Ponte Vecchio, Florence

5 unmissable Florence sights

Ponte Vecchio, Florence

Florence isn’t my favourite  Italian  city. There, I said it. But it’s undoubtedly beautiful and immensely important for world culture. After all, it’s the birthplace of Renaissance and artists such as Michelangelo created some of their best masterpieces in Florence. Having said that, it’s no wonder than many people find Florence daunting and even overwhelming because of an abundance of must- see museums and art galleries filled with so many iconic sculptures and paintings. Florence is also one of those cities where the tourists outnumber the local population in the period of April to October. So choose your time of visit wisely. I’d suggest to either visit in the early Spring or in the late Autumn. Definitely avoid the summer when it’s too hot to walk around the city. If you’re a first time visitor then definitely focus more on squares and palaces and ice-cream than on museums. Unless, you’re a real culture vulture and you simply have to see the original statue of David in Galleria dell’ Accademia. And book your museum tickets online to avoid waiting in the queue. Even if you only have a day in Florence you can manage to see all of the most important sights I listed below.

So here’s the list of 5 unmissable sights in Florence

  1. Ponte Vecchio

The oldest bridge in Florence (1345) is also the most beautiful one. The Americans call it the Golden Bridge because of all the high-end jewellery shops on it. It’s always crowded and you should take care of your belongings while admiring all the costly jewellery. If you cross the bridge and go left you’ll reach the Palazzo Pitti and the serene Boboli Gardens. Over the bridge is the Vasari’s Corridor which connects the new Medici palace (Medici family ruled over Florence and Tuscany for centuries) of Palazzo Pitti with the old palace of Palazzo Vecchio. The newest addition to the bridge are the so-called love padlocks. To take the best photos of the bridge you have to either go to the bridge after or before the Ponte Vecchio bridge.

Florence
Ponte Vecchio
  1. Piazza della Signoria

Once the political center of the entire region and nowadays a hotspot for locals and tourist alike this gorgeous square is also a sort of museum in the open. The dominating feature of Piazza della Signoria is the medieval town hall of Palazzo della Signoria or Palazzo Vecchio. You can enter it for free but if you want to see the upstairs rooms you have to pay for the ticket. On the right side of the palace is the world-famous museum the Uffizi and on the corner is the Loggia dei Lanzi with a number of interesting sculptures. There are many important art pieces at this square including the copy of Michelangelo’s David (the original is in the Accademia). There’s also the Neptune Fountain and the Cosimo I Medici sculpture on a horse. Occasionally there’ll be some temporary modern sculpture or installation too. You’ll probably notice a round marble plaque on the floor in front of the Neptune fountain. That plaque marks the exact spot where the infamous Girolamo Savonarola was hanged and burned after he was finally captured. He used to organize Bonfires of the Vanities in the 15th century and burn books and artworks. There’s a water tap behind the Neptune’s fountain so you can fill in your water bottle. If you fancy a cup of pricey coffee you can choose one of the two historical cafes at the square.

Palazzo Vecchio
the copy of David
Neptune’s fountain

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London

5 Unmissable London Sights

London

London is the best city in the world! But visiting London can also be overwhelming simply because there is so much to do and to see. You could spend a lifetime visiting London and you still wouldn’t see it all. If you’re visiting London for the first time and you’re only spending a day or two there don’t be temped to find that cool bookstore you saw on Instagram or that cute cat café you pinned on Pinterest just because you think you’re too cool to do tourist attractions. There’s a good reason everyone takes a photo at Westminster Bridge with Big Ben in the background. Why? Because it’s the symbol of London. Yes, you can visit that new hipster brunch place your best friend went to or go on that street art tour everyone’s raving about the next time you’re in London but if you miss seeing Big Ben or Tower Bridge you’ll regret it. So, what do you want to remember your trip by? By visiting a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Tower of London) or …?

Do visit the well-known tourist attractions and cultural and historical landmarks on your first visit to London and leave the trendy new places for your next visit especially if you’ve only got a day or two to enjoy London.

Here’s the list of 5 Unmissable London Sights

1. Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

Big Ben, London

Did you know that Big Ben is actually the name of the giant bell inside the clock tower? The real name of this clock tower is Elizabeth’s tower nowadays but its name used to be St Stephen’s tower.
The current Westminster palace aka the Houses of Parliament was built in 1870. You can visit it if you book a guided tour (for more information click here ).

2. Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

Walk across the Tower Bridge and take hundreds of photos of it. It’s very Instagram worthy!:) If you’re lucky you’ll see it raised to let the ship pass under it. Moreover, if you want to learn about the bridge mechanics or walk on the glass floor 42 m above the Thames visit the Tower Bridge Exhibition.

3. Tower of London

Tower of London

During the history the Tower of London has been a fortress, a royal palace and a prison. Nowadays a tourist attraction as well as the home of the Crown Jewels. The oldest part of this UNESCO site is the White Tower which was built for William I (the Conqueror) in the eleventh century. You can admire it from the outside or buy a ticket and visit it. For more information click here.

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My Scottish memories: Edinburgh-part I

Edinburgh

The stories of Highland clans and whisky and kilts and friendly people came to my attention throughout the years so I decided to visit Scotland. I spent a week in Scotland in July 2012. Since I like primarily to visit the capital of a country and then explore a bit more (if time permits) I made a plan for my Scottish week which included Edinburgh and Glasgow and Stirling. Maybe not the obvious choices apart from Edinburgh, but I travelled with my boyfriend (now my hubby) and he offered a few suggestions that I took. He wanted to see Glasgow because of its football clubs Celtic and Rangers and he knew about Stirling because of William Wallace aka Mel Gibson in the Braveheart movie. Yup! I was an awesome girlfriend then and I’m now an even more awesome wife so not only did we visit Glasgow but we actually went to Celtic’s football stadium and he took a photo of its manager! I looked up Stirling in a guide book and was very happy to visit it. But the highlight of the trip was definitely Edinburgh. But I’m jumping ahead, so let’s rewind back to the beginning and start this story properly.

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Wines & Roman temple

Evora, Portugal

Do you enjoy wine? Do you like Roman ruins? If so, do continue reading about my day trip to Portuguese town of Évora.

During our week in Lisbon we took two organized day trips. Since it was our honeymoon I didn’t really want to spend hours and hours like I usually do trying to find the best way to get to a certain  place, making our sightseeing plan and doing all the other travel-related planning. One day trip was to Sintra region and for another I chose Évora. Why that town you might ask? Well, I’ve got this book called 501 must-visit cities which I got for my graduation from my BFF and I often flick through it and so in Portugal section I saw a photo of a big Roman temple and read about university town of Évora. So the decision was made to visit it while in Lisbon.

The tour company picked us up in front of our hotel. I was very pleased with the tour guide on our day trip to Sintra but this wasn’t the case on this trip even though both of the trips were organized by the same agency. The old gentleman who had to explain everything in multiple languages to our versatile group was however very strict and ununderstanding of the needs of his group. Nevertheless I didn’t let that ruin our day trip.

university, Evora
university, Evora

We arrived to Évora in about an hour and a quarter and were greeted by clouds and an intermittent rain. The first thing we saw were the remains of the medieval city wall and then we left the bus at the University building. Evora University is actually the second oldest university in Portugal since it was founded in 1559. I have a thing for university cities such as Cambridge and Bologna so I was pleased to start the sightseeing of Evora by a quick walk around its main university building.

We proceeded on foot and soon I felt like I was in a scene from a Mexican soap opera even though I’ve never been to Mexico. The white-washed houses on the streets really looked like something I had seen on TV. The only thing missing were men wearing sombrero and possibly carrying a machine gun too. Sorry for the prejudice but that’s how it looked like to me 🙂 The streets were half-empty and wherever you looked you saw beautiful historical buildings and monuments. Well, Evora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Exploring Belém-Lisbon (Sep 2014)

the red bridge, the Christ Statue and the Monument to the Discoveries as seen from the Tower of Belem

On the second day of our honeymoon in Lisbon we took the tram no.15 from Praça da Figueira to  Belém area. Unfortunately it wasn’t one of those old-fashioned rickety trams but a new one which was very crowded. Still, I enjoyed the long ride along the river Tagus from the center of Lisbon to Belém which is famous for several historic landmarks namely the Tower of Belém and the Jerónimos Monastery. It was cloudy but during the day the sun emerged from under the clouds and we got sun-burnt! I had planned to take a sun cream on this trip but I simply forgot so we bought one later in the center to prevent future sunburns.

We got off the tram at the grandiose Jerónimos Monastery but we first visited almost equally impressive Monument to the Discoveries. This enormous monument at the waterfront was built in 1960 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Portuguese prince Henry the Navigator who sponsored many expeditions. It was under his patronage that Portugal founded its first colonies and the Age of Discoveries began. The monument represents a caravel (ship) and it celebrates not only Henry the Navigator but many Portuguese heroes associated with the Age of Discovery such as explorers, cartographers, artists, missionaries, kings etc. We walked around it and then entered and decided to take a lift up the viewpoint. We had discount because of our Lisbon card which gave us free public transport and many free entrances. From the top of the monument we saw the Tower of Belém which looked small in comparison (the Monument to the Discoveries is 52 m high), the monastery, Belém cultural center, a football stadium and the beautiful red bridge (Ponte 25 de Abril ) that resembles the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, USA and the Christ statue which is a smaller twin of the Christ statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. When we got down we walked across the huge pavement compass rose and world map; a gift from the Republic of South Africa. Since it was already getting hot I needed a refreshment in the form of ice-cream (I had mulberry flavour) so that I could walk to the romantic Tower of Belém.

the view from the top of the Monument to the Discoveries
the view from the top of the Monument to the Discoveries

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