Amsterdam, Netherlands

A few weeks ago D and I went on a jaunt to Amsterdam. I think its safe to say our 4 days in the city reflected its vibe really well. We stayed at the Lloyd Hotel and Cultural Embassy, a design hotel that overlooks the waterfront. Within the hotel itself (which is a bit like a maze or like something from a film) there is a chance to explore various art installations dotted around the hotel. But I think given the short duration of our stay I will split the rest of this travel blog into sections.

Getting around: Amsterdam is famous for its cycling, however we actually ended up walking an awful lot so take comfy shoes! There is also a decent and relatively inexpensive tram network which makes the city pretty easy to get around. The train link to the airport is very reliable so getting to your hotel takes only a little bit of forward planning.

Culture: we visited the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House. I really would recommend buying tickets for these in advance, particularly the Anne Frank House as they only let limited numbers of people in at once. The Van Gogh museum tells the story of his rather unusual and sad life and his artistic development through a collection of wonderful paintings. Something about being there and actually looking at the texture of the paintings as well as the actual paintings is probably pretty educational for artists of all experience levels. The Anne Frank museum was sad and uplifting all at once. Something about seeing the impact of the holocaust through the experience of 8 people rather than by reading statistics and other historical sources makes it easier to understand on a more personal level. The Anne Frank house has been restored to how it was when they were hiding there and while there are stark reminders of a family who were living in extreme difficulty, it tries to bring home a message of understanding others to try and prevent something on this scale happening again. Anne Frank was a rather wonderful writer and the museum definitely tries to encourage the view of her as a witty, clever but very real girl with her own faults rather that making her seem perfect.

We also had a trip to the Zoo (it was nice to be out in the sun after being inside a lot) and it provided a bit of light relief after being overwhelmed with culture and history. We also stopped by the Sex Museum (it was very cheap) which was as you’d expect. If you’re from Yorkshire and I say it was like the Yorvik Centre but with an 18 Certification you’d understand what I mean but it is extremely tongue in cheek.

Boat trips: you must go on a boat trip. This is a city with canals and you can see so much at a slower pace. There are also dinner cruise options if you’re feeling fancy.

Food and drink: The Netherlands are famous for bakeries and waffles (why do you think I went) and Amsterdam did not disappoint! Lovely cake, lovely stroopwafel. I cannot enthuse too much about it. It is also really inexpensive to eat out in restaurants and there are some amazing options for snacking and street food. Buy patates, you won’t regret it.

In terms of drinking and bars there is really something for most tastes and the atmosphere is really relaxed. Early evening drinking for the win!

Shopping: Amsterdam is amazing for shopping! Take full advantage (unless your debit card was frauded the week before like mine). Also not to be missed – trips to cheese shops, bakieries and the Bloomenmarket.

Where do you recommend we visit next?

Campania, Italy

As I mentioned in my previous post our trip was split between Rome and Sorrento in the South of Italy. The train network across Italy is actually really good and we actually had a lovely journey from Rome to Naples travelling first class on a very peaceful train. However, as I mentioned before the train journey from Naples to Piano di Sorrento (where we stayed) was busy and so hot I could practically feel the beads of sweat forming. I must stress though, none of the rest of our journeys on the Circumvesuviana were as crowded or as intensely warm (although their lateness caused an issue a couple of times). (Also make sure you pay for any Circumvesuviana tickets in Naples with as close to the exact change as possible. The guy in the ticket office is notorious for ripping Tourists off by giving the the incorrect change. I must stress this was not an issue in any of the other stations and the service is very inexpensive in general.

Onto the major positive – we got to visit Pompeii. Both of us had been desperate to visit the site since childhood. We were both absolutely overwhelmed by the size of it as we had underestimated this and were expecting a village rather than a city. Although it is boiling (take a lot of sun cream if visiting in the Summer) and I would urge you to remember a drink there are places to refill your bottles so you needn’t spend a fortune on staying hydrated. Anyway, it was a fascinating place and definitely a place I highly recommend visiting. Although in some ways it was sobering imagining a whole city wiped out within hours.

We also visited the main town of Sorrento and some local beaches which were so beautiful and typically Italian. Although the beach near our hotel was one where you have to pay for its use, this actually made it more secure and we felt comfortable leaving our belongings on our sun loungers while we swam in the sea.

However, one of the holiday favourites was a boat trip around Capri which stopped off at Positano. Both of which are two of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Swimming off the boat with a view of Capri was a wonderful experience. We had a few hours happily looking in all the little shops and exploring Positano. I would love to go back and spend more time in both of these places. I think that’s the thing with travel, it always gives you a thirst for more.

Fortunately, or unfortunately Piano di Sorrento absolutely ruined both of us for pizza. We discovered a pizzeria next to the station called Pizzeria All’Angolo. Popular with locals and tourists alike, we enjoyed some fantastic pizza and local wine. The waiters and the staff were all so friendly and welcoming to us and every time we have had pizza since our return we lament that it is not at this particular pizzeria. (It was also as inexpensive as it was delicious, who says you always have to pay through the nose for unforgettable dining experiences?) Although the restaurant overlooked a station car park we actually had quite a companionable time spotting local cats and giving them names. It’s the simple things in life that provide the most amusement.

All in all Italy is an unforgettable experience and I think a pretty perfect travel destination for D’s first trip abroad. However, 8 days was not nearly enough time to full explore Rome or Campania, let alone Italy as a whole.

Still, not to beat around the bush, the humidity did cause havoc with my hair and there were several days where I looked frighteningly like Hair Bear of the hair Bear Bunch. Still, it was worth it for such a wonderful holiday.

 

Rome

A month ago this week we flew to Rome and enjoyed the delights of Rome and Sorrento (but not really the delights of the Circumvesuviana from Naples to Sorrento without air conditioning on one of the sweatiest days of my life!). Anyway, I thought it would be nice to add a few more recent travel themed posts and as Rome is one of the most visited cities in the world it would be a good place to start.

We flew via Ciampino Airport and travelled round mostly on the Metro and on foot. I would really recommend buying a Roma pass; which as well as giving you a 3 day travel card for the Metro, also gets you into 2 attractions (we opted for the Coliseum and Castel Sant Angelo). I would really 100% recommend buying your tickets for the Vatican Museum before you travel, the queues were insane and we were grateful not to have to worry about queuing in the heat. On the subject of the Vatican, I would also plan what you want to wear in advance, make sure its an appropriate length and covers your knees and elbows otherwise you will be made to cover up, either in a shawl or paper trousers. I don’t know about you but paper doesn’t feature heavily in my travel wardrobe.

Apart from the above attractions we also paid a trip to the Pantheon, explored Trastavere and mistakenly attended Mass in the oldest Christian Churches in Rome (the congregation were so lovely to us and the church was beautiful). I certainly felt like we could have spent a fortnight there and not seen all of the wonderful museums, churches and historical sites.

I would also advise caution when it comes to things like touts, people coming up to you to try and sell you things outside tourist attractions etc. It can be difficult to walk past them politely but tickets are nearly always cheaper from attractions or online vendors and a lot of street sellers will try to rip you off (I feel pretty bad writing this as I am aware its to make ends meet, every beautiful place has some downsides).

However, I would recommend walking round the city and getting a feel of the place. Rome is so beautiful and has so many different areas. We stayed just down the road from the Coliseum in a hotel called Hotel Centro Cavour – the hotel itself was a good base and the staff were so friendly. Upon arrival the man on the reception gave us a map, added the best places to visit on your first visit and explained the best routes to each place.

Although Italy has a reputation for being more on the pricey side, we actually found it pretty reasonably priced for food and drinks. I don’t know what it is about European cities but one of the loveliest things about being on a city break is always sitting outside a bar in the early evening with a drink before the sun goes down.

On the topic of food, embrace gelato. It is one of my absolute favourite desserts and the flavour range is fantastic. I particularly loved raspberry, passion fruit and coconut flavours as the temperatures soared.

One last thing, I  saw another blogger recommend getting up as something ridiculous like 5am to avoid crowded places in more touristy areas. Its very rare something makes me get up this early when I am not in work, but I don’t think this is the sanest, or safest advice. However, if you DO want to visit some of the more popular places at quieter times; crowds tend to disperse around 7.30 to 8pm which provides ample photographic opportunity and a chance to see things at a more leisurely pace.

Giveaway Time

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It’s time for another giveaway on the Bunfight. This time there is a slight summer holiday theme to the prizes which will be offered to one lucky winner. To enter you must do one or more of the following:

Follow my blog

Like this post

Comment on this post telling me you have nominated me for the Cosmopolitan Blog Awards

Send me a little email (if you’re a bit shy)

Like my page on Facebook and share the giveaway photo I’ll be putting up shortly

Follow me on twitter and retweet my tweet about the Cosmopolitan Blog Awards

Multiple entries per person are allowed. Closing date will be on 3rd June 2014. Winner will be chosen at random from some sort of hat arrangement.

To Nominate my blog in the Best Food Blog category please click here.(I will be so grateful for all nominations).

Here is a closer look at all the prizes.

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If I am shortlisted there will be a bigger, more exciting giveaway to come. Good luck!

On a lighter note, now you know what my bedspread looks like in case people were curious.