A day in Monaco…

… and an evening in Antibes

Having won a 5* trip to Cannes in the South of France, it wouldn’t be complete without a trip to one of the most luxurious and expensive places in the World – the Principality of Monaco. Sandwiched between the French resorts of Cap d’Ail and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the French Riviera, Monaco is actually its own country.

View of Monaco

Leaving our Cannes’ hotel bright and early after another delicious breakfast, we walked to the station and caught a train along the same line as we had to reach the city of Nice the day before. This time we continued a few stops further on until we reached the sprawling Monaco station.

From here we followed signposts pointing in the direction of the Prince’s Palace, stopping along the way to gawp in the windows of the various airplane, super-yacht and mansion-selling stores along the street – prices all on request, of course, because if you need to ask, you probably can’t afford it!

The Prince’s Palace, Monaco

We soon reached a pretty and rather bustling square with a range of cafes where we crossed the busy road to the bottom of the hill leading up to the palace. As we made our way up the hill, we stopped to catch our breath and enjoy the picturesque views over Monaco’s waterfront, the built up city rising up into the hills behind it.

Crowds gathering for the Changing of the Guard

Along the way we passed the statue of the late Prince Rainier III, who famously married Hollywood star Grace Kelly before the path opened out into the courtyard. We arrived just in time to witness the changing of the guard, a daily ceremony held in the palace courtyard although with just 15 minutes to go til this began, it was difficult to find a place to stand from where we could get a clear view.

After watching the guards march and change places, the crowds started to disperse and we spent a bit of time in the courtyard from where there were more pretty views over the country. Leading off the courtyard were a series of narrow roads leading into Monaco-Ville, Monaco’s Old Town. The streets were lined with souvenir stores, cafes and restaurants – it was a shame we were still full from our breakfast as this would have been a perfect place to grab something to eat and drink, especially as the prices here seemed quite reasonable.

After weaving through some of the old streets, we followed signposts to Monaco Cathedral which stands across from the interesting building of the Palace of Justice. Although it was a Sunday, we arrived at a time when there were no services on so were able to have a look around the inside of the Cathedral.

The Palace of Justice and Monaco Cathedral either side of Rue d’Eglise
The Palace of Justice

The Cathedral faced out towards the sea so from here we crossed the road to the clifftop path and followed it in the direction of Monte Carlo, leaving the path to enter Jardins de Sant-Martin, a clifftop park with pretty views over the Mediterranean Sea, sculptures, ponds and fountains which lead out to the popular Monaco Museum of Oceanography.

Above, Monaco Cathedral, and below, wandering through Jardins de Sant-Martin

Unfortunately, we did not have time to pay the museum a visit and instead continued to follow the path back down to sea level and the Monaco marina.

Public toilets, Monaco-style!

With our visit being just a few weeks before the Monaco Grand Prix, preparations were already being made for that and the preceding E-Prix with many roads cordoned off to vehicles and bleachers already set up for fans to watch from.

This meant we were able to walk along part of the Grand Prix track as we made our way down to the marina area.

Above, and below, super yachts and views at the Monaco marina

The walk along the seafront was most notable for the abundance of super yachts docked in the marina. We thought the boats docked in Cannes looked expensive but they were tiny compared to some of the mansion-sized boats we saw docked here!!

Designer stores in Monte Carlo

From the marina, we found our way into the city of Monte Carlo where the streets were lined with designer stores.

After a bit of window-shopping, we found our way to the famous Casino of Monte Carlo, the setting of many a Hollywood film including a couple of James Bond films.

Outside the Casino of Monte Carlo

Unfortunately, we didn’t have our passports with us, a requirement of entry into the main casino, so instead we had to settle with a look round its grand foyer.

The infamous Fairmont Hairpin bend of the Monaco Grand Prix race track

With my friend’s husband being a big Formula 1 fan, he had requested photos of the infamous hairpin bend on the Monte Carlo racetrack. The bend was just a short walk from the casino and it was fun to watch cars carefully wind their way around the sharp turn.

Hungry by this point, we failed to find anything affordable restaurants in the area or any cafes at all so, not wanting to walk all the way back to the old town, we instead headed back to the station, grabbing some snacks from a store there to tide us over.

The city gates, part of the city ramparts

Instead of going straight back to Cannes, we decided to stop off at the town of Antibes, just a few stops before. From the train station, we wandered until we reached the Old Town where we found more narrow cafe and boutique store-lined streets opening out onto busy squares. Finding ourselves at Place Nationale, and hungrier by the minute, we decided to take a seat in the sunshine at one of the restaurants spilling into the square for drinks and pizza before walking down to the seafront.

While the restaurants here were squarely aimed at the tourists, there was a good atmosphere as everyone sat out enjoying their Sunday evening.

Dinner eaten, we continued our look around the Old Town stopping to browse in the stores and for ice cream along the way.

Walking along the city ramparts – view of Plage de la Gravette

Eventually, we found ourselves at the old city walls and walked through the city gate out towards the marina where more expensive (but slightly more modest than what Monaco had to offer) looking boats were docked. We followed a pathway along the front and up onto the city ramparts where we found ourselves overlooking the pretty beach Plage de la Gravette, still busy despite the sun starting to disappear.

Above, the Picasso Museum, and below, Antibes Cathedral

Continuing to walk along the city walls, we reached the former Chateau Grimaldi, which now houses the town’s Picasso Museum, and Antibes Cathedral.

As it was starting to get dark, we decided we should probably return to the station and make our way back to our Cannes’ hotel but we both wished we had had more time to spend in Antibes.

The next morning, due to another British Airways cancellation leaving us on an earlier flight than originally planned, we were up early for one last 5* hotel breakfast before being met by our private car driver returning us to Nice Airport. Here, our business class flights once again gave us access to the lounge before our flight was called for boarding and despite it not being long since breakfast, we certainly made the most of the buffet food on offer! It had certainly been an experience getting the 5-star experience on our trip and the attentive service, super-comfy beds, business class flights and delicious food was something I could definitely get used too.

Visiting the South of France – a day trip to Nice

Won back in 2019, our prize of a 5* trip of a lifetime to Cannes in the South of France had been a long time coming with various lockdowns and travel bans forcing us to cancel and reschedule multiple times in the intervening years but we had finally made it and after walking up in our luxurious 5* hotel room at the Five Seas Hotel, we were excited to see what was on offer at our included breakfast.

Once up in the rooftop breakfast room, we were not disappointed as we were greeted enthusiastically by courteous staff, shown to a table with views across to the Cannes sign in Le Suquet district, poured fresh juices and handed a menu each. On our table already lay two baskets, one full of fresh bread – crusty chunks of white French stick and slices of a seeded bread – the other filled with delicious pastries. Further to this, the menu contained a wide range of options from cereals to cheeses and meats, fruit and hot, egg-based options. Not wanting to come across greedy, we ordered a selection of cheeses between us to eat with our bread and a cheese omelette each with a side of bacon. The staff seemed surprised that this was all we wanted so my friend added an order of the salmon to eat with her bread and I added a bowl of fruit to my order along with a pot of tea.

The bright blue sea

Waiting for our choices to arrive, we munched on the light, flaky Pain au Chocolate pastries. As each of our courses arrived, we were running out of room on our table. Everything that arrived was just as delicious as the course before it from the tasty selection of hard and soft cheeses to what we both agreed was the best cheese omelette we had ever tasted. The fruit salad that followed, full to the brim with fruits including apple, kiwi and pineapple finished it off perfectly.

Fontaine de Soleil

We were on a schedule that morning having booked onto a walking tour of Nice, a 40-minute train ride from where we were staying in Cannes. With the Cannes train station being just a short stroll from our hotel, we had just enough time to return to our room and grab what we needed for the day before heading straight out.

Above, Nice Opera House, and below, my travel mascot, Mr Ted, visits the old sweet shop, Henri Auer

At the station, the ticket machines were easy to navigate and the station platforms well-signposted. The train followed the coastline offering beautiful views of sandy beaches and blue seas as we made our way into Nice. Unfortunately, it was an overcast day with rain forecast later. Pulling into Nice station, we followed google maps to the main shopping street, Avenue Jean Medecin, from where it was about a 20 minute walk down to the seafront.

Arriving early for our tour, we took at stroll through Jardin de Albert 1er, a small urban park dotted with sculptures, and along the sea front where I was surprised by the bright blue colour of the sea, before making our way back to the Fontaine du Soleil meeting point.

After admiring the fountain, which is dedicated to Greek god Apollo, we followed our guide into Nice’s old town stopping to hear about the old sweet store, Henri Auer, and the Nice Opera House before continuing to Marche Aux Fleurs, a bustling market selling flowers and food. From here we made our way to Place du Palais de Justice, a square in the old town in front of the courthouse and then to Place Rosetti where Nice Cathedral stands.

Enjoying views from Castle Hill

Our guides then led us along some more of the winding, narrow old town streets until we were back out at the far end of the seafront. Here, we took an elevator up Colline du Chateau or Castle Hill where the Castle of Nice once stood. Now, the hill is parkland with a cafe, children’s playgrounds and beautiful views over Nice.

Unfortunately, the occasional drizzle had now turned to heavy showers but while the views did not look much like the blue-skied picture in a complimentary postcard we were given, it was still pretty spectacular and our guides explained that the bright turquoise colour of the sea was caused by large grey stones on its seabed.

Above, and below, the man-made waterfall on Castle Hill

After visiting three viewpoints on Castle Hill, one of which looked across to the port on the east side of the town, our tour came to an end leaving us to find our own way back down to the centre of Nice. Before taking the elevator back down, we took the short walk to see the man-made waterfall built into the hill and visible from the fountain we started at.

Back down at the seafront

Back down on the seafront, the rain was getting heavier so we decided to shelter at one of the bars along the promenade ordering a few snacks to keep us going. The rain stopping again, we headed back out walking back through the old town and exploring more of its narrow streets lined with shops, cafes and restaurants.

Eventually, we ended up back out in the main town where we walked along Promenade du Paillon back to Fontaine du Soleil. With the rain once again getting heavier, we headed back into the old town and found a cafe to sit in and have drinks before looking for somewhere to eat dinner.

Place Massena, the square that is home to Fontaine du Soleil

With Nice once being part of Italy before joining France, there is a heavy Italian influence in the restaurants there. We had passed many lovely looking restaurants in the old town over the course of the day but now found many of them to be closed until around 7pm – by which time we had to be making our way back to the train station – so unfortunately, we had to settle for one of the more touristy restaurants near to the market area.

After dinner, we started our walk back to the train station only for a heavy rainstorm to set in. We arrived at the station soaking wet and were glad when we got back to Cannes and our hotel to dry out and warm up! It was a shame the weather had not been on our side today but we had still enjoyed our trip to Nice and our walking tour of the city. We had one full day of our trip to the South of France left and planned to use it to visit Monaco and we were both hoping that the weather forecast for a return to sunshine the next day would be correct!

A 5* weekend in the South of France

Cannes

Way back in 2019, I was lucky enough to win an online competition I’d entered for a trip to the French Riviera. The prize consisted of a three-night break in a 5* hotel in Cannes, business class flights with British Airways, private transfers and spending money. Inviting one of my friends along as my plus one, we arranged the trip for the following April.

In the BA lounge at Heathrow awaiting our flight

Spoilt for choice, we were given the pick of a range of luxury Cannes hotels and after a bit of googling, decided to go for the Five Seas hotel, a small, boutique hotel tucked away down a back street of Cannes rather than one of the larger hotels lining the sea front.

All set to go, things, of course, did not go to plan and with lockdowns and travel bans suddenly in place everywhere for the first half of 2020, we ended up having to cancel our plans.

Drinks on offer in the lounge

Thankfully, the prize promoters were willing to honour the prize and, naively expecting things to have returned to normal within a few months, we rescheduled for September 2020. And then, with PCR testing, travel bans, lock downs etc etc still being a threat to travel abroad, we rescheduled again to April 2021. And then to September 2021. And then to April 2022.

We were beginning to wonder if we would ever make it there but it was fifth time lucky and the other weekend, we finally got to the point of packing our suitcases ready to head to Heathrow airport!

Even at this point, things were not plain sailing. We had booked an early afternoon flight back from Nice which would give us the morning in Cannes but just weeks before we were due to travel, the promoters informed us that this flight had been cancelled by BA and we had been put on a morning flight, our transfer from the hotel to the airport now scheduled for a disappointing 8.30am.

Above, a late night arrival in Nice, and below, transferring to our luxury hotel the next morning

But being a freebie, we couldn’t really complain and we had at least booked the early morning flight into Nice giving us most of that day there to get to and explore Cannes.

Or at least that was the plan. With flight cancellations amongst other problems at UK airports being heavily in the news during the school Easter holidays, and BA often being mentioned as an airline cutting flights, I was keeping a close eye on the flights we were booked on.

On the Wednesday, just 2 days before we were due to fly on the Friday morning, and a day before we departed for London to stay in an airport hotel overnight, I happened to check on the status of our outbound flight only to see it listed as cancelled. Not only that but when we signed into the BA website, we had been bumped onto the 9pm flight which didn’t arrive in Nice until 00:05 Saturday morning.

Managing to get hold of the promoters, we came up with a plan to transfer onto the 9pm flight but on the Thursday night. We would then cancel our London airport hotel, instead booking a similarly priced hotel at Nice airport before transferring to our Cannes hotel on Friday morning as originally planned. It was a long night as we wondered if the promoters would successfully be able to arrange this with their flight providers but the next morning, just hours before we left for London, we got a phone call back saying it had all been arranged!

Strolling along La Croisette in Cannes

Since my friend and I were travelling from different parts of the UK, we’d decided to use our UK transfers allowance on trains instead of private transfers, opting to upgrade to first class in line with the theme of the weekend. Once in London, we used the tube to travel to the airport, deciding to put the remainder of the UK transfer money in with our spending money for Cannes.

After using the self-service bag drop off machines at Terminal 5, our business class tickets came with fast track security passes and we were soon in the departures lounge a full 3 hours before our flight was due to depart. We had done a bit of research on the airport lounges available to us and decided to follow the signs to the BA South Galleries Lounge.

We were surprised at how large the lounge was, with a range of seating options many next to a charge point for phones or laptops etc. Food was being served from a central kitchen and a variety of snacks including crisps, pretzels and biscuits lay at self-service areas alongside bar areas with champagne, wine, beers and soft drinks which were also all ‘help yourself’. Self-service hot drinks machines also sat in every section of the lounge so you never had far to walk to get what you wanted.

At the market

Finding a quiet, cosy corner to sit in, we scanned the QR code on the table to access the menu ordering the steak and ale pie with mash each before helping ourselves to drinks. Within minutes, our food was delivered to our table. We spend the next few hours eating our way through the menu and the tasty treats dotted around the lounge before deciding to take a walk to check out some of the other lounges available to us.

We ended up in the BA North Galleries Lounge, smaller version of the the South Galleries but with a better view of the runways so we spent some time sat watching the planes come in to land as the sun set until it was time to board.

Above, down by the beach in Cannes, and below, on a hilltop in Le Suquet district enjoying the views

Expecting to get just a snack on board as part of our business class ticket, we were surprised to find it was a full meal. I was quite pleased that neither of the choices – salmon or quinoa, were things I ate or I’d have probably eaten it despite being full from the offerings in the lounge. Instead, I politely declined, settling for drink.

Once at Nice airport, we quickly passed through immigration and collected our luggage before crossing the road to our hastily booked airport hotel. The room at the Campanile was cheap but cheerful and fine for the few hours we needed before our transfer to Cannes the next day.

The next morning, we were promptly met outside the hotel by our driver to take us to our Cannes hotel. Luggage taken off us and lifted into the car, doors held open for us and complimentary bottles of water placed before us, this was very different to our usual experience of dragging our luggage to the nearest station or shuttle stop, jumping on a busy train and trying to find our own way through an unfamiliar city to a budget hotel!

Back in Le Suquet admiring the views

Instead, 45 minutes later, we pulled up at the door of the Five Seas Hotel. Before we could even undo our seatbelts, various staff members were surrounding the car emptying it of our luggage and holding doors open for us. As we walked into the foyer, we could see our luggage safely lined up against the wall waiting to be taken to our room.

We were greeted by a series of friendly faces, invited to take a seat on cosy furniture in the foyer and offered complimentary water or juices as someone checked us in. Despite it not even being 11am, we were then told our room was ready. Expecting to be given our room number, key and be sent on our way, we were surprised when we were instead led to the lift – which was called for us, doors held open when it arrived – and taken to our room, given a tour of its facilities and having all the hotel facilities explained to us.

The room was lovely with a free minibar containing snacks and soft drinks, a large bathroom and separate wardrobes amongst other features. Once settled in, we headed out to explore. We had a vague plan for the trip to try and see as much as possible of Cannes that day then to use the local trains to visit Nice, Monaco and Antibes on the other two days.

The Cannes sign in Le Suquet district

Making our way down to La Croisette, the long promenade, we strolled along the front for a bit before deciding to head back into the town to find some lunch. Here, we stumbled across Marche Forville, an indoor market which today was filled with various street food vendors. Grabbing some homemade bruschetta and a savoury pie to eat on the go, we continued to walk through the town, soon finding ourselves on the main high street.

Resting from the steep walk up to the hilltop viewpoint

After some window shopping, we returned to the seafront grabbing an ice cream from one of the many gelato vendors on offer before deciding to hop on to Le Petit Train de Cannes, a cute land train that takes tourists around the main parts of the town while a pre-recorded commentary plays.

The train took us down the far end of La Croisette, the commentary pointing out the many famous hotels which various celebrities have frequented over the years.

Back down by the sea front

Much of La Croisette promenade looked like a construction site during our stay as the town raced to make itself presentable in time for the upcoming film festival and as we passed churned up pavement after churned up pavement, we wondered how it would ever be ready on time! Even some of the famous hotels and venues such as the iconic Carlton Hotel and the infamous Palm Club, were currently closed for renovations.

It was a shame the train didn’t have a hop on/off option like tourist buses but it was still fun to get a glimpse of the highlights of Cannes and learn something about what we were seeing.

Down by the beach

The train did make one stop, at the top of the hill in Le Suquet district – the old town with winding, narrow roads and colourful houses – outside L’Eglise Notre-Dame d’Esperance. Given 10 minutes until we were told the train would depart for the rest of the tour, this was long enough to visit the church and walk up to the walled viewpoint for beautiful views across Cannes.

Hopping back onto the train at the sound of its bell being rang, we both agreed we would walk back to Le Suquet district after the tour and explore further so after we pulled up back at the seafront station, this is exactly what we did.

Above, the famous Carlton Hotel, and below, drinks at its rather pricey beach club

Finding a bar in one of the street’s there, we sat and had drinks, people watching for a while before continuing to wander, eventually finding ourselves back on the hilltop. With more time to spare, this time we walked up to the higher viewpoint by a sculpture of huge letters spelling out Cannes and then into the gardens of the neighbouring Musee de l’explorations du Monde before heading back downhill taking narrow street after narrow street until we happened to see the sea glistening in front of us.

Passing by Palais des Festivals, site if the Cannes Film Festival

Finding ourselves at the western end of the bay by the Port of Cannes, we strolled out along on of the jetties, looking back at the town and enjoying the views before walking back into town to look for somewhere to have dinner. Menus at the more touristy restaurants were not too badly priced although a bit more than I was used to and at over 20 euros each for a margarita pizza and soft drink, I was still glad we had been given spending money for our trip as part of the prize!

Posing on the red carpet

After dinner, we walked back to La Croisette and walked further east along the promenade as far as the Carlton Hotel. It was a nice evening and the sun was starting to set so we decided to look for somewhere outside to sit and have drinks. With the Carlton Hotel closed for renovations, its beach bar was open to all. Glancing at the over-priced menu, we immediately dismissed it and continued to walk before stopping and turning around. Being used to travelling on a budget, if this was our own money, there’s no way we’d ever consider visiting such an expensive bar but we’d been given spending money to live the life on this trip so we decided maybe, as a one off, we should just forget the cost of the drinks and go for the experience.

Ending the evening at our hotel’s rooftop bar

After taking seats on the cosy loungers on the beach, we perused the menu and ordered. There was a good atmosphere with mellow trance music being played from the main bar area and a few groups of people sat dotted around at the various tables or at the bar and it was nice to relax with drinks as the sun started to go down. The ambience was spoiled slightly by pigeons jumping onto our table and stealing the complimentary nuts we’d been brought with our drinks and we noticed other tables having a similar problem. While we sat, some of the bar’s patrons got up to walk along the jetty and take photos and once we’d finished our drinks, we decided to do the same.

Back at our hotel, we freshened up before visiting its rooftop bar. With prices not far off those at the Carlton Beach Bar, we didn’t stay for long but the service from the staff serving, like everything else at the hotel, was impeccable.

It’d been a fun first day in the South of France and after all the walking we were more than ready to take to our uber-comfy beds, ready to see what the next two days – which we planned to spend in Nice and Monaco – would bring.

A Winter Sun Break in Lanzarote

After not travelling outside of the UK for 18 months, I was in need of some warm sunshine. So when my friend announced she had some work leave to use up and asked if anyone fancied a trip away, I suggested a February half term getaway. The destination was narrowed down considerably by our ‘minimum temperature of 20 degrees celsius’ requirement, our limited time constraints (it had to be 4-5 nights maximum) our budget and after a quick search of a few US cities such as Miami and LA and ruling them out when we saw the price, we decided the safest bet would be the Canary Islands.

Arriving in Lanzarote

Spontaneously deciding to take this trip just 6 weeks before our proposed departure dates, we booked at a time when an outdoor mask mandate existed across Spain and its islands and the various Canary Islands flitted between level 2 and level 4 Spanish restrictions (mainly meaning differing levels of curfews and capacities in bars and restaurants). As we booked, the rule was also in place in the UK that we’d have to take a PCR test upon return, isolating until we got a negative result. But we were hopeful at least some of these restrictions would be lifted by the time we flew.

We had no real preference on which Canary Island we visited – I had taken beach holidays on both Lanzarote and Fuerteventura in the past and my friend on both Tenerife and Gran Canaria but neither of us had really spent any time actually exploring the islands – so we were basically just looking for the best deal we could find with a package operator (we felt more protected booking this way rather than flights and hotels separately).

Above, and below, at Playa de los Charcos

It didn’t take us too long to settle on a 5 night break to Lanzarote staying at an adults-only hotel in the resort of Costa Teguise on a bed and breakfast basis. Coincidentally, Costa Teguise was the resort I had stayed in on both of my previous trip to the island of Lanzarote for a Christmas trip 5-years earlier and many years ago as a teenager so I was familiar with the resort and knew it had what we wanted for a few days away.

A walk along the coast at Costa Teguise

Luckily, in the weeks leading up to our trip, the UK abandoned its PCR testing for vaccinated travellers on arrival back into the country giving us one less thing to worry about and the week before our departure, Spain got rid of its outdoor mask mandate. Still, after having so many of my trips cancelled or booked over the last 2 years and with working at a school – where Covid was a continuous problem – right up til the day before we departed, I refused to get my hopes up that the trip would go ahead.

Looking down on Playa de las Cucharos

Navigating our way through the slightly confusing passenger locator form for Spanish arrivals and downloading our QR code successfully, we were soon packed and ready to head to the airport. Everything ran smoothly at the airport and suddenly, we were on the plane ready to take off. After all this time, I could hardly believe it was actually happening!

The waves crashing in, and below down by Playa del Jabillo

We arrived at Arrecife Airport in Lanzarote about 4 hours later and got our coach transfer to our hotel. Masks had to be worn on public transport and when walking through the hotel to our rooms but we were more than fine with this as long as we didn’t need to wear them out and about. Our room was the same as any other Canarian aparthotel room I’d ever stayed in with a bedroom, lounge area and kitchenette and being on the third floor, we also had a balcony overlooking a local park.

It was dark by the time we were settled in but as I was familiar with the area, we took the short stroll to the coast path and walked along it into the main town to find something to eat. Although temperatures dropped in the evening, it was warm enough to just wear a light jacket or cardigan out. Choosing a bar to sit in, we ordered a pizza to share. We had hoped to see some live music which was advertised at the bar’s entrance but after waiting half an hour after it was supposed to start, we gave up and returned to our hotel for an early night, tired from all the travelling.

We awoke the next morning to glorious, warm sunshine and after enjoying a buffet breakfast at our hotel, ventured out to spend the day exploring Costa Teguise. Starting at Playa de los Charcos, the closest beach to our hotel, we made our way along the esplanade stopping to enjoy the views across the Atlantic Ocean. Walking along the main beach, Playa Cucharos, we then made our way along the headland and round to the pretty cove of Playa del Jabillo with its lagoon-like bright blue waters and then on to Playa Bastian.

Above, and below, dinner followed by crepes for dessert

Looping back around to the busy Playa del Jabillo, we stopped for a while to enjoy the sunshine, swim and eat our picnic lunch. After drying off, we walking to the main square Plaza Pueblo Marinero where we cooled down with drinks at one of its many bars before walking back down Avenida de las Islas Canarias to our hotel where we enjoyed the last of the day’s sunshine from our balcony.

That evening, we walked back into town and had dinner at one of the restaurants in the Square followed by crepes oozing with Nutella from a desserts’ stall. Failing to find any live music on anywhere again, we once again returned to our hotel for an early night in anticipation of our earlier start the next day.

Above, and below, at the camel park near Timanfaya National Park

Wanting to see more of Lanzarote than just the resort we were staying in, we had booked a full day coach tour of the island for the next day of our trip. We were up in time for the doors opening for breakfast so we could still get our fill before meeting our coach. Being just the second pick up of the day, we then spent the next hour sat on the coach driving through Costa Teguise and then Puerto del Carmen as we picked up the rest of the passengers. Once everyone was on board, we drove inland towards Timanfaya National Park.

Above, volcanic landscape at Timanfaya National Park, and below, watching the geothermal demonstrations at the park

After a pitstop for refreshments in a nearby village, our first main stop was at the camel park on the outskirts of the National Park where we had the option to take a camel ride through the volcanic landscape then it was on to a stop at Hilario, an area within the National Park where we watched demonstrations of the geothermal energy.

A restaurant at Hilario is built on top of one of the volcanoes and uses the heat from them to cook its food. We didn’t have time to eat there but did get to see the food cooking above the pits.

Food cooking over the volcano

Back on the coach, we were given a tour of the National Park passing craters and fields of lava while the official park commentary was played to us.

We were scheduled to make a stop at El Golfo to see the Green Lagoon next but our guide explained that it was closed that day due to filming – Lanzarote’s dramatic landscape means it is used for lots of films including Marvel films such as Thor and The Eternals!

I was disappointed that we weren’t going to see the lagoon. Instead, we were taken to the Mancha Blanca, the National Park’s Visitor and Interpretation Centre on the outskirts of the park to learn more about the formation of the park.

Then it was on to our lunch stop at a restaurant in a small Canarian town where for an extra 10 euros we could help ourselves to the buffet food provided.

Visiting a local winery

Our first afternoon stop was at a local vineyard where we got to sample some local wines and then it was on to a viewpoint at the northern end of the island. We were told that the views here are normally spectacular and reach across to La Graciosa, another of the Canary Islands, but unfortunately, a sandstorm from the Sahara had swept in, obscuring our view.

Above, and below, at Jameos del Agua

Our final stop of the day was at Jameos del Agua, where a sea cave and lava tube has been turned into a concert auditorium and gardens designed by Lanzarote-born Spanish artist, Cezar Manrique. Then it was back to Costa Teguise where, thankfully, we were one of the first drop offs.

Still full from making the most of the lunchtime buffet, we still walked into town that evening but rather than dinner at a restaurant, just went for drinks at some of the bars in the main Square.

After the glorious warm sunshine of the previous 2 days, we awoke on day 3 to clouds followed by heavy, but thankfully short, showers.

Above, rain and sunny spells

With the forecast suggesting the sun would come out for a few hours before more showers in the afternoon, we decided to spend the morning locally walking along the coast path and on the beach then to catch the bus to Arrecife, the island’s capital city, in the afternoon.

Above, scultpure in Costa Teguise, and below, in Arrecife

Catching the local bus was straightforward and it took around half an hour to reach Arrecife with all the stops along the way. Once there, we began to make our way along the promenade beginning at Parque Tematico with its ocean views and public art and past the main beach, Playa del Reducto.

Above, and below, by Castillo de San Gabriel in Arrecife

Making our way past the resort’s iconic Gran Hotel – the only hotel on the island to exceed the now lawed 5-storey limit – we walked past Parque Jose Ramirez Cerda and out across the causeway to Castillo de San Gabriel, enjoying the views looking back towards the city.

With the clouds rolling in, we could see there was another storm heading our way so we quickly made our way back along the causeway to the esplanade just in time to take shelter in a nearby souvenir store where we waited for the rain to clear.

Above, and below, at the 17th floor bar of the Gran Hotel, Arrecife

Once it had cleared, we decided to stroll through the main shopping area of the city so we could easily dodge inside a shop should the rain start again. Fortunately, the sun was soon shining again so after stopping to eat our picnic lunch we decided to return to the Gran Hotel and take a trip up to its 17th floor rooftop bar where we had drinks while enjoying the beautiful views across the island.

Dinner at an American bar in Costa Teguise

Then it was back to the bus station to catch the bus back to Costa Teguise where, later that evening, we took our now traditional stroll into town for dinner and to search once again for live music, tonight, actually finding some at an American bar!

A day in Puerta del Carmen

We had just one day of our holiday left and decided to spend it visiting another of the island’s popular resort towns, Puerto del Carmen. Catching the same bus that we had caught to Arrecife, it took about an hour to reach the resort.

At Playa de los Pocillos

Exiting the bus at the top end of the resort, we first took a stroll towards the neighbouring, and quieter, Playa de los Pocillos, before returning to the busy Puerto del Carmen ‘strip’, the 2-mile stretch running parallel to the beach lined with a multitude of shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. Reaching the southern end of the strip, we crossed the road to Playa Grande, the resort’s main beach to rest our feet, relax in the sunshine for a while and eat our picnic lunch.

Above, by the marina, and below on Playa Grande

After lunch, we walked into Puerto del Carmen’s old town and down to the Old Town Harbour where we cooled down with drinks from a bar overlooking the marina before returning to the main strip, this time taking the coastal path past the small, pretty cove of Playa Chica and back to Playa Grande where we once again spent some time relaxing on the golden sands.

Back in Costa Teguise

Soon, it was time to catch the bus back to Costa Teguise. With the one-way traffic system along the strip, it took us a while to locate the return bus stop at the top of a hill behind the main town. Despite the local bus app telling us a bus was due in the next 10 minutes, we waited over half an hour, arriving back in Costa Teguise an hour later.

Dinner in the Square

That evening was our last on holiday and we once again walked up to the main square, having dinner at an Italian restaurant followed by more crepes! Walking back along the seafront, we stopped at a cocktail bar along the way for some final drinks before returning to our hotel.

With a few hours before our transfer back to the airport the next day, we made the most of the buffet breakfast before relaxing by the pool in the warm sunshine. It had been a well-needed and long-overdue sunshine break and, for me at least, had felt like a bit of normality after so long without travelling. And with a few more trips abroad planned for the rest of the year, I’m hopeful that they too will be able to go ahead.

Lake Garda and Verona

Having spent a few days in a rather quiet Milan for a summer city break, we were off to the Italian Lakes for the second part of our trip.

Not having a car, we had found ourselves quite tied down with where we could get to in the region using just public transport. Rather than having to work out how to get ourselves and our luggage to a resort by boat, we had taken a friend’s advice to visit Sirmione, a resort town on the southern banks of Lake Garda.

Views across the lake

From Milan, we caught a regional train eastbound to Desenzano del Garda. From here, we planned on catching a bus to Sirmione then find our way to our hotel once in the town but after departing our train to a deserted station, we couldn’t find any information on the buses. Deciding to go with our backup option of a taxi also proved more difficult than we expected it to be as none were around to meet the train and there was no one around to ask! Finding a payphone, we managed to call a taxi service and get someone to understand us and finally, a good half hour or more later, we were on our way.

Watching the sunset across Lake Garda

Our problems getting to our destination didn’t stop there though. Sirmione is at the tip of a peninsula and there is one road in and one road out of the town. With it being August, peak tourist season, and a Friday afternoon, it seemed the whole of Italy was heading that way and what should have been a 15-20 minute journey, took over an hour as we sat in a long line of traffic leading up to the town gates!

Spending the evening in Sirmione

By the time we finally arrived at our hotel, we were definitely ready for a relaxing few days and were glad we had upped our budget a bit to stay in a nice 4* hotel. Once settled in our room, we wandered into town, finding a small pizzeria for dinner and watching the sun set over the lake before heading back to our hotel for drinks at the bar.

About to depart on a boat tour, and below, exploring the Lake and Sirmione

The next day we planned to spend exploring Sirmione a bit more so after breakfast sat out on the hotel’s sunny veranda, we once walked down to the town’s centre. After familiarising ourselves with the small town’s layout, we made our way to the lakeside.

It was a beautiful, sunny day and we decided to take a boat tour out on the lake around Sirmione. The views across the lake, of Sirmione Castle jutting out from the town and of the mountains in the distance were really pretty and it was interesting to find out a bit more about the area we were staying in.

Lakeside in Sirmione, and below, Gelato!!

We spent the rest of the morning in Sirmione, sitting out on the shingle beaches leading down to the lake’s edge, wandering along the lakeside paths, looking around the bustling town, sat out at the cafes and bars and enjoying gelato before returning to our hotel in the afternoon and relaxing by the pool and cooling off with a dip.

A day in Sirmione, and below, views from the castle

That evening, we took a stroll back into town for dinner, first walking along to Sirmione Castle which we paid the small entry fee to go and explore. The ticket price was more than worth it for the pretty views over Sirmione and Lake Garda.

View over the lake

The next day, we caught the Sirmione land train to the Grottoes of Cattulus, the ruins of an ancient Roman Villa.

View from the top

The entrance to the Grottoes was on a hill top and in the heat we were glad of the land train to take us there. There were pretty views over the lake from the top and after our visit, we walked back down the hill into town.

In Desenzano del Garda

While Sirmione was a lovely place, there is not a lot to do outside of relaxing by the lake so we decided to catch a bat across the lake to the town of Desenzano del Garda.

An afternoon in Desenzano del Garda

Arriving around lunch time, we found somewhere in the main square to eat before spending some time wandering around then catching the boat back to Sirmione that evening.

The amphitheater in Verona

We had one final day left of our trip and with the overcast weather forecast, we decided to use the day to take a trip out to the city of Verona. Enquiring at our hotel, we pre-booked tickets for the bus the day before then walked down to the pick up point the next morning.

Above, and below, a day in Verona

It took just over an hour to reach the city of Verona and we were dropped by the city gates. The weather there was much better than what we had left behind in Sirmione and we had a lovely day exploring the city in the sunshine.

Milan

One of the last trips I took last year before everything shut down and freedom to travel became a thing of the past, was a short city break to the Italian city of Milan. It was right on the cusp of Corona Virus getting a grip and at the time, all those things that we’ve now grown accustomed to – arriving to temperature checks and seeing many members of the public masking up on public transport etc – seemed a bit of a novelty. Milan and its neighbouring areas later became a hotspot for the virus in Italy and a week later I found myself to be the subject of a debate at work as to whether, having recently visited the area, I needed to be sent home or not! I wasn’t, if you’re wondering, but had I been sent home, it would have been worth it for what was a great short break away.

That was my third trip to Milan but only the second of which was planned in advance having once found myself stuck there for a day unable to get a train out of the city to Florence, and while it has never been my favourite Italian city to visit, it still has plenty to offer for a short break.

Closed designer stores – August in Milan

Picking when to visit Milan can have a huge effect on impressions of the city. Being a teacher, my first visit was in August during the main summer break and as part of a longer, city-hopping trip to Italy. What we didn’t realise was that in August, with the heat in the city, many of the businesses there close down as everyone takes off to the nearby Italian lakes. We had trouble finding any restaurants open other than the touristy ones in the centre and many of the designer stores had ‘closed until September’ signs in their windows. The whole city felt like a bit of a ghost town!

Walking towards Sforza Castle in Milan

On that first trip to Milan, I stayed at a small hotel on the edge of the Zona Buenos Aires area. From here, we were able to walk to all the main sites and, choosing to use the hop on/off tour bus as well, found we didn’t need to use the public transport system at all.

On my most recent visit, as we were visiting the city for a concert, we stayed further out of the city towards the arena in the Morivione district. As Milan has an excellent and easy to navigate metro system, this didn’t hinder our sightseeing at all as trains into the city centre were regular and quick.

The impressive Milan Duomo

The main must-see attraction in Milan, and in my opinion, worth the trip alone, is the stunning Duomo di Milano or Milan Cathedral. No matter how often I see this impressive building, the elaborate facade with its intricate carvings never fails to take my breath away. Entrance to the cathedral is by ticket only and these can be purchased online or on the day from the nearby, well-signposted ticket office.

If you have plenty of time, then buy a combo ticket allowing you entry into the church, archaeological area, museum and rooftops.

On a clear day, the views over Milan from the rooftops are pretty good and it’s interesting to be able to get a bit closer to the gargoyles and other carvings decorating the cathedral’s exterior. My visit to the rooftop last February, on a surprisingly warm and sunny day, was punctuated by hearing sharp blows on the guards’ whistles as they reminded visitors to be respectful and not treat it as a rooftop terrace to sunbathe on!

I followed my visit with a trip to the nearby Duomo Museum which houses various artefacts and original works of art from the Cathedral.

Piazza del Duomo

The busy Piazza del Duomo in front of the Cathedral is a bit of a tourist attraction in itself with crowds fighting for the best spot to get a photo of the Cathedral and paying locals for bird seed to feed the square’s famously friendly pigeons. Its also home to various touristy bars and restaurants which, while not as expensive as I was expecting, unsurprisingly don’t offer the best food you are going to find in the city. Around the square, you’ll also find a few high street stores.

Above, and below, a visit to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

If it’s designer shopping you want then Milan is definitely the place to go. The elegant Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, said to be one of the World’s oldest shopping malls, is full of designer fashion boutiques and, even if the prices are out of your budget, its fun to window shop. The mall is home to a range of bars and restaurants too and we enjoyed a delicious pizza lunch at Sorbillo restaurant followed by gelato from Venchi!

Milan is also home to the famous opera theatre, La Scala. If you want to see a performance here, it’s best to book in advance. Guided tours of building can also be taken.

La Scala Opera House

While not the most obvious place to visit in Italy if it’s museums you’re after, Milan still has plenty to offer with many small galleries and exhibits to visit. The most famous work of art found in the city is Da Vinci’s painting, The Last Supper. Tickets are needed to view the painting and often sell out well in advance. On all my visits, I’ve left it too late to book and have yet to get a ticket to visit.

Above, and below, exploring Sforza Castle

The Sforza Castle complex is home to a variety of museums all housed inside the 15th century building. It is free to visit the castle complex itself but there is a small fee for a ticket to visit the museums, the price of which depends on which rooms and exhibits you want to explore.

One of the museums is the Museum of Pietà Rondanini Michelangelo displaying Michelangelo’s last piece of work, the Rondanini Pietà, an unfinished marble sculpture.

Arco della Pace at the entrance to Parco Sempione

Parco Sempione, with its impressive archway entrance, lies directly to the rear of Sforza Castle and is also worth a wander through if you are in the area. Other pretty parks in the city include Giardini Indro Montanelli, Milan’s pretty public gardens.

On my last visit to the city, we found ourselves in the Navigli district, an area of the city we had not visited before.

Above, and below, contrasting daylight/nighttime visits to the Navigli area

The Navigli are a system of canals. Currently, bars and restaurants line the walkways along the edge of the canals. We first visited in the evening. The area was lively but with a great atmosphere as people sat out enjoying drinks and aperitivo. After wandering round for while and stopping for a few drinks, we chose one of the many restaurants to eat at.

We returned to the Navigli district the following morning to find it just as busy with people shopping and sat out at the cafes enjoying the sunshine. It was definitely a fun place of the city to visit!

There’s still plenty of things for me to do and see in Milan and I look forward to the next time I find myself in this exciting city.

A weekend in Venice

Venice was an Italian city I’d been curious about visiting for a while having heard mixed reviews about it from various friends. After spending some time in Tuscany visiting Florence and some of its nearby cities, we had caught the train north for a few nights in Bologna, a city we had found a nice contrast being less touristy and more authentically Italian and we were now travelling to the last city on our Italian adventure, Venice.

Arriving into the city by train, we had not thought at all about how we were going to find our way to our hotel. Normally, if the hotel wasn’t close to the station or easily accessible by public transport, we’d hop in a taxi to take us there and as we were both travelling with hefty luggage, this would have been the ideal situation today. But, of course, there’s no traffic allowed in Venice and public transport in by the waterways only.

The Rialto Bridge

After seeking advice from the information office at the station, we realised we would need to take a water taxi along the Grand Canal to the stop closest our hotel and then walk the rest of the way. The first part of this was relatively easy. We were quickly able to purchase water taxi tickets and were soon loading ourselves and our luggage onto a boat.

The stops were well signposted making it easy to see where to disembark. Things got a little trickier at this point as we had to cross lots of small bridges over the canals and drag our luggage down a maze of narrow roads to try and navigate our way to the hotel.

Down by the Grand Canal

We eventually made it there and breathed a sign of relief – that was until we found out the hotel was on the third floor of a building without a lift and we’d have to carry our luggage all the way up the stairs!

It was a beautiful, sunny day so, that little adventure over, we spent a bit of time settling into our room before venturing out into the city for the afternoon.

Our hotel was in a pretty good location – in a quieter, less touristy area but only a 5-10 minute walk from the Rialto Bridge and many of the other tourist attractions.

On the gondola sailing under the Rialto Bridge

Armed with our map, we made our way along the narrow cobbled streets. As we neared the main area of Venice, the streets became noticeably busier. We soon discovered that every street looked the same and we seemed to be going around in circles getting nowhere fast when suddenly we found ourselves at the Grand Canal with the Rialto Bridge ahead of us!

Nearby we found a small market going on so had a quick look around the stalls before walking back to the canal and crossing the bridge.

Here, we found a cafe to sit out at and had drinks in the sunshine watching the people, boats and gondolas go past.

Above, our Gondolier, and below, enjoying our gondola ride

Deciding you can’t go to Venice and not have a gondola ride, we began to investigate the cost. Prices seemed to be per boat so it was more for a private gondola ride and there were extra charges to get the gondolier to sing. We hovered around the canal banks wondering if we could find another group to share a gondola with and before long, a family of 4 asked if we wanted to split the cost with them.

Jumping in, we were able to sit at opposite ends of the gondola so sharing didn’t spoil the experience and the family even offered to switch places with us half way around so we could sit up the other end of the boat for a while. It also meant we could take photos for each other so they were able to get a family photo together on the gondola then take one of the 2 of us.

Above, St Mark’s Cathedral, and below, in a busy St Mark’s Square

The gondola ride took us out on the Grand Canal and under the Rialto Bridge then down some of the narrower canals leading off it. It was a really fun experience and we got a decent amount of time on the water for the price we paid.

After our gondola ride, we continued to walk down the narrow streets, eventually finding ourselves out in St Mark’s Square. The square was busy but as there was only a short queue to go into St Mark’s Basilica, we joined the queue and soon found ourselves inside.

Above, and below, evening by the Grand Canal

We spent some time looking around the grandly decorated cathedral then started to find our way back to our hotel. That evening, we ate at a restaurant we found near to where we were staying to avoid the inflated prices in the more touristy areas, walking back to the Grand Canal after.

Doge’s Palace

The next day, we made our way back to St Mark’s Square and bought tickets to visit Doge’s Palace.

Above, looking up at the palace from its courtyard, and below, exploring the palace

Our tour was self-guided and it was interesting to see the ornate decor and artwork inside the impressive building.

From the palace, you can also peep into the Bridge of Sighs, so called because it lead from the palace to the prison across the canal. Those who crossed it were mainly prisoners who were said to sigh as they lost their freedom.

After exploring the Palace, we walked around the outside of the building to see the Bridge of Sighs from the outside.

Returning to St Mark’s Square, we watched the clock in St Mark’s Clock Tower chime on the hour, its two bronze figures appearing to strike a bell, before walking away from the square to find somewhere cheaper to have some lunch.

St Mark’s Clock Tower

St Mark’s Square at night

With the already dull weather turning to rain that afternoon, we took the opportunity to visit some museums starting with the National Archaeological Museum of Venice and then moving on to Museo Correr, an art museum overlooking St Mark’s Square.

That evening, we walked back to St Mark’s Square. The weather had now cleared and the square was busy once again.

St Mark’s Cathedral at night

Street performers and opera singers filled the Square and we stayed to watch for a bit although decided against taking a seat at any of the bars and restaurants overlooking the Square having heard stories of extortionate prices being charged just to sit before even ordering anything!

We had one more full day left in the city of Venice and still plenty to explore. We began our morning with a stroll to the tucked away Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo, a building known for its beautiful external spiral staircase.

Then we walked through the city’s maze of streets to Ponte dell’Accademia, a huge bridge and one of only four to cross the Grand Canal.

Above, Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, and below, inside the church and the views across to St Mark’s Square from nearby

Crossing the bridge, we then walked to the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, a domed Roman Catholic church which stands imposingly on the canal side. Looking across the water from there, you can see the bell tower in St Mark’s Square in the distance.

Walking back towards St Mark’s Square afterwards, we explored some of the streets leading away from it visiting some of the more tucked away churches we came across as we wandered.

Later finding ourselves passing Teatro La Fenice, a famous Venetian opera house, we decided to go inside and take a tour. We were given audio guides with our tickets telling us about each room we went into and finishing with a look into the auditorium and the tour also included a special exhibition on opera singer Maria Callas who began her career at La Fenice. While visiting the theatre wasn’t something on our Venice ‘to do’ list, we found the visit really interesting.

With a late afternoon flight booked out of Venice the next day, we still had some time that morning for last minute sightseeing. Once again finding ourselves back in St Mark’s Square we took some last minute photos and enjoyed the atmosphere before my friend had to leave to catch her flight home. With a bit more time to spare and the sun finally shining, I made a spur of the moment decision to go up St Mark’s Campanile, the Square’s famous bell tower.

There was quite a queue but it seemed to be moving so I thought I had more than enough time.

Above, and below, views from St Mark’s Campanile

Unfortunately, the queue slowed down and by the time I was finally admitted into the bell tower, I was getting short on time an couldn’t spend quite as long up there as I would have liked to. It was still worth the money and the wait though as the views over the city were really pretty.

After my flying visit to the Campanile, it was time to wave goodbye to St Mark’s Square one last time and to make my way back to the hotel to collect my luggage. From the hotel, I caught the airport water taxi from a nearby stop across the the airport.

I was glad I had finally got around to visiting Venice. The city is a really pretty city to wander around once you get your head around its maze of narrow streets and realise they all eventually seem to lead to St Mark’s Square. I had found the city to be extremely busy, touristy and over-priced but I had gone expecting all those things and it hadn’t ruined my stay too much. There was certainly plenty to do and see and I’d love to return there one day.

A trip to Bologna

Spending 2 nights in the North Italy city

Piazza Maggiore, Bologna

I was in Italy, one of my favourite European countries, and after spending a few days in the Tuscan city of Florence and its surrounds, it was time to move on to our second destination, Bologna in the Emilia-Romagna region of North Italy.

Palazzo del Podesta in Piazza Maggiore

Arriving from Florence by train, we took a taxi to our hotel. It was late afternoon and once settled in, we grabbed a map of the city from the hotel reception and headed straight out to familiarise ourselves with our surroundings.

A short distance from where we were staying, we found ourselves in Piazza Maggiore, the city’s main square.

Historic buildings surrond Piazza Maggiore

The square is surrounded by some of Bologna’s most important buildings including Biblioteca Salaborsa- a historic library – and the Basilica di San Pietro and in the centre of the square lies the Fountain of Neptune.

Ancient ruins below Biblioteca Salaborsa

From Piazza Maggiore, we walked along Via d’Azeglio, a pedestrianised street lined with high street stores and cafes before looping back around to the main square again.

That evening, we walked north of the square finding ourselves in a maze of narrow streets and choosing a small Trattoria to have dinner at before walking back to our hotel.

With one full day left to explore the city, we found a self-guided walking tour online to follow around the city.

A walkway built over the ancient ruinsunder Biblioteca Salaborsa

Returning to Piazza Maggiore, we visited the Basilica di San Pietro and then Biblioteca Salaborsa. While this is the main public library in the city, the main reason for visiting actually lies beneath the building. Through the floor in the centre of the library, it is possible to see the ruins of an ancient building underneath.

We walked down to the basement level of the building where for a small fee, it was possible to get a bit closer to the ruins, viewing them from an open walkway that has been built above.

Looking out at the Basilica di San Pietro from Palazzo Communale

Next, we crossed the square to visit Palazzo Communale. Formerly a palace, it now houses some of the city’s administrative offices but is also home to the Civic Art Collection.

We wandered through the building looking at some of the art on display and enjoying the views over Piazza Maggiore from the building’s windows.

From Piazza Maggiore, we walked the short distance to the Archaeological Civic Museum.

Art at the Archaeological Civic Museum

The museum is worth visiting for its building alone, being housed in a 15th century Palazzo, and it contains exhibitions which include Greek, Roman and Egyptian artefacts.

After spending an hour or so looking around, we continued our self-guided tour of the city walking down to the Basilica of San Domenico, a historic church known for its multitude of priceless works of art.

We then walked back on ourselves and along Via Rizzoli towards Two Towers Piazza with the St Petronius statue stood in front of the tall, imposing structures.

Above, and below, at the Basilica di Santa Stefano

After stopping for gelato from Gelateria Gianni, we walked through the Quadrilatero area to Basilica di Santa Stefano, a maze of 4 (originally there were 7) connecting churches.

For our final stop on our sightseeing tour, we walked back to Piazza Maggiore and then headed north to find Finestrella di Via Piella. Here you can peer through a window in a wall to see one of the remaining sections of one of Bologna’s historic canals, Canale delle Moline. Taking a picture through the window, it could easily have been a photo taken of the more famous canals of Venice!

Feet aching from walking all over the city, we returned to the narrow streets of the Quadrilatero, an old medieval market area just east of Piazza Maggiore. Here, we sat out at one of the many bars for Aperitivo, enjoying a selection of breads, cheeses and meats over drinks.

Returning to our hotel for a bit to rest, we then ventured out once more that evening, again finding a small tucked away Trattoria just north of the main touristy areas of the city for a late dinner.

I’d enjoyed my visit to the city of Bologna, less touristy and busy than Florence had been but still with plenty to see and do. Next up, Venice!

Visiting Florence and its surrounds

A city break visiting Florence, Lucca, Pisa and Siena

With one of my friends studying at a language school in Florence, it wasn’t long before I arranged a trip out there to coincide with her course finishing so we could spend some time travelling in our favourite European country, Italy.

Milan’s stunning Duomo, and below, pizza and gelato in Florence

We planned that I would spend a few days in Florence during which my friend would show me around the city she had been living in the last few months and from where we could also take day trips out to nearby towns and cities then we’d travel by train up to Bologna for a few days, a city which neither of us had previously visited and finally, catch the train to Venice where we would end our trip.

Not being able to find any reasonably priced flights into Florence itself, I instead planned to fly to Milan, then catch a train to complete my journey. Being used to just being able to buy a ticket and hop onto a train in the UK, I assumed that the same could be done in Italy, my friend suggesting that this was the case too, but upon arrival in Milan and making my way from the airport to the Central Station, I found that all tickets on the intercity trains had to be pre-booked and as that weekend was a public holiday, most of the train leaving in the next few hours were fully booked!

Luckily, I had taken an early flight into Italy and it was still morning so, managing to get myself on a train leaving late afternoon, I checked my case into the station’s Left Luggage for a few euros and had a wander into central Milan, a city I was vaguely familiar with from a previous visit. After spending a few hours window shopping and gasping in awe once again at the breath-taking Duomo, I grabbed some lunch and walked back to the station ready to finally catch my train to Florence!

Arriving in the city early evening, I managed to navigate my way to the centrally located AirBnB apartment we had booked to finally meet up with my friend and once I’d settled in, we went out for drinks followed by a pizza dinner at one of the local restaurants and gelato for dessert.

A busy Piazza della Signoria

The next day, a day we had designated for sightseeing in the city, we awoke to heavy rain. Not letting the weather deter us, my friend took me round the city past its impressive Basilica, The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and up to Piazza della Signoria, the city’s main square, overlooked by Palazzo Vecchio. The square is home to a variety of sculptures including a copy of Michelangelo’s David.

The Loggia dei Lanzi sculpture gallery in Piazza della Signoria, and below, queues outside the Uffizi Gallery

The square was extremely busy with it being both a weekend and public holiday and looking out across the square from the steps of the Loggia dei Lanzi sculpture gallery, there was nothing but a sea of umbrellas in front of us!

From Piazza della Signoria, we walked to the Uffizi Gallery, a huge museum which houses famous works of art including Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus.

Unfortunately, with the city being so busy over the holiday weekend, there was a 2 hours wait to get into the gallery for anyone who hadn’t pre-booked tickets so, as my friend had visited previously, I decided to give it a miss!

By the River Arno with Ponte Vecchio in the background, and below, crossing Ponte Vecchio

Instead, we continued on towards the River Arno to cross the Ponte Vecchio, the famous stone bridge lined with jewellery stores before walking up past Pitti Palace and along to Piazzale Michelangelo walking through the pretty Rose Garden along the way.

The panoramic views over Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo were really beautiful.

The Rose Garden near Piazzale Michelangelo, and below, in Piazzale Michelangelo enjoying the views

In the square itself, as well as finding yet another copy of the artist’s David sculpture, we also found a gelato festival going on! Investigating further, we discovered that for a set price, it was possible to get a sample of gelato from each of the stands, exchanging your final ticket for a second sample of the flavour you liked most.

We didn’t need much convincing to take part and were soon parting with our money in exchange for a stamp card.

Eating gelato in Piazzale Michelangelo while enjoying the view, and below, at the Gelato Festival

After spending the afternoon going from stall to stall enjoying the gelato on offer, we were unanimous in our decision that the Nutella gelato was our favourite and both went back for seconds!

Artwork in the Basilica of Santa Croce

Full up on gelato, we waddled our way back across the River Arno and walked to the Basilica of Santa Croce, spending some time exploring inside the beautiful church.

The painted dome of Florence’s Basilica

Next,we walked back to the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore where, seeing that the crowds from earlier had disappeared, we joined the short queue to go inside and see the amazing dome interior painted with a representation of The Last Judgement.

Finally, walking back to our apartment, we stopped at the Basilica of St Lorenzo, one of Florence’s largest and oldest churches.

Lucca’s Cathedral

The next day, we had made plans to travel out of Florence to the city of Lucca. Catching the train from the main station in Florence, we arrived in Lucca mid-morning.

After exploring the city and some of its churches, we had lunch in one of the pretty squares before visiting the Puccini Museum – Lucca is the city the famous Opera composer was born in.

Then, after visiting its impressive Cathedral, Duomo di San Martino, there was just enough time for spot of shopping before returning by train back to Florence.

We took another trip away from the city of Florence the next day, this time to the walled city of Siena.

Stood in Piazza del Campo in Siena, and below, enjoying a day out in Siena

We spent the day wandering through the city, having lunch in the beautiful Piazza del Campo – the city’s main square – before walking to its Cathedral, the striking Duomo di Siena, with its distinctive stripey decor!

I was up early the next day, our last full day in Florence before moving on to Bologna. We planned to spend the day out of the city again, this time travelling to Pisa, but first, I wanted to visit the Accademia Gallery, home to Michelangelo’s David sculpture.

Above, Michelangelo’s David sculpture, and below, at the Accademia Gallery

I arrived at the gallery about half hour before it opened so I was one of the first in the queue and was through the doors within a few minutes of it opening. The museum was pretty quiet at that time of day meaning I could take my time admiring the many works of art that were housed there.

In Piazza dei Miracoli

After visiting the Accademia Gallery, it was back to the central station to catch a train out of the city to Pisa. From the station we walked through the more modern part of the city grabbing some lunch at a bakery before reaching Piazza dei Miracoli.

Pisa Cathedral and Baptistery

The large, walled square is home to a collection of buildings including Pisa Cathedral but more famously, and the reason we were there, it is also where the Leaning Tower of Pisa stands!

Above, the view form the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and below, visiting the famous Leaning Tower

We spent some time trying to get the standard photo of us holding up the leaning tower before visiting the other buildings. Then I decided to buy a ticket to actually go up the Leaning Tower, an odd experience as you try to walk on the slanted floors but worth it for the views from the top!

Then, it was back to Florence for our last evening in the city. After a pizza dinner, we went out for drinks, stopping to take photos of the Duomo lit up at night.

Above, and below, Florence Basilica

The next morning, we wandered through the city of Florence one last time, stopping to take a few more photos of the Duomo seeing as the weather was finally a bit better! Then it was back to the station, this time to leave Tuscany behind and catch the train to our next destination, the city of Bologna.

Beautiful Sorrento

Visiting Italy’s Amalfi coast

Having spent the last 5 days based in the city of Naples on the west coast of Italy, we were now cramming ourselves and our luggage onto the very busy Circumvesuviana train to spend a few days in the coastal town of Sorrento.

The view from our hotel room

It was our third time riding the Circumvesuviana line from Naples having used it already over the last few days to visit the archaeological sites of Herculaneum and Pompeii as well as to visit Mount Vesuvius itself. Sorrento is the last stop on the line and it took us just over an hour to get there.

From Sorrento station, we got a taxi to our hotel for the next 3 nights. Hotel La Badia was situated on top of a hill just a short, but steep, 15 minute walk from the centre of town. Being on a hilltop, there were beautiful, sweeping views of the coast from our room.

The view from our room at night

By the time we had arrived and settled in, it was already dusk. We had a wander into town and I was surprised at how crowded with tourists it felt after spending time in the much calmer Naples. It did at least make for a jovial atmosphere and despite it being night time, I could straight away see how pretty Sorrento was. We were spoilt for choice for places to eat and settled on pasta from a small restaurant-cafe down a narrow side street.

By the hotel pool

With our time in Naples being spent constantly on the go either in the city or on trips out to nearby attractions, we decided to spend our first day in Sorrento relaxing. We awoke to beautiful weather – blue skies and warm sunshine – so after breakfast at the hotel, spent the first morning sat by the hotel pool and cooling off with a quick dip before taking a stroll into town mid-afternoon to explore.

The busy narrow streets of Sorrento

The town of Sorrento is made up of a series of narrow cobbled streets all lined with a range of stores and restaurants and we spent the afternoon browsing and shopping for souvenirs. Every other shop seemed to be a Lemoncello store, selling a range of products based on the liqueur famously produced in the region and all offering samples to try and get tourists through the doors.

From the town, we walked down to the marina, strolling along the front to enjoy the views before sitting at one of the many restaurant-bars near the harbour for drinks.

A busy summer evening in Sorrento

After more shopping back in town, we found another bar perfectly positioned for people watching and sat out in the sunshine for aperitivo – an Italian socialising tradition of having drinks served with various nibbles.

After heading back to the hotel to freshen up, we then walked back into town. Sorrento is just as bustling in the evening with many of the stores lining the narrow streets staying open late so we once again wandered through the centre to look in the shops before going for a late dinner at one of the many local restaurants.

The next day, we took a boat trip out to the nearby Amalfi coast town of Positano.

Above, enjoying the views in o, and below, exploring Positano

The town is built into a cliff and we spent the day exploring, shopping, visiting some of its churches and enjoying the amazing views over the coast from the cliffs. After a pizza lunch at one of the many restaurants, we spent some time relaxing on the beach before catching the boat back to Sorrento for the evening.

Once back in Sorrento, we spent the last evening of our trip having drinks in town. I’d enjoyed our time on the Amalfi coast and Sorento had been the perfect place for a relaxing few days after our busy time sightseeing in Naples.