Sunday, 21 February 2016

Trip to Italy? 6 nights & 5 days budget!

Tips/ Advice
  • Every first Sunday of the month all the key Roman attractions are free of charge, but expect very large queues. 
  • All places of worship are free in Rome.
  • Aperitivo occurs around 6-9pm and is a great dinner option, very cheap. Between €5-15 for a glass of wine and all-you-can eat buffet. Look out for the signs around the cities, if in doubt just google options.
  • Watch out for places that have a service charge, remember to factor this in when budgeting your meals.
  •  Ideally buy more than one bus ticket in advance in Rome because often places won't be open, and you don't want to risk getting a fine - I mean... We did, but I'm not sure how likely it is you'll be checked!
Own Experience
- £10 flight from Stansted to Milan, £13.50 flight from Rome to Stansted.
- £25 train from Leamington to Stansted return.
- 50p Megabus Milan to Florence, £1.50 Megabus Florence to Rome.
- €11 train from Milan airport to centre.
- €4.5 metro fare overall (€1.50 metro fare for 90 minutes in Milan & Rome).
- €26 uber (€10 discount for first-time use, divided by 2 = €8 each)
- €1.50 bus (should be more like €5, but didn't pay for bus).
Overall spent on transport with EUR conversion: £84

- Milan, free as stayed with friend.
- Florence: Hotel Bavaria €18 (£14) pppn - 4 stars out of 5 in terms of value for money.
- Air b'n'b: £14 pppn.
Overall spent on accommodation with EUR conversion: £70

Spending Money
Food and drink
- Roughly €6 pints, €8 cocktails, €4 wine.
- €8-12 pizza.
- €7 pasta.
- €4-6 panini/ calzone.
- €2.50 bottle of soft drink.
- €1.50 bottle of water.

Museums/ Attractions
- Milan Cathedral: €2.
            (5 out of 5 stars – Cheap value for money, pretty too).
- Museum of Ancient Art in Sforza Castle, Milan: €3 student.
            (1 out of 5 stars – Boring!)
- Museum of Modern Art/ Palace, Florence: €6.
            (2 out of 5 stars – Not that modern, some good work but too big to keep concentrating)
- Duomo Cathedral, Florence: Free.
            (4 out of 5 stars – Beautiful on the outside, amazing architecture, inside not much too see hence only 4 stars)
- Florence Basilica/ Museum/ Clock tower: €15 [Didn't enter].
- Castle Sant'Angelo: €5 student. 
            (4 out of 5 stars – Very nice views, a bit to read, more info would be nice)
- Sistine Chapel & Vatican Museums: €10
            (4 out of 5 stars – Very crowded, shuffle you through quickly, but pretty – again, more info would have been nice).
- St Peter's Basilica: Free entrance, not possible to reserve in advance. 
- Colosseum/ Roman Forum/ Palatine Hill: Free on first Sunday of month.

            (3 out of 5 stars – Little remains of the real Colosseum, exciting to know the type of place you’re standing in though)

Overall for 6 nights & 4 full days:  £246 spending money + £84 transport + £70 accommodation = £400. Spending money would have been A LOT cheaper without alcohol. 

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Roaming Rome.

We arrived in Rome at 6:30pm Friday night and stumbled around the bus terminal for a while to work out how to get to our air b'n'b. Set on an uber, but with no drivers around, we began to walk. The walk however, was terrible as there was a horrid web of roads, and the dodgy nature of the surrounding areas made us feel like we were about to be shanked any moment. Very different to the beautiful and relaxed nature of Florence - but, Rome is so huge in comparison.

Eventually an uber driver became available, so we hailed it and arrived at our destination. It wasn't exactly the nicest area, but the flat itself was really nice/ great value for money. It could sleep 5 people overall, and had a little kitchen area. The owner was nice too and left us some maps on local places to visit and how to get to some destinations, but we mainly used google maps for that honestly.

In the evening, deciding to save ourselves some money, we went to the local supermarket and cooked. I had hotdogs while Matt ate pasta, opting for an early night.

Saturday morning after some lazing around, we got up and at it by venturing to Castle Sant'Angelo on the metro. It was only €6 entrance with a student card so we went in. It was built in 123 AD originally as a mausoleum by Emperor Hadrian of the Roman Empire. His ashes were placed there alongside his wife and child. An inscription he wrote about his soul read: 'Little soul, gentle and drifting,/ guest and companion of my body,/ now you will dwell below in pallid places,/ stark and bare;/ there you will abandon your play of yore.'

It was then used as a military fortress from 401AD. On top of the castle [as pictured beneath] is the Archangel Michael, hence its name. Legend has during Gregory the Great's papacy (590-604), a terrible bout of plague occurred and he organised a procession to the tomb of the Apostle Peter. Near the mausoleum the people of Rome saw a vision in the sky, and the plague ended. In memory of this, a statue was placed of the archangel. 

The views were great from the castle and it was definitely worth it. Matt has been hilarious, just constantly talking about how he'd seen these buildings in Assassins Creed and all he had to do was jump onto this ledge and to escape just go out of the window in the stack of hay inevitably below us right? That boy spent far too much on games growing up.

Castle Sant' Angelo.
Ponte Sant'Angelo.
"It's too bright I can't see!"
Michael the Archangel - Legend that links to the name of the castle. 

Afterwards we went to the Vatican - the queues around the area were huge. Though I have heard they usually are gigantic, they were particularly severe this year as Catholics from around the world were on a pilgrimage to the Holy Door'. It's a journey made once every 25 to 50 years to symbolise the passing into the presence of god and grants temporal punishment for the pilgrims' sins - Salvation & Mercy.
St. Peter's Basilica - View from Castle Sant'Angelo.
Matt and I in front of St. Peter's Basilica. 
Getting hangry, we couldn't find a shop that wasn't heaving and wasn't super over-priced. As a result, we decided to take the trip to McDonalds (first time this holiday though, be impressed)! Quickly scoffed it down as I plead with Matt to get moving. I had booked the Vatican Chapel and Museums online for a 1pm slot to avoid the queues - €8 each with a student ticket, and €7 for an audioguide. For some reason there wasn't a queue for this area, even though everything I had read, and my parents experience last year, led me to believe otherwise. Better safe than sorry though! It's the sixth most visited museum in the whole world - behind Palace Museum (Beijing), Louvre, British Museum, Met Museum of Art (NY), National Galley (London).

The museum displays the collection built upon by Popes throughout the centuries, especially Renaissance art. Pope Julius II founded the museums in the early sixteenth century, of particular significance is the Sistine Chapel. Honestly, it wasn't as impressive as I thought it would be. But having the audioguide definitely made it a lot better as I actually knew what I was looking at. Unfortunately you can't take photos inside (not sure why). But it was decorated by a range of artists, most famously the top half by Michelangelo from 1508 to 1512. It has nine scenes from the book of Genesis (the most famous being the creation of Adam - photo below from wikipedia) and twelve prophetic figures. 

Michelangelo: Creation of Adam.
My favourite scene is on the northern wall, 'Delivery of the Keys' by Perugino. It's related to Matthew 16 where the 'keys of the kingdom of heaven' are given to St. Peter, representing the power to forgive and to share the word of God - giving them power to allow others to heaven. 

Perugino, 'Delivery of the Keys'.
Matt's favourite area was the gallery of maps. Directed by Egnazio Danti, commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII Concompagni in 1581, it shows the main regions, major islands and four principal ports - combination of history and geography. 

Matt in his favourite room - Gallery of maps! 

Another one of my favourite rooms was 'Room of the Segnatura', with Raphael's most famous frescoes, marking the start of the high Renaissance, painted between 1508 and 1511. It's supposed to show the three greatest categories of the human spirit - Truth, Good and Beauty. My favourite wall was on the School of Athens to show philosophy/ rational truth, mainly because of the links it has to my degree.

School of Athens - Room of the Segnatura by Raphael.
Anyway, enough of the art chat. After we had spent a few hours there, we decided to walk over to the Pantheon. On the way we passed Sant'Agnese in Agone, there was a festival going on as it's carnival season, but honestly not a lot seemed to be happening other than some people oddly playing the bag pipes. There were loads of little kids dressed up though throwing confetti over the streets all weekend.

The Pantheon was started 27 BC, but as it is today, finished around 126 AD by Emperor Hadrian. It is a huge building with a circular dome roof - actually the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. When it rains, it goes straight through the hole in the roof. It's a church dedicated to 'St Mary and the Martyrs', and the square in front is named the Piazza della Rotonda. It was very grand and magnificent, but unfortunately we had to rush round it because it was closing time. After that, we went inside a few churches and passed the grand Piazza Venezia. It is great that all of them are free in Rome. For dinner we had a quick pit-stop in a Scottish bar, totally awful food but cheap.

Arriving at the Trevi Fountain, Matt was underwhelmed by it. I love it though, especially by night. It's a shame it's always so crowded though, really ruins the experience - I mean, I was adding to the crowd so, hypocritical of me. I did toss a coin into it and make a wish though, despite Matt's irritation. We went to the Spanish steps but they were definitely underwhelming and actually under construction. Eventually we ventured home, rolled around napping and watched suits. 

Roof of the Pantheon. 
Chiesa del Gesù, consecrated 1584.
Sant'Andrea della Valle - My favorite church, begun in 1590, finished in 1650.

Inside the church - Rubbish picture sorry!
Piazza Venezia & Museo Centrale del Risorgimento.

Trevi Fountain.
At 8:30pm we got on a bus to the colosseum. We were unable to find a place to buy tickets, and when we asked a local he told us they never checked, so we risked it. I then tried buying one on the bus but the machine ate my money so we just gave up. We paid €20 Colosseum Pub Crawl and in that you got a t-shirt, crap welcome shot, free drinks for an hour, some pizza and entrance to bars/ clubs. It was rather disorganised honestly. There weren't many people on the crawl, around twenty, and the organisers didn't make any effort in getting people to mingle, didn't know who was on it and who wasn't! The bar was quite busy but it didn't take too long to get our free drinks - must be awful in peak season though. We then headed to the next bar, which was the most disorganised mess ever. Usually they get a bus, but the bus was completely full so we had to do a long walk instead. We spent our night with two aussies doing Tequila shots (thankfully €3 each) and singing karaoke. Decided to leave the night before the club as we were both feeling rather tired and too drunk. However, we got very lost and confused, ended up having to hail and uber again. 

Rome by Night.
Bar Crawl Friends.
Unable to move for hours in a hungover mess, we didn't leave the house until midday. It was far colder than I expected so I spent most of the day shivering in a little ball haha. Every first Sunday of the month, the main attractions in Rome are free - the colosseum, vatican museums etc. It's a great idea and makes history accessible to everyone, if only London would do that! It does mean though huge queues. It took us about 45 minutes to get into the colosseum though, so not too awful. Could have paid €15 to join a tour group, but decided against it. Matt bought an audioguide (€5) instead to tell him a bit about it, but he loves reading about Rome anyway so knew most of it - as a child and today - hence my choice to take him to Rome. Funniest part of the trip was Matt getting stuck in the turnstile entering the colosseum. It pinned his crotch against the side and he couldn't move, he triggered a little alarm and the security guard had to help him hahaha.

After we tried going to the Roman Forum but unfortunately we were too late and it closed at 4pm. We walked up palatine hill pointlessly as we couldn't see anything from it. We walked around the perimeter of the Roman Forum instead and came across Circus Maximus chariot racing stadium much to Matt's excitement. There's literally nothing there though, just a field with a sign that says it used to be there. Luckily we came across a great view point that I'd recommend, I've attached a map. If you walk round the perimeter you'll come across it eventually, or you can gooogle 'Comune Di Roma Gabinetto Sindaco' and walk behind it.

We went back to our place for a bit before going to an Irish pub for a few drinks and watching superbowl hype. Having to get up at 6:30am, we decided against watching the superbowl, but placed a few bets anyway. For the third year in a row, I won! Much to Matt's anger (as usual). I can tell the future.

"I am a Roman Emperor."
Getting artsy at the Roman Forum.
Location of view-point if Roman Forum is closed.

Campidoglio: Michelangelo-designed hilltop square.

Cordonata 'steps'.
"There's no parking... I guess I'll just leave my car right here!" - Italy has the world's worst parking.
At 6:30am we got a bus, then train, then another bus to the airport. It took around 2 hours and was very complicated, the internet was useless at helping too. Go to Termini metro station, get to Laurentina station and ride the 720 bus. The airport was tiny and rather relaxed so there wasn't a big queue to get through anything.

Now back home and back to reality. Matt and I spent the night in the library finishing off some last-minute work for seminars tomorrow, booooo.

Good-bye Italy!

Friday, 5 February 2016

Birthplace of the Renaissance: Florence (Firenze).

From 4:15pm to 9:35pm we megabussed through a raging storm (thunder and lighting included) from Milan to Florence. Matt and I both slept for most the journey, and ventured through the rain, yep once again, for 20 minutes to our hotel. It was quite hard to find despite being in a hugely central location as their sign was hidden, but they upgraded us for free as it was quite empty so we had a huge room. After settling in we went out to the nearby Lion's Fountain Irish Pub for cheap food and booze. It was a very american bar - US college sweatshirts pinned to the ceiling and a hive of newly moved exchange students. We had a few beers, couple of glasses of wine and eventually stumbled back to our room falling into a deep slumber.

Thursday we headed to the Piazzale Michelangelo via Piazza Della Repubblica and Palazzo Vecchio/ Piazza della Signoria. We also had to cross Ponte Vecchio to get there (the famous bridge in Florence). All of these places were beautiful, and the walk was gorgeous, the streets are so beautiful. They're narrow but colourful and tower above you. You can just get lost in the beauty of the winding streets alone. When we finally arrived, Piazzale Michelangelo was magnificent, there were several stairs up there but it was by far worth it, we ate ice cream and enjoyed the astounding view.

After pizza for lunch, as usual, we headed to Pitti Palace and I dragged Matt into the Museum of Modern Art (€6 reduced student price). It really wasn't as modern as I'd hoped! Ended up rather bored trawling around, but some of the paintings were gorgeous, but on the whole - unless you're a history of art major, or have a really keen interest in it, you might want to skip it. But, for €6 it hardly breaks the bank.

Later, post-nap, we went to the Hard Rock Café for dinner. Though it cost us like €20-25 each, we did get a bottle of wine too and the venue was really great. Also, we've found drinks rather expensive anyway. After, choosing another Irish bar (see the theme here?) we got a few pints and cocktail jugs before heading onto a bar closer to our hotel for tequila shots and cocktails in a €6 special (ridiculously cheap given the expense of everywhere else). Returning back to the first Irish bar, a few more pints later again we ventured 'home', downing litres of water to ease the inevitably impending hangover.

An idea of cost - We spent around €60 each for dinner, 2 glasses of wine, 1 beer, 1 cocktail jug, 2 cocktails and 2 shots.

[Continued beneath photos].

Triumph Arch, Piazza Della Repubblica.

Palazzo Vecchio/ Piazza della Signoria.
Ponte Vecchio.
Girl with Pearl Earring.
View from Piazzale Michelangelo.
View from Piazzale Michelangelo & Ponte Vecchio.
Lion's Fountain Irish Pub top two pictures, lunch bottom left, Hard Rock cafe right.
Museum of Modern Art at Pitti Palace.
Feeling the hangover we didn't do an awful lot. We roamed round the Duomo and went inside (free of charge). We didn't go up the clock tower though or in the other buildings as it cost €15 for a ticket to all of that, no student price offered either. We had a calzone for lunch, and I almost vomited as juices from the cheese kept dripping out of it and anyone that knows me knows I have a real issue when it comes to the texture and feel of food - hence why I am such a fussy eater! So I swiftly chucked that away haha. Instead I opted for a gelato and nutella waffle that made me feel so sickeningly full that again, I had to abandon ship half way through. It was great though, despite the €6 price!

On our walk to the megabus stop we stopped at the Church of Santa Maria Novella and just laid in the sunshine for a while. We walked past a McDonalds that served cocktails - how crazy is that?? It was a fancy McCafé version. We killed an hour in regular McD's before getting the bus at 3pm to Rome.

So overall? I really loved Florence - It's a beautiful city with fascinating architecture and the hub of historical development that I've learnt so much about on my course. To picture the lives and ideas that have stemmed from here is quite baffling. When I first saw the Duomo I actually stared in awe to the point Matt got annoyed I was lagging behind in the rain. It's unlike anything I've seen before and was one of the biggest/ most aesthetically pleasing structures I've ever seen. There's a whole ton of bars and cafés to spend time in. Again, though it had way more to do than Milan, nowhere near as much as Rome. However, I think it'd be a beautiful city to live in as it has a very friendly and beautiful small-town feel to it.

Duomo: Cathedral of Santa maria dei Fiore.
Duomo: Cathedral of Santa maria dei Fiore.
Church of Santa Maria Novella.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Mellowness in Milan.

Reeling from a heavy night out celebrating Matthew's birthday, we scrambled about frantically trying to last minute pack our bags for the trip ahead. With two hours to go I realised I'd foolishly left my phone in a taxi the night before and find-my-iphone located it 35 minutes away on the other side of Coventry. Speedily we hopped in my car, dropped the boys from home off at the megabus stop, and, with the windows down, happened to coincidentally hear my iphone making sounds and bumped into the man that had it! Oh, and my purse - oops. Luck was on my side. After pegging it to the train station realising I'd left my camera behind and doubling-back, I made it just in time to catch the pre-booked train we were due for. Looking down I realised I had way too much stuff but it was too late to do anything about it now. All I could do was prey RyanAir wouldn't dispute it was 'hand-luggage' size (definitely was not)! Given I've always been scared my tiny little handbag wouldn't be allowed, I was taking an unprecedented risk personally haha. I think I packed more for this trip then I did for South-East Asia for two months - That's what happens when you drunkenly pack.

My 'hand luggage'.
"Quick, run away!" "Damn it, you caught me." 
Anyway, after a few hours, a quick nap and a couple of trains, we arrived to Stansted, got checked in and set off to Milan. Upon arrival I messaged a mutual friend of ours who lives there, and she directed us to her apartment in downtown Milan. The train from MLP airport cost €11 and ran around every 30 minutes. The tube then cost a further €1.50 and was valid for 90 minutes from validation. Eventually we ended up at her beautiful apartment with two beds set up beautifully for us. It was lovely to see Olivia as she usually lives in Australia and as you'll see from photos, she's the girl I first adventured with at 18 around South-East Asia. Although we were all very tired and Olivia had upcoming exams to revise for, we decided to venture out for a quick drink. Olivia showed us some of the nice sites by her apartment - including a plaza area where groups gather in the summer to drink. I wish we could have been there to experience it! Apparently it's rife for pick-pockets though so be careful around Milan. 

We ended up at a really cute indie little hideaway, however, after waiting 20 minutes watching the two bartenders painfully make a million cocktails with little indication of serving us soon, we decided to leave and headed for a gazebo shaded café where the drinks were far cheaper but the atmosphere was dire. It was great to catch up anyway. One thing I would note though is that there's so many annoyances in Milan from people coming up to you trying to sell you things if you decide to sit outside - despite being there about 30 minutes, 3 men tried to sell us roses! Anyway, we then ventured home and slept off the hangover. 


Out the door by 10am, Olivia led us on a super-speed tour to the cathedral and then to Sforza Castle where she left to revise. Sforza castle was built in mid 15th century by Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan, where an old fort used to be. In the 17th C it was one of the largest citadels in Europe, but today it just has lots of museums inside it. We visited the Museum of Ancient Art for €3 (reduced student ticket). It had armoury, tapestry and sculptures in it. Personally I didn't find it very interesting, but it was a way to stay out of the rain and learn a little about the Sforza period of Milan.

After we wandered back to the Cathedral/ Duomo and decided to venture inside. It cost €2 (for anyone), to enter the Duomo, Museum and Church of S.Gottardo in Corte. We only visited the Duomo. It was nice inside and I said a quick prayer before we decided to head for a bite to eat. We went to 'Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II' shopping mall which is located just next to the Duomo and sat down for a pizza and drink (roughly €15 each). Killing some time strolling around and grabbing some Amsterdam chips too, we headed back to Olivia's and grabbed our belongings, said our farewells and hopped on the train to the megabus stop - thankfully not too far out from the city.

Overall opinion of Milan? Olivia can't rave enough about it, and it sounds like a completely fantastic place to do a semester or year abroad, however, as the second most populous place in Italy I expected more. Visitor wise - frankly, there isn't a lot to do! 3 of the top 10 things on tripadvisor for example are 'Duomo', 'Duomo Square' and 'Duomo rooftops' - essentially the same things. Of course you can see Di'Vinca's last supper painting, however, this has to be booked well in advance. It's a very easy city to walk around, but in the rain felt a bit miserable. Olivia will kill me for saying this, but I found it under-whelming, it was a classic European city with its wide streets, tram and main cathedral attraction (very different to Rome in this sense). I probably wouldn't ever go back now I've crossed it off, but who knows, maybe you'll love it - Don't take my opinion, go check it out for yourself.

Olivia and I outside Milan Cathedral, come rain or shine.
Matthew's many faces when I ask him to 'smile'! Inside the cathedral.

Milan Cathedral 

Sforza Castle.
The Portale del Banco Mediceo
 Lunch at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.