Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

The temples of Angkor Wat are undoubtedly one of Cambodia’s largest tourist attractions. Based in Siem Reap province, the UNESCO world heritage temple complex lies a short drive out of Siem Reap city. When I visited I was incredibly lucky because it was Khmer New Year, so the city was a hub of activity and it was incredibly exciting.

Khmer New Year is probably the biggest event in the Cambodian calendar. Although I was staying in Phnom Penh, it’s such a huge celebration that we got some time off, and everyone leaves the city and heads back to their home provinces so we decided to make the most of it. It also happened that our friend Hong was from Siem Reap so he could see his family and hang out with us at the same time.

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Our hostel was pretty awesome, luckily we all managed to get together in the same room and there were quite a few of us so it was a great social atmosphere. It also had a great pool which was beautiful because Cambodia was pretty bloody hot! Siem Reap itself was a really cool city. Driving in on the coach you could really tell that that’s where the money was. When I went, it had only been a few years since the ownership of Angkor Wat had passed from Vietnamese to Cambodian ownership, and so the flow of income from this was relatively recent. It felt really different to Phnom Penh, there were big fancy hotels and better roads and you could just tell that tourism had brought a lot more money into the city. The nightlife there was awesome, with a street, aptly named ‘Pub Street’ with lots of bars lining it. At night it transformed into the place to be, full of bars blaring music and street vendors selling cheap cocktails. Because it was New Year, people were out in their masses. At New Year, they have huge water fights and throw talcum powder in your face. It doesn’t sound all that nice but I promise you when it’s boiling hot and you’re a little bit drunk it’s great fun. Talcum powder in your eyes wasn’t great but there was always someone with a water pistol nearby to wash it out for you!

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Angkor Wat is such a huge temple complex, and the days so hot, that you have to get a reaaallllly early start. We agreed with a tuktuk driver to take us the night before, and all dragged ourselves out of bed at 4am to head over there. You have to go to a separate ticket office first which I think opens at 4.30 (or some other ridiculously early hour) which we had to go to first to buy tickets for the day. When we arrived, we went and got ourselves set up to get the typical sunrise photo. In front of the main Angkor Wat temple, there is a pool of water that lots of people use to take a nice picture with the reflection of the temple in it as the sun rises.

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The temples themselves were amazing. After Angkor Wat, we went to some of the other main temples – Bayon Temple (one with lots of faces in the rocks), Ta Prohm (from Tomb Raiders). As it was New Year, people were singing, dancing and celebrating by the temples. It was absolutely packed with people which is not surprising as it has around 2 million visitors a year, and we went at one of the most popular times. It was also incredibly hot. I’m not kidding, the amount we were all sweating was unreal (especially because we wore modest clothing). I won’t lie, from what I remember we spent a lot of time sitting in traffic. However, we did manage to get round and see some of the smaller temples (I can’t remember what they are called sadly). There are loads of smaller temples in the complex, so once you have seen the three main ones the crowd of tourists massively reduces because different guides take people to different places.

The one downside to the temple complex we noticed was that it was quite dirty. If you do happen to visit then 1. Make sure you take loads of water and 2. Make sure you bring all your rubbish home with you. It’s such a shame to see these amazing historical sites gets messed up. I would urge anyone to visit Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. I had a truly incredible time and it’s such a cool and vibrant city.

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Koh Rong Samloem

One of the weekends I was in Cambodia we decided we wanted to get out of Phnom Penh for a few days. We were told that Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem were beautiful so we decided to head there. It’s not somewhere that I had ever really heard of before I set off travelling. It probably didn’t help that I didn’t really know anyone that had gone so didn’t really have much clue what I was doing. We booked some beachfront bungalows for pretty cheap (maybe like £8 a night each but I don’t remember exactly), arranged coaches and looked at some images on google to get ourselves excited.

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I remember it being quite a long journey because we had to take a coach down to Sihanoukville on the coast. I went with my friends Jade and Liv, and we had had to book onto two separate coaches because we decided we wanted to go at different times. Liv and I went on one and Jade got on a slightly later coach. Luckily, Liv and I made it there in plenty of time, but for some reason, Jade’s coach took ages to get there.  We had a little walk along the beach and sat down and had some lunch, we even wandered over to the jetty that the ferries went from to check the times. In the end, it seemed like Jade’s coach was going to get here really late and would miss the last ferry to the island. As we had paid already we decided to go on ahead and Jade could join us when she arrived. By some miracle, they ran another ferry that day so she managed to make it over. We had made it to the beach bungalow and checked in when we got the text that she was on her way and we couldn’t believe it. We headed back to the jetty to wave to her and help her with her things.

Koh Rong Samloem is maybe the most beautiful place I ever been to. As the ferry pulled up, I genuinely couldn’t believe that somewhere like that existed. The water was the most vivid aquamarine colour, lapping against the pristine white sand. It’s so tiny that it doesn’t have any roads, just one bay with a few hotels and places to eat, then a few more hotels around the other side you could take a boat to. Stacked behind the little beach huts and guesthouses were leafy mountains jutting into the sky. It was exactly what you would picture if someone said secluded, beautiful, tropical island. Because there were no roads, the beach just turned into a path cut into the rocks that we walked round to our bungalows. We had a tiny bit of beach that I think was private to the bungalows where we sat one evening and dabbled our toes in the water. I remember Jade being really freaked out by the fact there were loads of tiny crabs.

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Day times were spent in ultimate relaxation mode, just lying on the beach sunbathing and taking occasional dips in the beautiful blue water. One morning we woke up before sunrise so we could walk around the bay a bit and get some good photos at dawn. It was so tranquil and perfect to be up before the rest of the world, enjoying this slice of paradise. Because it is so secluded wifi isn’t great but there were a few places you could get it in restaurants and guesthouses. Of course, this may have all changed now. I went a few years ago, and the rate technology and tourism is developing probably means that it’s like a completely different place. I even tried looking on booking.com to see if I could remember where we stayed, and the amount of places compared to when we went was crazy. I digress, either way, you do not go somewhere as beautiful as this to sit on your phone so it is all irrelevant really. I remember seeing a few places you could rent kayaks or stand up paddle boards but our budget was quite small so we didn’t do that.

The one activity that we did decide we wanted to spend money on doing was a nighttime plankton dive. I don’t know if you have ever seen those pictures online of the plankton that glows in the dark…

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…that look something like this. But they have this bioluminescent plankton in the water round Koh Rong Samloem. I think these pictures must be taken with long exposure because it doesn’t wash up like this there, but when you are actually in the water and moving you can see it.

Our dive started at nightfall and we all went and piled into a slightly rickety wooden boat. There was a thunderstorm brewing on the other side of the island and we could see lighting illuminating the sky far off in the distance behind the jutting hills. I love the sea, during the day it is beautiful and inviting. I have seen the sea at night and paddled along the edge, but it’s one thing being in the shallows, and a completely different thing heading out on a small boat into menacing black water. It is even worse to have to jump into said menacing black water, as we soon discovered. Sitting on the edge of the boat in my snorkel and flippers, staring down into the water, unable to see what was in there was nerve-wracking, to say the least. A small but powerful lantern was hanging at the bow of the boat – enough so you could see what you were doing on the boat, but not to light up the water.

We took the plunge and dived in. Those first few seconds where you lose orientation and can’t see much, and can occasionally feel something grazing your leg (normally someone else’s flipper….I hope) are horrible. You have a very brief panic before you realise that actually you are completely fine, and start edging away from the boat.

The plankton was magical. At first when we were thrashing around and yelling ‘OH MY GOD WHAT JUST TOUCHED ME???’ we didn’t really notice. But then someone shouted ‘woah look at this’ and we put our faces under, dragging our hands through the water and letting it ripple between our fingers. Tiny little lights trailed behind your fingers, like a little trail of stardust. As we trod water and moved any parts of our bodies, it sent these stars shooting out. We experimented with how different actions and body parts changed it. My favourite was slowly shaking my head and watching as the ends of my hair lit up. When someone asks what the best moment of my life is, I never want to sound too gap yah but I think this is it. What no one really warns you about is the fact there is a tiny, tiny little stinging feeling as the plankton comes into contact with you. For the first few seconds, it’s a bit disconcerting, then you stop noticing.

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To anyone not sure about where to go, I urge you to pay Koh Rong Samloem a visit. It is beautiful and magical and everything that you want a small tropical island to be. the water is perfect and the sun beats down on the palm tree lined beaches. The fact there are no roads means it’s so relaxing, and there is something wonderful about just having to walk.

 

Cambodia Introduction

Cambodia is a beautiful country, nestled between Vietnam, Thailand and Loas. The landscape is very diverse, and ranges from incredible tropical islands with beautiful white sandy beaches, to mountains, to bustling cities, to ancient temples.

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Although Cambodia is a very popular country on the backpacking trail, it didn’t feel as well travelled as places like Vietnam and Thailand.

From 1975-1979 the country was under the power of the brutal Khmer Rouge. During the four years that the party was in charge, they massively reversed the country’s progress, making people from the city go and work in the countryside on farms. Up to two million people lost their lives under the regime – including whole families lost to starvation, disease, and execution. This devastation is still felt by the country and has left its mark. The capital, Phnom Penh is home to the former Tuol Sleng prison, and the Killing Feilds, where thousands of people were thrown into mass graves. The long-lasting effects of the Khmer Rouge meant that for a long time, Cambodia was not open to tourism, and had very little money, hence why many areas do not have the tourist infrastructure that can be found in other South East Asian countries. For many people, this is offputting and I have heard lots of people say they did not enjoy Cambodia as much as the other countries. For me, I think it may be my favourite. The people were so wonderful, the country so beautiful, and it has so much to offer.

The place I spent most of my time was Phnom Penh, the capital city. I was doing a volunteering project teaching at a charity school on the outskirts. The Cambodian government legally only requires students to be in school for half a day, 5 days a week. Due to this, many children never receive quality educations and the poverty cycle is hard to break. I know that teaching English is quite controversial as it seems like an attempt to globalise the world and more subtly reinforce imperialism, but for the Cambodian children, it enables them to go into better jobs and university. The school I taught at was set up by a Dutch charity. It provided the other half a day of schooling for the local children so we got two groups – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The extent of the poverty in the area that the school was in was shocking. Some of the children did not have clean drinking water, some had to go home and teach English to their younger siblings and were only kept out of work because the school sponsored them. The school sponsorship gave the families of 20 children either a rice allowance or some money.

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In Phnom Penh a whole bunch of us volunteers were staying together across two guest houses next door to each other. It was fantastic to always be surrounded by such a great group of people and we all became friends really quickly. We had a project coordinator called Hong, who was absolutely fantastic and ended up becoming one of my best friends. We all hung out loads in the evenings and went to bars, or out for dinner. One of our favourite spots was a hotel called tea party that let us use the pool when we bought drinks or food, they had the most amazing lime juice so I had no complaints!

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In Phnom Penh, the most popular way to get around is by tuk-tuk. To take us to and from our projects we had a regular driver called DH (I never found out what this stood for), but there were always a friendly group of drivers hanging around by our hostel. I remember one evening, it was one of their birthdays and they set up a speaker to play some music and got some food and some beers. They invited us over to come and sit in the tuk-tuks and celebrate with them. It was small gestures like this that made me fall in love with it, because people were so open and friendly and always ready to have fun. Phnom Penh had lots of really cool rooftop bars where we spent many evenings. There is also a river that runs through Phnom Penh called the Tonle Sap, one evening we went for a sunset cruise down the river, which was beautiful. Phnom Penh has some really cool markets and temples that we visited on the weekends.

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I was really blown away by Cambodian food. It is not something that I had ever encountered, so I didn’t really know what to expect. The picture above is a fish Amok curry (but they also have chicken and other meat ones). It was so delicately spiced and perfectly fragrant that it’s hard not to love! Another favourite was beef lok-lak: a stir fry of thin beef strips. It would normally come with a little bowl of salt and pepper on the side which you squeeze a lime into to make a sauce. I also had a rice soup (I don’t know what the actual name for it is) with chicken and like a savoury pastry that you dip into it. You can easily find great noodles, rice and dumplings as well! As I mentioned before, the lime juice is also incredible and you can pretty much find it everywhere!

Keep your eyes peeled for some other posts on Cambodia!

Travelling alone

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I wanted to do this post because now it’s coming to the end of uni, so many people are thinking about going travelling. One of the things that people say the most is ‘I couldn’t go alone’, but they don’t have anyone that they want to go with or who can commit to going. It’s such a shame when people end up not travelling because of the fact they don’t have anyone to go with, because you’re missing out on something so amazing. I can understand that it’s scary, and that some countries you definitely don’t want to travel round alone (at least as a girl). But for the most part, travelling alone is great.

The first time I travelled alone I was 19 and on my gap year. None of my friends were ready to travel or wanted to go to the same places as me so I just thought screw it, I’ll go by myself. I’m so glad I did because it was honestly liberating. I wanted to do some volunteering so I booked each set of volunteering for the start of my visit to each country. I went with Plan My Gap Year who are great! As part of the deal, when I arrived in each country I was picked up at the airport and taken to a volunteer house/hostel where I stayed with lots of other people doing volunteering. It was such a good way to do it because it meant I didn’t have to worry about finding places to stay or getting ripped off by taxis at the airport; I had a little orientation where local people working for the companies took me round the area and showed me where the shops and ATMs were etc.; I got some language lessons and great advice to help me get around, plus there was always someone to help out; and I had my meals cooked for me.

The fact that I was staying with so many people in the same boat as me meant that I made good friends really quickly. We were all somewhere new and exciting, and wanted to explore, so were on the lookout for travelling buddies. Most people had come alone so it was never like I had to find my way into cliques either. When you are living with people, sleeping, eating, volunteering, going out, and spending weekends away with people, you get comfortable very quickly! This was three years ago now and I made some really great friends from it. We have had meetups in the UK, and I’ve even gone to Paris and Holland to meet up with my friends from other countries.

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Before I went I was already quite outgoing but I think it massively pushed me out my shell. You don’t have the time to be quiet and reserved because you’re meeting people all the time, and if you want to go and see anything cool then it’s great to have someone to go with! Quite often people have heard of really cool places to go, so it means that you get to go to places you maybe wouldn’t have thought of. Lots of people I spoke to who went travelling with their friends from home actually found that they fell out with them quite a lot and realised that actually, their friends were pretty useless at keeping organised, or high maintenance, or just didn’t want the same things from travelling that they did. They also said that because they had friends there all the time they never really bothered to make proper friends with anyone else, so came home feeling like they hadn’t really made any good friends.

Going alone and meeting other people there exposes you to so many different people you probably wouldn’t be friends with otherwise. For example, in the first country I visited alone – Cambodia – I made a massive group of amazing friends. People were from all over the place – England, Holland, Australia, and Hong was from Cambodia. People’s ages ranged from 18 right up to 26+, and we were all travelling on different budgets. If I had gone with a group of friends, I know that I would probably have never met such a fantastic and diverse group of people. After the end of my three weeks volunteering, we all travelled together to Siem Reap for Khmer new year and stayed in a hostel together and I think that brought us all so much closer. It is so great because it means you form friendships with people in the country as well, so if you ever want to go back you know there are people you can meet up with.

The second time I went away on a big trip alone was to China for 3 months. That was a bit different because I was doing an internship so I knew I was staying in one place. Again, I had someone to meet me at the airport, cook for me, give me a place to stay and teach me the language. There were other interns from the UK as well and we were all similar ages. Again, I ended up getting really close to them and forming firm friendships. As well as interns from the UK, there were loads of people that worked there full time who I ended up becoming really good friends with. We all went on nights out together, went away together, and some of the people that lived there full time had apartments we could visit and stay at.

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In all my time travelling alone I never felt lonely. Of course, I had moments when I missed my friends and family, but I really was surrounded by amazing people all the time. I always had someone to go away for the weekend with, or sit on the roof and watch the sunrise with, or even a small act such as going to the shop with me. I think people are so worried that they’re not going to make friends or they’re going to feel lonely but I promise you that is not the case. There will always be someone in your hostel room who is happy to have someone to go to dinner with, or head to a bar in the evening. You may even decide that you make a great team and continue travelling together.

It made me really discover things about myself. Because I had always had someone else to lean on before, whether that was organising everything or just keeping me company, I never actually realised just how capable I was. It also means that you really can just take things at your own pace. If you want to sleep in until 2pm one day then great, you can! If you realised you love a place and want to stay for a few more days, then there is no one stopping you. You don’t have to wait for your friends to get ready (in hostels that don’t have many showers this can take ages) because you can just get up and go. I urge you to travel alone because you really will find that it makes you grow massively as a person.

Tokyo as a modern metropolis

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So hopefully you’ve been keeping up to date and have read my historical Tokyo post. For this one, I thought I would take a look at Tokyo as a modern metropolis – an absolutely huge city of technological innovation. The above photo was taken from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building looking out over the city. the building was free to enter, you just head up in some escalators to the top floor where they have an observation deck.

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One of the most amazing places was the Shibuya crossing. Rumoured to be the busiest intersection in the world, it takes thousands of people in all directions from the station to wherever they need to be. Surrounded by towering, neon blocks, the Shibuya crossing is pretty overwhelming, but insanely cool at the same time. There are quite a few buildings around where you can go and sit and watch all the people scatter left, right and centre. There is something almost hypnotic about watching everyone.

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Tokyo, in general, is just pretty crazy. Jam-packed with sky-high buildings, every street you go down just seems so photogenic and cool. One of the places we found really interesting was the electric district, Akihabara. When we went they were doing a scheme to get more people to walking and had closed some of the roads to vehicles – this meant we managed to take some pretty awesome photos standing in the streets. The electric district is packed full of really cool arcades, anime/manga shops, quite a lot of maid cafes, and a 6 story sex department store. Wild. I know. If you love video games or popular Japanese exports such as anime then this is completely the place for you. Even, if like us, you aren’t all that interested in it, this is still an amazing place to visit.

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Another really cool place is Harajuku, known as the street style hotspot in Tokyo. The Harajuku streets are packed full of ridiculously cool clothes shops selling all sorts of wacky stuff you would never even dream of. I mean furry bras?

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Whilst we were there, we had to try one of the snacks that Harajuku is famous for – crepes! We had read online that Patisserie Marion did some of the best so we headed for that. And we were definitely not disappointed. I had a strawberry cheesecake one which was stuffed to the brim with strawberry sauce, cream, ice cream, a slice of cheese and fresh strawberries. It was to die for!

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In the evening we headed to a ridiculously cool area called Golden Gai. It is basically a few streets of tiny little buildings that are all bars. Normally they seat under ten people and are friendly little family run places. We stopped off here for some plum wine (amazing) and to chat to some people who ran the bars. There were so many places to choose from it was so hard, I’m talking row after row of choice. Quite a few of the bars had cover charges to pay so we tried to head for one that didn’t.

Tokyo has some many cool buildings, it is pretty much impossible not to whack your phone out at any opportunity and take pictures. There is so much contrast between old and new but it all just works so perfectly.

 

Historical Tokyo

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I have loooooads to write about Tokyo and I thought it was a bit boring to just break them down into days, and I have way too much for one post, so I thought I would try and do it as historical sites and the modern sites.

Tokyo really is an incredible city, full of so much contrast between the old and the new. Historical temples and buildings are surrounded by shiny, new tower blocks, like a peaceful oasis in an otherwise crazy city.

One of the most famous historical temples is the Sensō-ji temple at Asakusa. This was absolutely fascinating and absolutely beautiful. We approached through modern shopping streets, then suddenly saw the iconic roof part some trees. We walked down a path lined with food stalls selling all kinds of delicious things, as the sound of drums beat steadily in the background, floating out from one of the temple buildings.

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The temple complex comprises of several buildings. We went into the main one where the drum beat was coming from. Inside were gigantic drums, and a steady stream of hundreds of people coming to pray and give offerings. After exploring in there we went to a small garden with a smaller building at the centre. There was a really beautiful little stream and perfectly manicured bushes (the first picture in this post).

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Another historical site that we loved was the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku. Just a short walk from the station through some of Tokyo’s craziest streets stands the historical temple. The walk to it is line by these huge, wooden arches. When we were there, we were approached by a group of students who wanted to give us a tour to practice their English. This is really common in loads of countries in Asia. I think so many people are put off because they think it is just a scam or that people will want money at the end, but I urge you to just say yes and give it a go. the students are normally lovely, and so interested in you and your experiences. In their classes, they don’t get much chance to go out and practice speaking, so this is a really nice chance for them to get to have an informal chat with native speakers. They also normally have loads more information on the places than you would find out otherwise, and if you have any other questions about things you’ve noticed about the culture they are really keen to answer these and help you understand the culture better.

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On the way to the shrine is this absolutely amazing wall of barrels of sake which were all gifted from different areas of Japan, and have been decorated to represent these areas.

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Before we went into the temple, we had to follow the customs and go and wash our hands and mouths so that we could be clean. As you can see from the picture, they had these cool little bamboo bowls to get the water bubbling up in the trough. On the day that we visited we were lucky enough to be able to see a wedding. I didn’t take any pictures as I felt it could be a bit disrespectful but the costumes were absolutely amazing. It was also great to have the students with us to teach us the correct way to pray and make offerings.

Tokyo’s history is so rich and varied, and the buildings are so beautiful. I was so impressed by the way that the city combines the old and the new, and how religion is built so nicely into the city and lives of Tokyo’s residents.

Morocco Advice

So I thought I would do a little post of general advice for Morocco because when I’ve suggested it as a holiday location, lots of people have been like ‘Is it safe for women? Will I have to stay covered up all the time? etc.’ so I just wanted to dispell some of the myths surrounding it. Little disclaimer, obviously this is coming at Morocco from a tourist perspective – I am not educated enough on politics to speak for women who are residents of the country, I am just relying on knowledge passed on from one of my best friends who is from there.

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What to wear

Lots of people seem to be under the impression that you have to stay fully covered in Morocco. This is not what I found at all! Morocco is a Muslim country so you will see women in hijab, and you shouldn’t wear anything too revealing, but it is probably nowhere near as strict as you would think. I would say in general shorts are fine as long as your bum isn’t hanging out, you know the drill. Depending on where/when you go it will most likely be hot so you will probably want to wear loose clothes anyway. In the north, in the mountains, my friend just wore jeans and long sleeved tops and that was fine. I would probably stay away from wearing crop tops and showing off your midriff, I did wear high waisted trousers and a crop top (I had about an inch or two of midriff showing) and that was fine. If you’re by a hotel pool or on the beach then a normal swimming costume/bikini will be fine. We went out to a club at one point and for that, it’s pretty much just the same rules as you would have to get into a nice club here – heels and a dress/smart jeans and top. The club was really cool and it was ladies night so we got free entry and free drinks which was fab!

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Female Travellers

We were a group of four girls, I am really glad that we had my friend with us to haggle and do the talking. There were also points where some of the men shouted things at us in the street and tried to talk to us but on the whole, I felt safe heading out in the evenings. Especially in places like Marrakech, there are so many tourists that it’s not a novelty at all. The one place I was definitely not a huge fan of was the market at the medina in Marrakech. People just kind of grabbed us and put snakes around our neck then took photos and asked for money which really wasn’t a nice experience at all, but again, my friend did all the arguing for us. Because it is so hot during the day round Marrakech, loads of families head out around 8/9 at night when it gets cooler. It’s really nice to walk down the streets in the evening and see families out enjoying food and young children playing.

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On the whole, I felt that Morocco was friendly and safe for female travellers. We met two girls who had been travelling together and staying in hostels and they had not had any trouble either so I really don’t think there is anything to worry about. The media likes to portray these horror stories and how it’s so strict for women, and you have to remain covered, and can’t go out without a man to accompany you, but that really isn’t the experience I had at all. Girls are free to go out and have nice meals in the evening and drink and go to clubs. You can head to the beach or pool in a swimming costume without having to worry. The only thing I would stay away from is public displays of affection. I’m not sure it’s illegal but it’s definitely highly frowned upon.

Morocco is a beautiful and vibrant country and I would go back in a heartbeat. I highly recommend it to anyone, and I would not worry about being harassed or being in any danger (or any more so than you would in European countries at least).

 

Cinque Terre

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The Cinque Terre is one of those magical places you’ve probably seen on travel inspo pages and never realised where it is. A series of five villages (Cinque Terre literally translates to 5 lands) of colourful houses, perch like birds on tree branches on the cliffs, hanging over the sea, their streets seeming perilously steep. We took a day trip out from Florence to go and visit these beautiful little towns, it was a pretty jam-packed day but it was definitely worth it. We visited each in turn, stopping for food and a look round the quaint little streets. We also briefly took the train between towns, it clung for dear life into the rocks, one side looking out over the azure sea below.

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I feel like with somewhere as beautiful as this, the pictures really speak for themselves. I could describe the atmosphere to you, but, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

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There is something so charming about the way Italians hang their stuff to dry out the windows. Part of me wishes that I could just be a sheet, hanging there soaking in the sun in the lazy afternoons. I absolutely love the way the tree hangs over the tables and the way the tables are set with the umbrellas providing shade from the hot day.

5terre7 In this photo, I absolutely love the contrast of the pink flowers against the yellow buildings and the white flowers against the pink building. The scene just seems so full of life the way people are sitting at the tables enjoying lunch, and some are walking round taking in the sights; and the shutters of most of the buildings are shut, with people snoring away having their afternoon siesta.

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This little shop selling delicious looking food caught my eye the way it all just spilled out into the street. Bags of dried pasta and bottles of wine sit in the rustic containers. The items all beautifully packaged with bows looking ever so appealing. I would have loved to have just been able to sit and watch the world go by for hours. If I could choose to live anywhere in the world, I think it would be here.

 

Florence

Being a bit of an art history nerd, Florence was somewhere I had been dying to go for it’s amazing artistic history. Home to Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and pretty much every great renaissance artist you’ve ever heard of, Florence is overflowing with amazing art and architecture. This was all made possible by the Medici family. During the Renaissance period, the church and wealthy families were most often the patrons of the arts, providing the funding for all these amazing works we have today. They turned to biblical scenes and scenes from antiquity to provide the artwork for their homes and other important buildings. The Medici’s were an extremely wealthy banking family who pretty much ruled the city they were so powerful. Members of their family ended up as pope, and they extended their influence into the church. The Medici’s were keen patrons of the arts, and are the reason that we have so many of the works that we do today.

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One of the most important and iconic buildings in Florence is the Cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore. With construction starting in 1296, the cathedral was altered at the hand of several artists (head stonemasons as they would have been at the time) to develop into the amazing building we have today. In 1420, the artist/architect Brunelleschi, added the dome after winning a competition for the commission. The dome is equal parts puzzling and interesting to historians for several reasons: the octagonal base it rests on is not even, therefore the weight distribution is not even; Brunelleschi used the light material brick, and developed a herringbone pattern so it would hold steady; the dome is made of an inner and outer layer that would walk between to get out onto the top; Brunelleschi designed many of his own machines and plans, and once he was done he burned them all so they could not be stolen and used again; to this day, we still can’t work out how he did it because it mathematically should not be possible.

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The interior of the dome is an absolute masterpiece. Painted in luxurious gold and depicting many biblical scenes, standing and gazing up into the dome, it is truly breathtaking how much time and effort went into building it.

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One of the most striking things about the cathedral is the way it has an almost ethereal quality at night. The white marble is so reflective that it appears just as bright at night as it does in the day, if not more so.

Florence is a truly incredible city, and it seems it just continues into the evening. We spent many glorious evenings wandering round the streets stopping for ice cream, or to admire a merry go round, and on one night, stopping to hear an orchestra play in the loggia at the Piazza della Signoria, surrounded by famous statues carved by prolific renaissance artists. It was absolutely magical. The food, as would be expected, was also incredible. Italian is probably one of most people’s favourite cuisines, it is hard to go wrong with indulgent bowls of pizza and pasta.

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Another stunning place in the city was the Pitti Palace. The palace is surrounded by gardens that made such a peaceful, welcome break from the city. Compared to Rome, Florence felt so much calmer and was generally much nicer to just wander around, but I do always love getting back into nature. We also went to go and see the infamous Ufizzi gallery, again, it was amazing to see so many of the artworks I have spent years learning about now.

 

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