Travels Around Europe: Part Two
Summer 2011 consisted of many things for me, but the best by far was a trip around France, Italy and the Netherlands. Travelling around Europe by train for a month with my boyfriend has left me with so many fantastic memories and I have been lucky enough to see the most beautiful places, some of which I am determined to return to one day. Here are a few brief notes from my time abroad and I hope that my experiences and photographs encourage you to visit these places and enjoy them as much as I did.
ITALY: La Spezia
From Genoa, our last port of call, we took a short train ride (1 hour) to the bustling city of La Spezia. We stayed at a gorgeous guesthouse in the centre of the city, called La Tartaruga Doralice (50€ per night, double room). There was a shared kitchen and living area, and our double room was spacious with a balcony overlooking the large market square. Despite being in the city centre and right next to the market, it was relatively quiet, and it was a joy being able to grab some fresh fruit for breakfast and see the huge variety of foods on offer.
The one thing we were determined to do whilst in La Spezia was the Cinque Terre hike. You have to buy a Cinque Terre card to walk along the trail (5€ for a one day card). On the hike, you pass through five delightful villages overlooking the beautiful coastline. It is a popular tourist destination, and was very busy when we went in mid-June. Although it didn’t detract from the whole experience and it was actually quite nice to have people encouraging you to keep on going up the hundreds of steps(!), I imagine it would have been more relaxing outside of the tourist season. It is difficult to access the Cinque Terre by car, and I recommend taking the train – a far easier option as it also runs between each village, and good for when your legs start to ache or if a part of the trail is closed as it was when we were there. The track between Manarola and Riomaggiore is called the Via Dell’Amore (Lover’s Walk) and is the easiest part of the hike. Along this part of the hike are hundreds and hundreds of padlocks, all with lover’s names on, attached to wire and fences along the path – all very romantic! The houses nestled in to the hillside, the stunning views and the charm of the local villages make this an essential stop on your travels around Italy.
Lucca, by far the most beautiful place I visited on my travels around Europe, was a wonderful place to stay and well worth visiting for more than a day (which is all we had time for unfortunately!) The city is surrounded by walls and filled with stunning towers looking far and wide over the city to the mountains surrounding it. We climbed many towers, including the Torre Guinigi, a red brick tower with trees growing at the top of it. It is a marvelous sight; both the tower itself and the view you get once you have climbed the stairs and reached the top. The Duomo di San Martino (shown in the image above) is also a great place to visit.
Lucca is the birthplace of many composers including Giacomo Puccini, of whom there is a bronze statue in a square at Corte San Lorenzo. We also had some of the best food we’ve ever tasted in Lucca – a rabbit and polenta stew for my boyfriend, and a vegetable soup for myself. They sound simple but the flavours were incredible! There is endless exploring to do in Lucca, and sitting atop the city walls in a pretty park afterwards is a perfect way to end the day.
I was lucky enough to visit Florence a couple of years ago, and upon my return, I found that it was exactly as I had remembered it. Every street was packed to the brim with tourists and the queues at the Uffizi were vast, but it has the most extraordinary buildings and many things to discover. We booked tickets for the Uffizi gallery online prior to our trip, which turned out to be a very wise idea. Upon arrival, we had to queue up to exchange our print-out for a ticket, then make sure we were fifteen minutes early to join another queue to get in to the gallery. I think it took us about half an hour overall to get in, not exactly quick, but a lot better than those who decided to buy a ticket on the day and had to wait over two hours to get in! Although it was slightly annoying that we weren’t allowed to take photographs in there, it was still thoroughly enjoyable. There are some magnificent pieces of art and with such a famous place in the centre Florence at a reasonable price (9,50€ for EU citizens between 18-25 years old), there’s no reason not to visit the Uffizi.
Another attraction that is essential in Florence, especially on a sunny day, is the Palazzo Pitti. You’ll find it a short walk from the famous Ponte Vecchio, on the South side of the river. Though we didn’t explore much inside the palace (full of amazing works of art), we spent almost a whole day in the Boboli gardens. The gardens are beautifully designed, with a large collection of sculptures adorning each section. We sat around the Neptune fountain, from which we could look out over both the lavish gardens and the city itself – a wonderful way to relax in such a hectic city.
There are so many famous sights to see in Rome, that even with three nights there, we knew we wouldn’t be able to see everything. We stayed at PLUS Camping Roma, a large campsite outside of the city with a large variety of accommodation including house tents and cabins as well as the choice to bring your own tents. There was a large swimming pool, an onsite supermarket and restaurant, and a regular shuttle bus in to the city centre. It was a perfect place for us to stay and very cheap (about 15€ each per night). PLUS hostels also have accommodation in Venice (which we stayed in), Florence, Berlin and Prague; we found them a great alternative to guesthouses or hotels.
We went to the colosseum, saw the Roman ruins, and admired the stunning Trevi fountain, but a trip to Rome isn’t complete without seeing the Vatican. I was surprised to find that tickets were cheap (8€ for students) and it was free to get in to St Peter’s Basilica (be aware that they have quite a strict dress code – no shoulders showing, long skirts/trousers etc). As far as breathtaking sights go, these have got to be some of the best. Every room in the Vatican was incredible, from the objects in the room to the highly decorative ceilings. However, it was a shame that we had hit the tourist season and it felt like we were being herded round like sheep, not getting the chance to fully take in the splendor of the building. I highly recommend visiting as far away from tourist season as possible to get the best experience! Upon entering St Peter’s Basilica, I didn’t have any words to explain the scale or magnificence of it, and I still don’t. It is the most amazing building I have ever been in, and should be on everyone’s list of things to do in their lifetime.
…Travels Around Europe: Part 3 – coming soon…
All photographs copyright © Briony Latter