Lesson 29: visiting Verona

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There’s nothing like cramming in an Autumn holiday in a final bid for sunshine and relaxation, particularly when you’re last ‘holiday’ left you feeling permanently hungover for about 3 weeks. I went to Verona with my mum and sister for a much-needed break. Here’s why it was the perfect choice.

If, like me, you’re not 100% sure whether Verona is actually a real place or a mythical setting for Shakespearean plays, the following post will benefit you greatly. If you’re also the sort of person who enjoys amazing food and wine at reasonable prices, inspiring architecture and the anticipation of slice of history around every corner, you might also want to read on.

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

THE FACTS

Nestled in the north of Italy between Venice and Milan, Verona has the same charm as more obvious Italian destinations without being as much of a tourist trap. This seems to have affected two major things: price and authenticity. It was ridiculously easy to find fantastic-quality pizza, pasta, cicchetti, wine and ice cream that didn’t cost a fortune. Better still, EVERYTHING is within walking distance, which makes a huge difference when you only have a couple of days to explore and don’t want to waist hours navigating the metro and local buses. When you spend half your life sweating on the tube, this blissful breezy existence of strolling from place feels pretty bloody good.

WHAT TO DO

The arena

A Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Bra, built in 1st century, this magnificent and imposing piece of architecture is quite a sight. Go inside and explore, but also sit and have an Aperol Spitz opposite. Still used for opera performances, it’s worth seeing what shows are on during your stay.

Verona, like her type

The castle

Or, ‘Castelvecchio’ – a castle-turned-museum dating back to the middle ages with astounding views and beautiful old-meets-new interiors.

Verona, like her type

The balcony

Book lover and English graduate, and even I couldn’t get see past Juliet’s Balcony as a cheesy, overrated tourist attraction. Busy and a bit soulless, but tick it off the list if you have time because the building is beautiful.

Verona, like her type

The churches

There are four main churches in Verona and you can pay just 6 Euros to see them all. Each filled with breathtaking and often famous masterpieces and each with a unique character and story.

Verona, like her type

The shopping

So many good shops. Too many good shops. Designer, high street, boutique, market stalls, you name it. I was a little bit tearful that I can no space in my carry on for a shiny new pair of Italian-leather shoes. I did, however, settle for the perfect boyfriend jeans and a stripy jumper from an amazing shop called Scout and a sneaky denim dress from Zara.

Verona, like her type

The views

Whether you go up the tower, explore the castle or take the steps across the bridge, the views are stunning from every angle. Incorporate some time to sit back and take them in.

Verona, like her type

WHERE TO STAY

I’m a massive fan of Airbnb and it served us well yet again in Verona. For £85 a night, the three of stayed in a pretty, rustic and spacious apartment overlooking Castelvecchio. Our host, Francesca, was incredibly helpful, providing a detailed list of things to do. In fact, the general vibe of Verona was warm and welcoming pretty much everywhere.

Verona, like her type

WHERE TO EAT

We didn’t have a single average meal, let alone a bad one. Literally everything I ate over the four days I was there was delicious. Dinner for three with a bottle of wine and a couple of deserts rarely crept above 50 Euros. The trick was to look for a traditional, laidback ‘Trattoria’ or ‘Osteria’, rather than automatically hitting the swankiest or busiest places. Don’t get me wrong, you might get a fabulous view of some of Verona’s famous landmarks, but you could be getting better, cheaper food elsewhere. Here are a few great places we found.

Verona, like her type

Casual dinner alfresco

Pizzeria Impero – Borderline touristy but when you’re sitting in a picturesque square, surrounded by historical buildings and eating good-quality food at a good price, it’s more than acceptable.

Effortlessly cool bar

La Tradisiòn – A stylish and cosy ‘thrown together’ bar with a hipster vibe and Farmers’ Market worthy bar snacks. A glass of prosecco costs just 2 Euros. (Pictured above)

Contemporary fine dining

La Canonica – We accidentally stumbled across this gem down one of Verona’s little passage ways. Turns out it had only been open 5 days and the menu offered an impressive modern twist on some Italian classics, like veal Lasagnette and coconut tiramisu.

Atmospheric and traditional

Osteria del Bugiardo  –   Completely packed out every time we walked past, we booked a table for the evening and we weren’t disappointed. I could have sat in this stylish little restaurant drinking wine all night. No menus, the waiter recites what they have that day, so you know it’s fresh. The giant amoretti biscuit with warm chocolate sauce went down a treat after the tasty beef Carpaccio.

So, next time you’re planning a European city break, consider skipping the hustle and bustle of the most obvious places and bask in the beauty of Verona instead. It was completely stress-free, which is pretty important when you just want to spend a bit of time with you favourite people.

Verona, like her type

 

 

 

 

Lesson 26: going wild in Ibiza

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Pretty much my entire summer this year has been building up to one thing: 6 days in Ibiza with 11 friends. A part of me thought that maybe this time (my third time) at the ripe old age of 25, I wouldn’t go too mad. I thought staying in a beautiful villa in the mountains of Roca Llisa, miles away from the non-stop party at Playa d’en Bossa, would be enough to discourage me from going out every night. I was wrong, of course. I didn’t stay in once.

Am I regretting it now? Yes and no. I feel ill. Very ill. My poor sleep-deprived body is so very relieved to be going to bed before 6am. But at the same time, I’m so glad I reserved a precious week of my year to be plain ridiculous. I have a tendency to take myself and everything else too seriously, constantly worrying about the tiniest things. After five minutes with my friends, sitting around our pool, drinking Malibu (of all things) with boiling water at 10am because ‘it’s pretty much the same as Moroccan tea’, I’m laughing too much for anything else to matter. A week away from your day-to-day life has a wonderful way of making you realise what’s important. The non-stop partying was kind of just an accidental product of us being so happy to be there. We literally celebrated the entire time.

It’s a common misconception that most ‘party animals’ are that way inclined because they crave escapism. People often assume that going out-out is a welcome distraction from the hardships and monotony of life. In lots of ways it is, but for us, it really isn’t. I feel so lucky to be part of a group of friends that experience all the amazing things about a night out together, and none of the shit. No fights, no puking in the cab, no crying, no bullying each other into coming out, no kissing people you shouldn’t, no waking up with regrets. Sure, that’s what a night out used to look like for most of us, but after years of experience, I think we’ve finally cracked it. Most importantly, we just love music. We love each other’s tastes in music and none of us are shy on the dance floor. We even have our own dance moves. A look or a hand-signal across the dance floor has us in hysterics. We never drink to forget. Quite the opposite in fact – we’ve made hundreds of hilarious memories.

For our first night in Ibiza, we were unashamedly the first people in Pacha, dancing solidly to Amine Edge & Dance and MK until it closed. It was the PERFECT first night – and a massive thank you to Ben, who got us all in for free. Saturday saw us eventually arrive at Sankeys for Magna Carter and Reverse after a party in our villa, Sunday we hit Ushuaia for full-on cheese (Avicii), followed, of course, by Space for Erick Morillo, Monday at DC10 has ruined my ears for life and Chase and Status and Defected at Amnesia on Tuesday feels like a mad dream. I think we genuinely ended up spending 1000 euros on taxis. It was so worth it.

Before going away, we decided we’d throw our own party at the villa during the second day. We actually hired a sound system and each prepared a playlist, allocating set times so everyone could be DJ for an hour. At around 4pm I was standing in the ‘DJ booth’, watching everyone prance about dressed as a caveman with the BIGGEST smile on their face. Dancing on chairs, swinging each other round, cans of beer in hand, with a backdrop of palm trees, mountains and blue skies. I think it was the most carefree thing I’ve ever seen. Our whole day was spent like this (until the neighbours shut us down), and I will literally think of it every time I feel a bit low, probably for the rest of my life.

It sounds a bit OTT writing that, but it’s actually true. Plus, it’s helping me get over the guilt of sacrificing my health and sanity for a week of fun. Going a bit wild in Ibiza has weirdly put into perspective how much I really don’t need to go crazy, I just need my friends. I feel like I’ve been on some strange journey of self-discovery (probably because I still need to sleep), where I’ve gone from wanting nothing but a giant party to feeling like I never need to party that hard ever again. Like, I’ve done it. It’s out of my system. I guess taking things to the extreme always leaves you craving the opposite. I’m lucky that when I eat too much sugar, I start craving vegetables, not more sugar. And funnily enough, in the week I’ve been back I’ve started getting my wisdom teeth. Two of the the bloody things. I think it’s a sign. I’m ending on a high. I’m actually growing up.

Until I see this bunch again anyway.

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Lesson 11: visiting Lisbon

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At approximately this time of year, every year, I feel the desperate urge to go on holiday. Nobody appreciates warm weather like us Brits. The tiniest bit of sunshine peeps through the windows at work and I’m done. In March 2014, Joe and I got a great last-minute deal and skipped off to Egypt for a week of guaranteed sun. It was just what we needed, but I’m not sure I’m an all-inclusive kind-of girl. I like to stumble across unexpected new places to eat, drink and explore. This year, we decided to cast our urges for 30-degree heat to one side and opt for something a bit closer to home. We chose Lisbon, and here’s why you should go too.

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If you are looking for a semi-cheap getaway with the promise of sunshine, shopping, good food, great wine, history and character, Lisbon is the way to go. It’s all very compact, so in four days we managed to squeeze in four amazing dinners, a zoo, a castle, numerous churches, an art gallery, picnics by the sea, a couple of late-night bars and a few rounds of Zara and H&M (which are cheaper out there, FYI). We walked about 12 miles a day – which is a lot anyway, let alone when you’re tackling cobbles and hills. So, if you do go, be sure to take decent shoes. Also, we got an amazing deal with BA – £230 each for flights and 4 nights with breakfast in a 5* hotel – so be sure to shop around, or Airbnb it. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, then you are seriously missing a trick. It’s so cheap, and often it’s so much nicer to stay in an apartment than a hotel, especially if you’re going in a group. On this occasion, however, we stayed at the Corinthia Hotel and it was lovely.

I am one of those annoying people who takes 100s of holiday photos and posts them ALL on Facebook. So, pretty much the whole world knows the ins and outs of my trip. A couple of people have asked me for recommendations (much more useful), so I thought I’d share them with you on here.

1. PLACES TO EAT

Grapes & Bites

After landing in Lisbon quite late on a Sunday night in March, we weren’t really expecting big things. We did the customary stroll around our new surroundings and quickly discovered two things: 1) Lisbon is never really quiet, and 2) if you pay just a little bit extra, your evening goes from average touristy restaurant with a mediocre menu to bohemian haven with incredible food and wine. After wandering up to Bairro Alto, we came across a place called Grapes & Bites. The restaurant had a single guitarist playing in the corner – which was somehow un-cheesy – and was completely packed out. The manager promised we would have a table within 30 minutes and gave us a complementary glass of local wine while we waited on the cobbles out the front. After too many olives, the world’s biggest bread basket, pig cheeks and salt cod, we were too full for desert, but the couple next to us ordered the lemon meringue pie and quickly ordered another when they discovered it was too good to share.

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Other great restaurants with a similar vibe:

Chapitô – Stunning views and steak with a lively jazz bar below

Louro & Sal – Small, romantic and contemporary with great food and wine

Alfândega  – Simply chic decor, friendly staff and amazing Portuguese tapas

2. BARS TO EXPLORE

We went to Lisbon to relax so I didn’t venture into any big clubs for once in my life. Judging by the number of characters advertising certain substances on street corners I can imagine there is a pretty lively party scene. The bars we tried were small but pretty cool. Think cabbages for lampshades, wall-to-wall balloons, and Bali-themed beach bars (nowhere near the beach) with hammocks and surfboards. If you wander down the narrow streets of Bairro Alto you’ll be sure to find the kind of bar you’re after. Ranging from loud and cheesy Cuban dance fests to low-key live music.

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3. SITES TO SEE

The Castle

Lisbon is really pretty, so try and get up to the Castelo de São Jorge for the best views of the city. It’s also just a really nice place to walk around and a great chance to learn a bit more about Lisbon’s origins.

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The Zoo

I’m not ashamed to say how much we enjoyed the zoo. Baby rhinos, dolphins, lions, tigers, elephants, gorillas, giraffes, you name it. Just as good as London Zoo and just as clean and modern.

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The Monastery

The sheer size of the Jerónimos Monastery is good enough reason to go visit it. Breaking up the day with interjections of majestic architecture can only be a good thing.

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The Modern Art Museum

Poor Joe, I dragged him around the Berardo Museum and then the shops. If I can look at Andy Warhol and then browse a cheaper version of Zara then he really didn’t stand a chance.

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I hope this post inspires you to treat yourself to a long weekend in Lisbon. Please feel free to comment below if you’d like more info on any of the places I’ve touched on.