto the river and shuttered windows looked down upon the quadrant and upon us. The art inside was incredible but the building with its ornate beams and halls decorated with frescos was stunning in itself. It was great seeing the Carravagios and the Rubens but I just adored the Botticelli’s. Their size, their fluidity and rich colors were celestial. The Birth of Venus was scandalous when it was first displayed and I could see why, but these paintings stood out because they represented the men of the renaissance, with references to ancient Rome instead of Christianity. The Allegory of Spring was my favorite, not just because we have a copy of it at home, but also because it looks like a Flemish Tapistry and contains over 130 specifically named plants.

The museum was fascinating and we walked on through rooms and rooms of masterpieces. After a couple of hours we started to get tiered but we had to keep going. This place was huge and it wouldn’t surprise me if people entered the Uffizi and died of old age before escaping. We were close to the exit when we passed a darkened room full of flopped out tourists, recovering on giant brown sofas and armchairs. Were they still breathing? Was this another version of the Hunger Games? Dehydrated and desperate, they knew, like us, that there were still at least 5 rooms to go…After cramping and blistering we finally crawled out of Florence’s culture maze! Was the Uffizi Hunger Games worth completing? See for yourselves 😉

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Florence Photo Diary

Florence Photo Diary

We are now back in London and have been working on some great collaborations these last few weeks. Today we did a photo shoot in Shoreditch with a really cool brand which was really fun. I won’t say too much at the moment but they have some very original creations and for those of you want to have a quick sneak peak preview of it, I have posted a couple of pictures on my Instagram account.

Today though I wanted to share with you some of our pictures from our stay in Florence.

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We were a bit tiered from our Pisa road trip, bottle of Chianti and midnight tour of Florence and to mak things worse our bodies received a pummeling this morning even before leaving the hotel. We woke up sweating because the towel rail was on all night and we couldn’t open the window (God knows why the heating was on in the first, or why so many people were wearing coats because to us it felt so hot!) and then I grossed myself out by having the most sugary breakfast on record: chocolate and meringue, nutella on brioche, sugary biscuits, nuts, more meringue… I couldn’t stop trying the eye candy on offer in our private kitchen as everything looked amazing but after feeling like I had just triggered off type II Diabetes in one sitting I realized that I probably should have just gone with plain toast like Stella had done.

I couldn’t wait to see Piazza de Duomo with its beautiful Cathedral in the day time and against the blue sky on such a crisp morning it was even more spectacular than the night before. One of the highlights of the day was crossing the Ponte Vecchio and going to the Palazzo Pitti and seeing the beautiful rooms and the costume museum which gave me an incredible insight into Italian fashions and the most famous Italian designers and  collections.Some of my favourites included the brightly colored prints by Susan Nevelson, Rosa the socialite and first champion of “Made in Italy” ‘s collection inspired by Botticelli, Raphael and Italian Renaissance art and Franca Florio’s lavish wardrobe.

The palace was formerly the residence of the grand-dukes of Tuscany and later of the King of Italy and it was beautiful to walk through its grounds, the Boboli Gardens famous for its fountains and grottos. Still high on sugar from our breakfast we went along the river to one of the most spectacular places, Piazza Michelangelo one of the best look out points over the city. I had started to have foot cramp even before we got to Palaccio Pitti and now the sun was low in the sky and the rubbing had turned to blistering. But after a Herculian effort to climb up the final the hill, we finally witnessed Florence in all its glory, an uninterrupted panoramic view of the historical city, truly spectacular!

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I opted for a chic look and combined a white lace floral top with black jeans and sparkly black slip-ons. I decided to tie the outfit together with a black neck piece and I opted for a Finders Keeper’s top to wrap around my shoulders. I thought later that perhaps a better alternative would have been simply a thick black ribbon tied in a bow around my neck almost like a scarf. Finally to soften the look I decided to wear a pastel coat, which added color, kept me warm for when it got cooler in the evening. Let me know if you like the look 🙂

WEARING

Lace Floral Top – ASOS

Black Jeans – GUESS

Black Sparkly Slip-Ons – OASIS

Pastel Coat – PRIMARK

Neck Piece- FINDERS KEEPERS

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Florentine Nights

Florentine Nights

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It is always a mistake for me to think that I can survive without Google Maps. We had gone from the airport into Pisa and then from Pisa to “FIORENZI SMN” train station. We were so excited, smiling and super happy! We had a number of different landmarks to find in order to get to our hotel, the first one of which was a pharmacy. We had congratulated ourselves on our amazing travel awareness, intelligence, Duke of Edinburgh Award map reading skills and advanced honing pigeon attributes…but that was when we had looked for this same pharmacy 40 minutes earlier when we decided to jumped off the train at the wrong train stop… So we couldn’t really say all that again because by now neither of us could pretend like it was true…but we did exclaim again “FLORENCE WE HAVE ARRIVED ARE” even if the “WOHOO” which followed wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as the first time we said it…

A green light at the end of the tunnel marked our first successful marker of our quest. By now it was dark but the city had a magical air about it. I can only describe it as if we had walked through the wardrobe and stumbled upon Mr Tumlus’s Narnia. Beautiful delicate lights shone above the quiet streets and we gazed at the window displays and glided through throngs of joyous Italian shoppers. Fairy lights were all around us and all that was missing was for an Italian gentleman to push open one of the sets of large wooden shutters on his Tuscan apartment and shout down to a fellow citizen below “Merry Christmas Mr Pickwick” or the sexier Italian version of such a phrase…It was enchanting and in keeping with the magical spell, the invisible trail laid down to us by the guest house owners pulled us along. Our instructions became more and more crumpled but we passed every landmark and eventually we were standing outside the large tall gates of a Palace. We peered above the bell and as if written by mice, the monotype corsiva font read: Relais Cavalcanti*

We had arrived! WOHOOOO!!!!!!!!

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Relais Cavalcanti is a beautiful guesthouse in the heart of the old town. A grand apartment in a Palace which was passed down through generations was never sold and instead turned into a beautiful guesthouse in the heart of the old town. Minutes from the Uffizi Gallery and Ponte Vecchio, this place captured the opulence and craftsmanship of Florence beautifully. High ceilings, antique furniture, velvet day beds and headboards with gold leaf, our room was beautiful and we even got to share a traditional kitchen where we could go and eat, make food in and which had 24hour breakfast and refreshments on offer for free!

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Like the olden day Medici family lords, we planned our offensive in these royal surroundings.  Tonight we would get a real feel of the city, but first… we had to have a go on the carousel in the main plaza 😉 PS please excuse the angle shots up my skirt…

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After pandering to the little child within me, we got back to the important stuff. Nothing could really have prepared me for the incredible sight that was Piazza del Duomo and Florence’s pearly white Cathedral with its bell tower reaching into the heavens, stark against the night sky. We saw the dark wooden shutters with their large bolts and metal frames of the tiny old jewellery shops that were all shut up along the medieval arched bridge Ponte Vecchio. My favourite night time sight though was Plaza della Signoria. It was so large and the Romanesque fortress Palazzo Vecchio loomed over the place where the original Michaelangelo’s David stood and now where the replica stands. Musicians played classical music opposite Vasari’s secret walkway, which echoed around the street and filled the wide arches of the Loggia dei Lanzi. It was an incredibly powerful moment and we walked around the celestially carved statues of Renaissance man in awe. Plus we were surrounded by fit naked men…One to add to your bucket list if you haven’t done so already 😉

Every night we ate at a beautiful restaurant that my sister’s Italian friend or our hotel had recommended: from pasta stuffed with pear, to salads and steak, the food was incredible. More importantly the Chianti Wine was hangover free. I can try to find the names of our favorite places if you’d like?

We laughed and joked until the early hours of the morning. I was in love with Florence already and I hadn’t even seen it in the daytime! For our evening our I wore a black sequin and lace dress with a long ornate gold and black floral blazer. Everyone here looked very smart and people wore quite conservative colors, so I thought that this would give a good twist on the classic Florentine look but would still be in keeping with the opulence of the city.

Let me know what you think of the look and your first impressions of Florence 🙂

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WEARING

Gold and Black Floral Blazer – NEXT

Black Sequin and Lace Mini Dress –

Black Glitter Slip-Ons – OASIS

Black Tights – Borrowed from Estelle’s suitcase 😉

You can now keep up to date with out travels and my outfits with my real time updates on:

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Italy Road Trip – Pisa

Italy Road Trip – Pisa

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 We saw the Tuscan mountains in the distance and the rocky coastline winding its way towards La Spezia. We had finally arrived in Italy and our road trip was about to begin! 🙂

First stop, PISA!

Should we buy any postcards? Perhaps not…after all, everyone will only go nuts trying to hang them straight…

Every time I clicked the shutter button and then looked at the screen, the picture looked weird, as if I had taken a crap photo, but in fact no, it was the lean of the tower! Everyone had said it was small or unimpressive, but I actually couldn’t believe how far it tilted without falling over. I had wanted to see this architectural flop ever since I was a child…I say flop because the tower’s tilt began during construction, caused by an inadequate foundation on ground too soft on one side to properly support the structure’s weight. The tilt increased in the decades before the structure was completed, and gradually increased until the structure was stabilized (and the tilt partially corrected) by efforts in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Its free to walk around and take pictures of the outside of the buildings, but in true Indiana Jones spirit we booked tickets to climb, and I do mean CLIMB, the tower which has 300 marble steps! Walking up the first dozen felt not to dissimilar to walking home after having pushed through half a bottle of Vodka without going for the all you can eat sushi buffet before hand. With every step I flew against the wall and concentration was a must. By the time my breathing got heavy, I was starting to get used to the slope. Then when the slope no longer bothered me, my legs muscles started to burn. I could only remember underestimating stairs in such a way one other time, when my brother and I decided not to bother to wait for the lift at Russel Square tube station…Never again… But actually, yes again…in Pisa…

An Asian couple and ourselves double helixed up the tower. We each took turns to overtake each other as one party after the other panted and took in the views whilst recovering in the alcoves between floors. We got slower and slower and only self-esteem stopped me from crawling through the little arched door at the top. I AM ROCKY! The view over Tuscany was stunning. Warm yellow and brown houses with terracotta tiled roofs…the sun glowed behind the clouds and we could see the blue mountains in the background. There was a stupid fence which sort of got in the way, but probably necessary as too many climbers could of otherwise flopped over the side when their legs gave way due to lack of oxygen…

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It was a grey day, but the grass was so green and the grounds incredibly well kept. There weren’t that many people so it meant we had lots of opportunities to take some uninterrupted Kung Foo I’m holding up the tower *Money Shot* pictures and really take in the marvel of the structures!

We ate bruscetta and had a large glass of Chianti in a small restaurant close to the Piazza before walking along the river and back to the train station. It was then that Stella spotted an ice rink (much to my horror!) 😥 I rattled through my excuse list as she paid for two pairs of boots: “I’ve never done it”, “I can’t have my first time abroad”, “I don’t have my medical insurance card with me”, “My Mum will kill me”, “I could die”, “I love my fingers too much”, “I AM DRUNK!”…

 I crumbled under pier pressure and gave into the assurance that after one lap I could stop if I didn’t like it (if I was still alive)…I was still gesticulating something about my mum as I fastened the last clip on my boot. The ice rink was the moment we went native. Surrounded by Italian families and couples, I took to the ice like a giraffe, sliding so slowly I was almost started moon walking backwards. We linked arm in arm and went round and round the rink. At first I grabbed the edges but soon I was mowing down kids left right and center and pulling Stella over…We stopped only because we had to catch our train. Hot, sweaty with massive smiles, all fingers in tact and without a single floor drop, the whole experience was magical! It was super exhilarating getting out of my comfort zone and doing something I had always seen as impossibly difficult and quite scary! I guess it is true, real friends will always push you towards the great possibilities of your future 🙂

So after a massive adrenaline rush and bags of festive cheer we pushed forward to the next phase of our adventure: FLORENCE!

Wearing

Light Blue Faux Leather Jacket – PRIMARK

Vintage Sailor Crop Top

Ripped Boyfriend Jeans – ZARA

White Chuck Taylors – CONVERSE

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And…Don’t forget you can now stay up to date with our adventures, travels and  outfits on my  social media 🙂

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Eeek! FUN FACTS/ NERD ALERT ❤

  • Piazza dei Miracoli is considered a sacred area by its owner, the Catholic Church, the square is dominated by four great religious edifices: the Pisa Cathedral, the Pisa Baptistry, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the Camposanto Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery).
  • The five naved Cathedral’s grey marble and stone set with discs of coloured marble, was built by a master named Rainaldo. Its massive bronze main doors were made in the workshops of Giambologna, replacing the original doors destroyed in a fire in 1595. The interior was really impressive and I just loved the gilded ceiling the wooden pulpit. Galileo is even believed to have formulated his theory about the movement of a pendulum by watching the swinging of the incense lamp (not the present one) hanging from the ceiling of the nave!
  • The Baptistery, dedicated to John the Baptist was built in Romanesque style by an architect known as Diotisalvi and is the largest one in Italy!
  • The Leaning Tower is located behind the Cathedral. The last of the three major buildings on the piazza to be built, construction of the bell tower began in 1173 and took place in three stages over the course of 177 years, with the bell-chamber only added in 1372. Five years after construction began, when the building had reached the third floor level, the weak subsoil and poor foundation led to the building sinking on its south side. The building was left for a century, which allowed the subsoil to stabilise itself and prevented the building from collapsing. In 1272, to adjust the lean of the building, when construction resumed, the upper floors were built with one side taller than the other.

4* Hotel Bolivar Rome

4* Hotel Bolivar Rome

The first thing which was incredible about this boutique 4* hotel was its location. We emerged at the Colosseum metro stop and walked up the boulevard. Before we had even got to our hotel, we were gasping in awe at all the roman relics. Our hotel was a five minute walk from the Victor Emmanuelle II monument. Absolutely breathtaking.

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The rooms were large and sumptuous. I loved the yellow curtains and wall color. It made it really light and airy yet majestic. A large oil painting hung above our bed. The road on which the hotel is situated is little and so the rooms were quite.

The views from the breakfast room were wonderful, although the coffee a bit too rough and the pastries a bit stale.  One of the highlights of our stay were the restaurant recommendations which we were given by the receptionist. Rome is notorious for its tourist traps and thanks to him we were able to find a couple lovely restaurant which were inexpensive and did amazing food. It was a wonderful few days here and I would definitely come back.

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A cheaper alternative, where we also stayed for a few nights is the 3* Hotel Colosseum found on Via Sforza (10). The rooms were not as memorable and the location not as great (between Termini station and the Colosseum). However, what I loved about Hotel Colosseum was the massive roof terrace which has beautiful vistas over Rome. One night we bought our own food and sat up there and ate under the stars. The breakfast room is darker and ordained with thick wood. The quality of the food was better than Hotel Bolivar, but all in all if you can afford the price Bolivar would be my personal favorite.

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A little black dress for my meeting with Ceasar

A little black dress for my meeting with Ceasar

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So when in Rome… Do as the Romans do. Now Italians are notoriously fashionable. So, this time, I chose to dress up whilst touring the city rather than down. I combined a light, lace and sequin dress which I matched with floral comfortable straw flip flops from accessorize for my tour of the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill. It was cool and comfortable whilst looking a darn sight better than three quarter length shorts, socks and trainers usually warn by intrepid tourists. To save some suitcase space and to attempt to travel light,  I just added some heels for the evening or some earrings for a touch more glamor.

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Wearing:

Yumi sequin and lace dress

Accessorize flip flops

Corte Ingles large Earrings

When in Rome…

When in Rome…

 Strange as it may seem now, a few years ago, after having flown around the world all my life, I developed a massive fear of flying. I don’t know if any of you reading this have ever felt such irrational fears? It got to the point where I would embark and with every turn, bump or even sound I thought the plane was going down. Anyone who got up to the toilet I would scrutinize as I thought they were a terrorist. If someone had said put a gun to your head and play Russian roulette or board and fly on a plane, I would have felt safer to pull the trigger. Enclosed, trapped, no way out, no control. Horrible. So, I made a stand and said no more flying. For the next THREE years I traveled everywhere by coach, train or car. My family would set off and I would join them, sometimes thousands of miles away a few days later.

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For those who haven’t experienced them, coach journeys are long, smelly and worst of all you meet and can’t escape from weirdos. This wasn’t quite life in the fast lane.  So, I decided it was time, time to fight to the fear. After 3 years of remaining Earth bound, I booked two flights to somewhere not too far, but somewhere where I had always wanted to go – Rome. It took a lot for me to make that first journey, but facing my fears is what I had to do. The city was so wonderful, the sites so interesting. It was then that I vowed never to let fear hamper my life again.

I would greatly recommend going inside the Colosseum and and buying the Colosseum Tour. We did ours through SP.Q.R tours, which gave us a free tour of the Palatine Hill and the Forum Panorama. Really I felt that this day was the highlight of our trip. Just a short walk away, up a large boulevard is the majestic Victor Emmanuel monument. In the evening I would recommend Plaza di Fiori, where we had wine and listened to beautiful music. Another must see is the Pantheon, an architectural marvel, which is close to the Fontana di Trevi and Piazza Navona where I had the best Capuccino ever! Just walking round the little streets and finding a pretty cafe is really romantic in this city. We had a week, so we also went to see the Circus Maximus and the abandoned Roman Baths, which are further out. The weather that day was stormy, so we got some great atmospheric shots. It was incredible how the murals were just left to the rain and it was even possible to walk on them. This city just has so much culture and history. In most cities this would be the main attraction! Plaza del Popolo was lively and this was the best place for shopping! Villa Burghesa offered great views over the city. I would recommend hiring an electric tuk tuk to pedal round the grounds.

Finally, the Vatican, a whole country in itself, with nuns and gigantic religious statues galor. Vatican City, one of the most sacred places in Christendom, attests to a great history and a formidable spiritual venture. A unique collection of artistic and architectural masterpieces lie within the boundaries of this small state. At its centre is St Peter’s Basilica, with its double colonnade and a circular piazza in front and bordered by palaces and gardens. The basilica, erected over the tomb of St Peter the Apostle, is the largest religious building in the world, the fruit of the combined genius of Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, Bernini and Maderno. We did the tour, but apart from enabling us to jump the queue (which was massive), I wouldn’t really recommend it. A great way to bypass this is to read to Angels and Demons by Dan Brown (one of my favorite books) and look out for all the places referred to and discussed in that. When you go to the Vatican don’t forget to bring some food and water with you, as your day will be long and there are no places to buy anything once inside. Don’t forget to see Castle Sant’ Angelo on your way back to the city.