Day in London, April 2016

Wandering around the Southbank looking at all the sights – Houses of Parliament, The London Eye, Big Ben and the River Thames.

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On the Santander Cycles through Hyde Park
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Watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace

There was a massive queue for the Natural History Museum, so we skipped museums and had more time to wander… Oxford Street, Covent Garden, South Kensington, you name it!

We got a travel card from Surrey for £9, allowing unlimited use of the tubes so we certainly made the most of our tickets!

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Dinner with a view at Dim T, London Bridge. Great prices, great views, great food. This is my third time to this branch and I have also been to the Charlotte Street branch twice and I cannot rate this London Dim-sum chain enough.

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Dinner with a view

Day in Oxford, April 2016

I had never been to Oxford before but seeing as I was visiting Alex in Gloucestershire it was a good opportunity to go for the day. We took the park and ride and it took hardly any time at all. The weather was disgusting – driving rain and bitterly cold winds, but we tried to make the most of it nonetheless.

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This is as far into the University as we could get without the security escorting us out… I felt pretty envious of my friends and school friends studying here at this point
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Ashmolean

To avoid the rain we went into a couple of museums. To be perfectly honest the Ashmolean  Museum was not really my scene. I prefer to see ancient artefacts in a natural setting or their country of origin so it was a little weird to see pieces of clothing, musical instruments, weapons and more from all over the world in glass boxes in a museum in Oxford. However, it was warm, dry, free and there was plenty to look at so I can’t complain too much.

Next we went to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, which was great. It’s in a lovely building in a beautiful part of the city and I love biology and the natural sciences so this was right up my alley. Living just over 20 miles from London (40 minutes on the train), I had been to the London Natural History Museum countless times so this one didn’t quite live up to the larger London equivalent. I would recommend the London one over the Oxford one because there is more on display and there is the butterfly greenhouse and other exhibitions, but overall it is one of the best museums I have been to.

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The best bit of the trip was going to Blackwell’s. I had never seen so many books in my life and as a complete bookworm I was in heaven. We spent a couple of hours browsing and writing down the names of books we like the look of before heading to lunch at the Cafe Nero in the bookstore.

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We also went to the covered markets for a browse and to have Ben’s Cookies – Alex thought these were unique to Oxford but since our trip we have seen them all over the place.

10th of April, 2016

We got up and had our usual breakfast of fresh bread, ricotta and tomatoes which we took in turns buying each morning from the market and bakery just down the road. Although there was an option to add breakfast to our hotel package, we don’t have massive breakfasts and a couple of times we took our breakfast out on the go so this worked out cheaper and more efficient for us.

We went to the Roman Forum and saw all the ruins. It was the day of the Rome Marathon so a couple of the metro stations were closed which made travel even more complicated than it had already been. But it was a beautiful day so it was perfect for wandering around the classical sites and sitting in the gardens. We didn’t have a guide which I would recommend because for some times we had no idea what we were looking at because things weren’t well signed of described like they are at museums. Its difficult to know if you are doing the right thing with guides or not because apparently some of the ‘guides’ for the Vatican etc are just normal people reading off of Wikipedia and do not actually have the extensive knowledge that you are paying for.

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Roman Forum

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were a little sick and tired of bread and pizza so we decided to go on the hunt for some pasta for lunch time. This was the only unsuccessful meal for us this trip – there is always one no matter how picky you are. It was about 2pm and we were starving from the early start, no coffee, all the walking around and the heat. We came across a pasta place along from the Colosseum. We thought we had walked far enough from the tourist site to avoid tacky food but we didn’t and waited ages for small portions of boring and oily pasta. We then had to get a pizza panini from a takeaway place just so we wouldn’t pass out.

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We then headed to the Colosseum and I am so glad we booked tickets before because there was a massive queue that we really were not in the mood to stand in. The Colosseum was exactly what I imagined and we walked around and around a couple of times, up and down, exploring all we could. Unfortunately there were some parts blocked off but I’m guessing that was because the stone was fragile or something. There were some appalling tourists there – we even saw one guy with an iced waterbottle smash the bottle against the Colosseum to try and break the ice up in his drink!! How disrespectful to something so rare and old.

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We then had a wander through the courtyards and side streets and came across a really nice restaurant with a terrace where we sat out and had a coffee/hot chocolate (by the way… Roman hot chocolates are amazing – a little darker and more bitter than English ones). I asked for their business card and got our hotel to book the restaurant for dinner later that evening. We sat outside and watched the Roman madness from some steps and enjoyed as much of the sunshine as we could. This was the first sun we had seen all year (perks of England) so we were not in any rush to leave.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe then headed back to the hotel, got changed and headed out. First we went to a wine bar in the local area where we had some wine and crisps before heading to dinner. Dinner at Iari The Vino was amazing and I would recommend this place to everyone. We shared a flask of wine, had a focaccia to start and each had a pizza. I had a vegetarian one with olives, artichokes, you name it, and Alex had a seafood one with mussels, clams, the lot. It was a very romantic, relaxed setting and probably my favourite evening.

We walked back via the Colosseum and saw it all lit up. Be aware of the homeless on the Tiber River, we naively were helping this man with directions and it turned out he was a beggar and it put us in a very uncomfortable position.

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9th of April, 2016

So it was quite an early start – we set the alarm for 7.20am, but that’s ok because Alex and I are both morning people thank god. We took the metro from Termini to Lepanto and went to the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. I booked all our tickets for the museums and bits online prior to the trip to avoid queuing and our hotel kindly printed the vouchers off for us to present. The Sistine Chapel was beautiful and looking at the ceilings was amazing! It was all so intricate and they used this marvellous gold paint for us to use. Outside of the museum we saw the pope giving an address which was pretty lucky. We then went for a wander and had a a fabulous panini (at Cotto Crudo) and gelato for lunch.

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Sneaky picture in the Sistine Chapel – you are not allowed to take photos in there. If you use your phono, locate the security guards and be subtle it’s possible

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Vatican Museum entrance/exit

We walked along the River Tiber to Castel Saint Angelo. This was actually our favourite part of the trip for several reasons. Alex had been to Rome before on a school trip but hadn’t actually been to the Castel, and as this was my first time to Rome, the castle was a new experience for both of us. It was surprising to us how they also had really cool things inside the castle, such as one of the Pope’s beds and some more beautiful ceilings like in the Vatican. At the top there is a gorgeous cafe where you can sit inside or outside. Even though it was windy and a little chilly we sat outside to take in the views – I reckon the best views in Rome. The coffee was the best we had the whole trip, and as coffee lovers, this is always important to our judgement of a place.

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Views from the Castel

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Coffee with a view

My Italian friend Freddy from Uni had recommended to us his favourite restaurant in Rome which he goes to every time he is in the city – Giacomelli. I would recommend booking ahead (which we didn’t do) if you decide to go. We had to wait for about half an hour by the door for a table but it was really worth the wait. This place was everything I had imagined about Rome. It is a family run business with the grandma on the door printing bills, the owner greeting all the regular customers like best friends. We were the only tourists in there and Alex and I were feeling a little smug at how we were going against the usual tourist movements. We had bruschetta, pizza and wine. Be warned the pizzas are quite big, but Alex was starving and impressively got through the large one to the waiter’s surprise.

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We walked/metroed back to the hotel via the Vatican because we wanted to see it at night. There were only 4-5 other people there and listening to the sound of the waterfall in the middle was magical. It was only then that I realised how massive the Vatican was. I even tried to stand close to the building to see for scale how big it was against me until a guard came out as soon as I got a bit too close.

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8th of April, 2016 – First day in Rome

So we went off at 6.45am from Gatwick after stopping for ‘breakfast’ (is it even breakfast at 5am?) at the Gatwick Airport Costa Coffee. We flew to Rome Fiumicino Airport in what seemed like no time at all. We read our travel guide and books on the way. We took the train from the airport to the Termini (which was massive). If you think Kings Cross or some of the London stations are big, you haven’t seen the Termini. Its like having Westfields Shopping Centre plonked right on top of the railway tracks. We had a quick sandwich and drink at Moka in the Termini before we headed off. We walked with our suitcase from the station to our hotel – Hotel Apogia Llyod Roma. I have never stayed in such good accommodation in a city before and because this hotel has other branches I’m sure I will be returning. We decided to share one big suitcase for the trip which seems to work out well for us on short holidays.

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View from our hotel balcony

After a quick freshen up (and Alex changing into a very optimistic summer outfit) we headed out to explore the city. We walked through Borghese Park, getting some good views of the city before heading down the Spanish Steps. Unfortunately the steps were being renovated and there was a lot of scaffolding about so only 1/3 of the steps were open to the public and it certainly ruined any photos we may have taken.

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River Tiber

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We wandered around the old city and had a coffee at Casa & Bottega. Be warned in Rome they add a seating charge to our order, making things a bit more expensive than other European cities for eating and drinking. After more walking (and a little bit of getting lost) we had our first Italian gelato (which was amazing). I don’t like wafers so I was very happy that in all the places there were options to have a pot instead of a cone. The problem for us was that there seemed to be a long way between metro stops. For instance the nearest stop from our hotel was about a 15 minute walk and there was no metro station in our favourite part – the old city. Certainly compared to Amsterdam, Paris and London, the metro and/or public transport really needs to be looked at again. I’m glad it wasn’t too hot either, because navigating through the heat would not have been great.

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Water fountains all over the city – to fill up our water bottles
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Looking down at the city

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Piazza Navona – one of the few times when another tourist manages to take a decent photo of us (and not cut one of our heads off)

We went back to the hotel, got changed and went out to Antica Trattoria Della Pace about a 3 minute walk from our hotel. We hadn’t been recommended the place but it was a good find and pretty good value for Rome. However, of course we couldn’t go through our evening without some kind of cock up. For example, I ordered a Margarita with extra peppers on it…. and it came with black pepper ground on it. So after some negotiation with the language barrier, I finally got my pizza. I don’t usually go for a Margarita but my Italian friend Freddy says that the best way to test out whether Pizza is good or not is to try the most basic option. We had a bruschetta each, a pizza and a bottle of wine. Then to top it off, as we were leaving the place, I knocked a glass off the table – gotta leave a lasting impression in Rome!! The restaurant has a nice courtyard so I reckon it would be really nice in the summer to sit out late at night.