Logbook: Venice in Wintertime

Trinket shops on the Rialto Bridge

Venice has been near the top of every European traveller’s wish list for many years. Most elect to go during the region’s busy summer period, but how many have stopped to consider how the charm and beauty of the place come across in the colder months? I decided to check it out for myself and I was more than pleased with what I found!

The fact that the city is lot less crowded than in summer gives your  visit a much more ‘authentic’ feel and the opportunity to move freely around the winding streets and alleys allows you to get really absorbed into the atmosphere of the place. The great thing about Venice is that, despite all the tiny lanes and passageways, it’s almost impossible to get lost (don’t take that as a challenge) because there are signs to the three main landmarks (Rialto Bridge, San Marco and Piazzale Roma) at almost every turn.

Piazza San Marco

Even during winter all of Venice’s main tourist spots are still open and in many cases far more easily accessible than during peak season! Obviously all the notable buildings are still there, the museums and hotels are open and, best of all, there’s always a chance to hitch a gondola ride, which is a must when visiting the city, as you get to see many of the tiny side canals that you can miss when sticking to the vaporetti (water buses) on the Grand Canal- plus your gondolier will regale you with a wealth of intriguing facts about Venice’s landmarks and history!

Possibly the world’s most elegant mode of transport?

Many people are concerned about ‘acqua alta‘ (seasonal flooding in Venice), but it’s not a problem as it happens every year and the Venetians are well prepared for it. If an area of the walkway becomes completely submerged they usually lay down raised platforms so you won’t get your feet wet! Far from being an inconvenience, acqua alta somehow adds to the uniqueness and charm of the place, making a stay there even more of an experience.

Venice is a special place to visit at any time of year, but a trip in wintertime really shows a different side to the city which not everyone gets to witness. Whenever you choose to go, be sure to try delicious Bellini (peach juice and champagne)- Venice’s fruity and refreshing signature cocktail! Arrivederci!

Bellinis by the Rialto Bridge: cin cin!

Logbook: Florence Travel Review

Let me start by saying that as far as Florence, or for that matter anywhere in Italy, is concerned I am wholly biased. Having travelled to and around the country since my parents drove my two-year-old  self from England to the Tuscan coast in the back of their Vauxhall Cavalier, it’s fair to say that I have a long-standing love-affair with Bella Italia.

That said, it’s hard to see how anyone, historical alliances or not, could resist falling in love with the Tuscan capital. The architecture, like that everywhere in Italy, comprises both awe-inspiring cathedrals and cosy, rustic terraces; the Tuscan hillside provides a calming yet inspiring backdrop to the bustling town and the atmosphere is continuously one of contented excitement. The food, in my opinion, is second to none and suits every budget, from huge slices of thin crust take-away pizza dripping with cheese to fine dining in the city’s historical centre. Best of all, unlike many European countries, Italian cuisine always has something on the menu for vegetarians (albeit not deliberately- the concept is almost unheard of in the country). The sweets are equally blissful, whether your fancy be every flavour of gelato under the sun, decadent miniature tarts or, if you’re feeling indulgent in the afternoon (or in my case at breakfast time!) a huge slab of tiramisu. It goes without saying that Florence is also unbeatable  if  drinks are closer to the forefront of your trip, whether you favour coffee, authentic Tuscan wine or sparkling fruit juices.

One of Florence’s biggest pulls its numerous art galleries and museums, including the famous Uffizi, which houses, among others, works by Botticelli and Raphael. However you don’t have to join the lengthy queues to see some man-made beauty; in many ways the entire city is a work of art. Intriguing statues adorn nearly every building, elegant ironwork gates tempt you into passageways and even the drain covers are uniquely ornate.

Contrary to popular belief, Florence doesn’t have to be expensive. Cheap flights run daily to nearby Pisa airport, or you can include your visit as part of an interrailing trip; there are direct trains from most of Italy’s main cities, and even as far away as Vienna. Once you’re in Florence, getting around is easy- the city is small enough to navigate on foot, but there are also regular electric city buses. Cheap accommodation is easy to find in the city, and in my experience quite charming. I stayed in the Alekin Hostel (Via Porta Rossa, 6) and was delighted by the cosy old building and view onto a covered souvenir market. Like everything else in Florence, there is something to please every budget; from a myriad of designer shoe shops to exotic trinket markets, you’re guaranteed to find an unforgettable souvenir for yourself or a friend (including the furry variety- see gallery).

In case you haven’t gathered by now, I think that Tuscany’s beautiful capital is a must-add to every avid traveller’s destination list. The city is unique, multi faceted, indulgent and delightful all at the same time. The only issue is that  once you’ve visited Florence, you may be loathe to go anywhere else!