My Advice For Visiting The Vatican

  • Do not purchase tour tickets from scalpers in front of Saint Peters Square. These tickets have an inflated price and are much cheaper if purchased online or in advance. I was offered 60 euros for one adult ticket; this ticket included a tour guide and fast track entrance into the Basilica St Peters and the Vatican Museums. There is no need to purchase these tickets as 1- you do not pay to enter the Basilica, and fast track is not needed as although the length of the queue looks long, it will quickly pass. 2- You can purchase fast track tickets and tour guides online for the Vatican Museums at half the price, 32euros.
  • Make sure to cover up when visiting the Basilica Saint Peters. Although this piece of advice may seem obvious, you will be surprised how many people are turned away after many minutes queueing. Whilst visiting the Basilica I witnessed one family’s annoyance of being turned away because of their outfit choice, the church is not the place to wear shorts and crop tops.
  • The best time to visit the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel is in the afternoon. If you decide to visit the museum without purchasing tickets in advance, I recommend going after During the day the queues are long and are often spent standing in the sun, not ideal in the height of the summer.
  • Ask yourself whether you really want to see the Museums and the Sistine Chapel. The Vatican museum is massive, visitors are crammed in small corridors and tight rooms throughout the complex, many collections have limited or no information. Unless you are passionate about art or invest in a guided tour, I would suggest avoiding the museum as without background knowledge of the main attractions you will be unable to fully appreciate the many exhibitions.
  • If you find yourself close to the Vatican or have an evening spare I suggest visiting the square after dark. There is something eerie about standing in Saint Peters looking up at the Basilica alit with spotlights.
  • Wear comfy shoes. Sightseeing in Rome usually involves a lot of walking and you will be surprised how quickly your feet become sore.The Vatican
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A Day In Prague.

Prague, a charming and striking city situated in the Eastern country of Czech Republic. Although a popular and busy location, Prague feels often overlooked to the more famous and more expensive cities such as Paris. My summer travels around Europe allowed me to visit this fascinating and mesmerising city. A city which I had been planning to visit for quite a while, and a city I am glad to have seen. As a top location on my ‘wish-list’ Prague had high expectations to fill, and fulfil them it did. My overall time exploring was limited to one measly day. One whole day to see all the sights I had dreamt of visiting; the Charles Bridge, the Prague Castle and the cobbled lanes of the Old Town.

Old Town Square

If heaven forbid you find yourselves in Prague for a day, do not fear as you are still capable of seeing all the ‘top-sights’ without the feeling of being rushed, this I discovered myself after managing to see all my attractions within 24 hours. This wonderful welcoming city is the perfect size for independent exploration; walking is the easiest and most beneficial mode for sightseeing, allowing you to stumble across quiet side streets and deserted churches.

Old Town Square. If you only have 24 hours in Prague make sure to visit Old Town Square. Located near to the Charles Bridge, the square is a busy focal point with cafes, stalls, entertainers and bars. Whilst visiting the square I took a trip up the Old Town Hall Tower; a lift takes you to the top, giving you a panoramic view of the square but also views over to the Castle and Petrin Park.

Petrin Park.  The Petrin tower located at the top of the park is the main focus point for visiting tourists, at 63.5 meter this steel monument finds itself frequently compared to the Eiffel Tower in France, you can certainly see the resemblance. The Petrin Park is an excellant location in the summer; either relaxing on a bench or grabbing a snack at the small cafe located beside the tower.

Petrin Tower

Prague Castle. Located at the top of the hill overlooking the Vltava River the castle is the current residence of the President of Czech Republic. Within the castle grounds you can find the St Vitus Cathedral, St George’s Basilica, Royal Gardens and much more.  Located at the top of the old castle steps is a Starbucks which offers great views across the city and of the entrance to the castle, an excellent sun trap in the height of summer.

St Nicholas Church. A charge of 70czechk is charged for admission into this church located between the old castle steps and the Charles Bridge. The Church of St. Nicholas is worth a visit if you find yourself passing by. Once in the church you can reach the second floor, allowing a close up view of the dramatic ceiling frescoes, white columns and striking statues. A great location to sit and recoup during a busy day sightseeing.

Charles Bridge. No trip to Prague is complete without a visit to Charles Bridge, the most iconic image of this charming city. The bridge often packed with camera holding tourists is an excellent spot to watch the Vlatava River snaking around the city. To get a good view of the long and bustling bridge head up one of the two towers located on either side of the river. An entrance fee of 90Czechk is charged but the views that are rewarded are worth the admission.

Charles Bridge

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Why travelling solo in Venice was a disappointment.

This summer I embarked on my first solo trip. Having always been away with friends or family, I was both excited and apprehensive of the idea of travelling on my own. With plans to visit Eastern Europe to keep the cost of my trip down, I was instead persuaded to visit Venice by my worried mother.

Venice, Italy’s most iconic and romantic city. Images of gondolas and the bustling square of San Marco spring to mind. The thought of visiting the beautiful city of Venice was never high up on my priority list. With the purchase of a D.K guidebook I was able to research how to spend my 3 days. From first appearances it seemed to me that Venice was a city of churches and art galleries. Trying to keep an open mind on what to expect on my first solo trip, I was pleasantly surprised with first impressions.

Arriving at midday to 30 degrees and beautiful clear skies, the blue aqua canals which greeted me as I made my way from Piazzale Rome to my hotel were a welcoming and refreshing sight. My first day followed on a similar path. Many hours I spent getting lost, enchanted with the charming scenery playing out in front of me. Blue lagoons, speeding boats, and striking Venetian buildings sailed past as I explored the surrounding area of San Polo. It was towards the end of my first day that I began to feel lonely. Sitting down in a cute courtyard near the Academia Galleries I thought to myself, why am I here alone. This feeling of self-questioning, I believe was a result of the rude waitress serving me and the sense, as a lone diner, I was taking up their space and time. A feeling which as a paying customer you should not sense. I pushed this feeling to the back of my mind as I had also done earlier that day in a coffee shop near Piazzale Roma, and took my time refusing to rush my glass of Prosecco.

Waking up relatively early on my second day, wanting to make the most of my limited time; leaving the hotel at half nine I made my way over to San Marco hoping to avoid the crowds and tour groups I had spotted blocking the streets the day before. Arriving in the bustling centre I was marvelled at the huge number of people milling about at such a time in the morning. After a spot of people watching, I decided to join the already long queue to visit the Basilicia San Marco. It was my visit to San Marco that the feeling of being alone crept back up, wishing I was able to turn to someone and admire the surrounding sights. Queueing to enter the Campanile I was surrounded by couples and families, laughing and joking with each other helping to pass the time. It was my experience is Piazza San Marco that summed up Venice for me. Venice is a city for couples, the gondolas, the masks, and alfresco restaurants are all perfect for loved up tourists. For the solo traveller Venice is bearable, but the feeling of loneliness is apparent when the evening rolls around.

For me travelling solo in Venice was a disappointment. Venice is an obvious couple’s location, a fact which I had known before but was hoping to be incorrect. Being alone in this gorgeous city would not have been as bad if you had felt welcomed by the locals. Feeling like you are unwanted and not even worth their time is a feeling that no one should experience. As a paying customer but also as a tourist visiting their town, this lack of manners does not leave a positive impression, and the rudeness which I experienced is one of the first things I mention when asked about my recent trip. Having visited Italy before, I was shocked with the attitude I received in my three days, and which subconsciously has left a nasty dent on my final impression. I do believe however that if I was not travelling solo and with friends this unfriendly attitude which I received would in fact been ignorable and make less of a mark by being able to have someone to turn to and laugh it off with.

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Top Things To Do In Venice.

Venice. Italy’s most famous and iconic city. Made of 118 small islands; romantic waterways and striking gondolas, the most popular image of this major tourist hub. Striking it is. Picturesque bridges, dramatic churches and the renowned Piazza San Marco looming over the boat dotted lagoon: memories from my recent trip to this bustling city. VENICE

Three days I spent exploring the masses of alleyways, and popping my head into many great churches. Unable to visit every point of interest, I was pleased to have visited all sights that I had planned to see. Resulting in a composed list of what I believe to be the top must sees’ for when in Venice.

Piazza San Marco. Whether it’s sitting at one of the many cafes or getting an extraordinary perspective from Campanile, a trip to Venice is incomplete without a visit to this famous square. Bustling with tourists, tour groups and pigeons, this piazza appears to be the central focus of when visiting this religious city. With many sights located in and around the square there is no question as to why San Marco is so popular. From the dramatic Basilica San Marco, the gothic Doge’s Palace to Campanille, offering spectacular views over the lagoon.

VENICE

Academia Galleries. Containing a grand collection of Venetian art. With many famous pieces being housed in this gallery such as ‘The Tempest’ and ‘Supper in the House of Levi’, commissioned to replace the Last Supper by Titian which had been destroyed in the fire of 1571. No understanding of art is needed to enjoy this gallery as even the most uninterested will appreciated the beauty and talent housed within this grand building.

Getting Lost. Losing your way in Venice can be an enjoyable and beneficial experience. By taking the less popular route you may discover a side of Venice you were not expecting to experience. By getting off the main street you can find cheaper cafes, quiet squares and empty bridges. Whilst strolling through the streets of Dorsoduro I came across Zattere, a paved waterfront offering numerous restaurants and excellent views across to La Giudecca.

Grand Canal. Venice’s main water highway and the biggest of 117 canals running through the city. The canal is a great sight to behold, watching the many gondolas setting off with a fresh batch of rosy cheeked tourists to the fast taxi boats creating waves along the water. A great spot to view the activity is from the Rialto Bridge, which also offers spectacular views of palaces looming along the water’s edge. The only downfall with visiting the Rialto bridge is the sheer number of tourists who linger at the top, pushing and shoving for the best ‘selfies’.

VENICE

People watching. An enjoyable way to spend the afternoon hiding out from the sun is people watching. Whether in the overpriced cafes of San Marco, to the restaurants in Campo Santa Margherita or along the water’s edge by Zattere, there is no shortage of places to stop and refuel. With a glass of Prosecco it makes for an interesting afternoon watching the miserable faced locals and map holding tourists going about their day.

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Pangandaran

First appearance seemed like paradise. Palm trees swaying on an empty beach, whilst unused boats linger close to the bustling beach bar.

Take a closer glance. You may just notice a layer of dust settling around you, soaking into the surrounding landscape. This small and remote town is no ordinary town, this is Pangandaran.

Pangandaran. A town shaken and shaped by its recent history, it may just surprise you. Opening its arms and welcoming the weariest of travellers this beach resort has the potential to grow and flourish into the jewel of Java that it was before.

Curious locals will stop you along the road, every so willing to describe the town’s past. Friendships are made and tears are shed as a recollection of the fateful day is remembered. And with a crash of a wave you have gone; venturing down the long and windy path leading to your next destination.

But Pangandaran will never leave, you will always remember those smiling faces. Faces of welcoming locals, inviting you into their community. Murky waves pounding the deserted beach. That’s my memory of Pangandaran.

DSCF0889

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Why I avoided the Uluwatu temple.

Why I avoided the Uluwatu temple.

My recent trip to Bali was meant to be educational, enlightening me on the many customs of this small and captivating island. Days were spent visiting impressive temples, UNESCO rice fields, and many an evening did we spend watching traditional dance performances. Yet when it was suggested we visit the Uluwatu temple located in south Bali, I couldn’t have been more against the idea.

While the Uluwatu cliff temple looks spectacular, it was online reviews which made me reconsider visiting. Being a little fearful of small monkeys, mostly Macaques monkeys, I was shocked to read that the entrance is surrounded by a forest containing the little creatures. Whilst I can just about manage an impromptu visit to Ubud Monkey Forest, knowing I would have to encounter more monkeys when visiting this pura made me feel sick with dread.

My irrational fear of monkeys is a recent problem that has developed after a long confined bus ride from Tha Khaek in Laos across to Vietnam with a small unleased monkey on board. For the whole duration of the bus ride the monkey was allowed to run amok; jumping on people, going through bags and drinking red bull which made it extra wild. As a result any close encounter with this small species leaves me shaking with fear, wondering what irrational action they might suddenly do.

It was after reading on Tripadvisor that the monkeys at this temple were viscous and into the art of theft that helped me to decide against visiting, regardless of how spectacular the temple and the views had been described. To read multiple entries of monkeys stealing sunglasses, cameras and even shoes made me appalled with the lack of care taken by visitors over their personal possessions… That was until I read that to get your possessions back, caretakers of the monkeys will distract the monkey with fruit, all for a small fee. Whilst the distraction of fruit can be seen as a reward for the monkey, the idea of having to pay to receive your stolen items from men who are meant to be stewarding the monkeys screams SCAM.

Although it would have been nice to visit this temple in person, I do not regret my decision to skip Uluwatu. By missing this temple I avoided a potential close encounter with the local monkeys but also avoided the promotion of this deceitful trade, tricking and mistreating curious tourists.

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My top three activities for when in Ubud, Bali.

How time flies. Feels like only yesterday that I was packing and preparing myself for my two weeks in the beautiful land of Bali. But here I am already at home wondering whether I really did visit, or if I had instead been hallucinating. For me Bali is a small, characteristic and flavourful taste of such a diverse country of Indonesia. Having visited Bali two years previous, I was aware of my surroundings in Ubud and sights I intended to visit. All helping me to fully experience and immerse myself in the intriguing Balinese culture.

From the moment I stepped off the air-conditioned plane I was hit by the humidity and the strong smell of incense, both features which after backpacking round South East Asia leave me with a strong sense of security and familiarity. The feeling of familiarity dramatically increased after arriving in Ubud. Having visited Ubud briefly in the past, I was looking forward to re-exploring and re-discovering the town which I regrettably spent so little time in before. After one whole week of sitting in comfy cafes, browsing alluring art galleries and strolling round striking temples, I was a little sad to leave for the beach resort of Jimbaran.

In this blog post I will be sharing what I believe are the top ‘must-sees’ for when in Ubud.

1-      Visiting a Balinese dance performance.

Around Ubud you will often be approached with the offer to purchase tickets for these evening performances. Performances are held every night and for the duration of an hour. Each theatre may perform different types of traditional Balinese dance. A popular choice of venue is the Ubud Palace, performing traditional Barong and Legong dances. Having seen this performance twice at the Palace, the Barong, a magical creature is my highlight of the whole show (dance 3). For me, the Chandra Wirabhuana performance located next to Café Lotus was enchanting. Performed in front of Pura Saraswati temple and surrounded by lotus ponds the setting for this captivating show is unbeatable. Chandra Wirabhuana Orchestra may have been formed in the late 2000 but it has become a top favourite and a top alternative to the often packed Ubud Palace.

Top tip- Make sure to arrive at least 20 minutes before the start of the show to ensure good seats.

2-      Visiting one of Bali’s many temples.

Visiting a temple whilst in Bali is a must. With over 20,000 puras in Bali, choosing which temple to visit may be the hardest part. Whilst in Ubud we rented a car and a driver choosing to visit: Pura Tanah Lot, Pura Taman Ayun and Pura Ulun Danu Bratan. Each of the chosen temples has their own unique settings. Bratan is situated on a large lake with a striking mountain in the backdrop. Whilst visiting the temple on the lake; although the weather was sunny, clouds scattered at a low height gave the bustling temple an eerie feel. Tanah Lot was the busiest of the three temples. With a makeshift market outside and around the site, thoughts of this spectacular cliff temple is replaced with constant pestering to buy cheap souvenirs. Taman Ayun was the simplest and most striking of our chosen three. Our visit to this temple was quiet, due to the low numbers of visitors. Benches are located around the site allowing you to rest and fully immerse yourself in the surrounding beauty, and with steps to a viewing point, you can view the temple from a different perspective.

3-      Shopping.

Ubud is perfect for a spot of shopping. Being Bali’s cultural hub there is no shortage of funky boutiques, art galleries and bustling markets. Hours can be spent browsing through the many shops, bargaining for your chosen item. The streets dotted with silver shops, handicraft stalls and large art galleries; with most of the produce made in and around the surrounding area. Whilst down Monkey Forest Road I brought a medium sized hand painted canvas for a bargain of 100,000 Rupiah, that’s £10, no haggling was required. Another great spot for a good deal is the Pasar Seni market. Here on the corner opposite the Ubud Palace, you can find everything from clothing, silver, handmade scarfs to imitated designer bags and sculptures.

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