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This weekend I decided to disappear to Venice, just because. It was my way of celebrating my 21st; I met up with all of my lovely Italian friends who were kind enough to drive/fly/hitch/train it from all over Italy to Venice for one night just for me, and quite frankly, I cannot remember the last time I had so much fun!

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I went ice skating in Campo San Polo (every time I go to Venice there is something going on in San Polo, last time it was the incredible outdoor cinema), I tried my hand at steering a gondola… me and a friend later happened to find one that had been left unattended, so that brief lesson soon came in handy, and I met so many amazing people from around the world!

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I love Venice, I love the way it smells (and no it does not smell bad, not even when it was 40 degrees back in August, it just smells like seafood and summer and.. Italy), I love getting lost among the tiny streets and back alleys, I love the people and the markets and the boats and pining over designer handbags that are calling out to my credit card in the 101 designer shops scattered around the city. I especially love how healthy it is; walking everywhere, not having to inhale car exhaust fumes whenever I venture outside… and at night I can actually see stars in Venice! I just love everything about it! No doubt I’ll soon enough I’ll be zipping back there… perhaps in the Spring. I’ve seen Venice in the summer and winter.. I’d like to see it in Spring too.

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Of course, my camera had to accompany me ♥

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Christmas in Venice 1#

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Joie de Vivre… Part Three!

I love Italy. Anyone who knows me knows that I completely love, adore and obsess over Italy. I love the language, the culture, the food (who doesn’t love the food!), the fashion, the people, the manic driving, the heat, the art, the architecture – just everything!
No matter how much I loved the various cities I was visiting – Prague, Budapest etc, I really found it hard not to feel impatient to reach Italy. I covered the most cities in Italy than in any other country – I travelled to six cities and the five villages of Cinque Terre during my week in Italy. I now love, adore and obsess over it even more, so I apologize in advance to all of my friends if I annoy you by blabbing on about Italy Italy Italy when you see me. I will try to hold my tongue.
Florence
Cinque Terre
 
I was actually stranded here for the night, thanks to Ray, a cocky Californian surfer to despite being the most irritating little shit I’ve ever met in my life, some how managed to befriend me for the day. He swore to me that he had walked from Monterosso to Vernazza in just half an hour, and so, as I had a little over two hours until my train, I decided to walk it. Half an hour my arse. It took us so long (partly because know-it-all Ray kept on straying off path, and believing that he had already walked the path I foolishly followed into all sorts of slippery, impossible-to-climb situations), by the time I made it to the train station, the last connecting train from Pisa to Florence had already left.
Still, there are worse places to get stranded for a night. And he did feel so guilty he helped me find a place to rest my head for a night.
There was just one city that I hated. I hated it so much that I stayed just long enough to visit Pompeii, and then I left pretty sharpish – I hated Naples.
Granted, Pompeii was amazing, as was the huge-ass, dirt cheap pizza that I ate in Naples, in the restaurant where they filmed the ‘eating pizza in Naples’ scene in Eat, Pray, Love (I didn’t recognize it at all but they really made a big deal of it). The people, however. Rough. I’ve since been told that the south of Italy is where most of the mafia activity takes place, and that it’s a very dodgy area, so it all makes perfect sense, but it put a serious smudge on Italy’s otherwise spotless record for me. Also – I discovered that in Naples, the chav culture exists. They wear Louis Vuitton rather than Burberry, but it’s there, poundshop scrunchies, neon mini dresses, cakes on makeup, slicked back hair, tacky ‘bling’. The works.
Even when I was heading back to Naples from Pompeii, dusty and covered in the grubby grimy dirt of Pompeii, I still felt so much classier than the hooped-earring-wearing family who were seated opposite me, obviously heading home from the beach. Call me a snob, I’ll happily call myself one, but seriously, I’d never recommend Naples to anyone. If you must try the pizza, get in, order pizza, get out.
P.S. this is why I have included no photographs of Naples. For a start they’re all on film, and I haven’t developed any rolls yet. Secondly, Naples was ugly, I want to show all my friends pretty.
Pompeii
A rare photograph of me! The one downside of travelling alone; unless I trust strangers to hold my camera – which I most certainly don’t – or stand there trying to take self portraits, there’s no one to take photographs of me in all of these amazing places.
However, in Pompeii I met a lawyer called Michael from Washington DC, and we ended up sticking together throughout the day, and so we acted as each other’s personal photographers.
Pompeii is pretty surreal, as can only be expected really. Over the years I’ve heard so much about it and picked so many random bits of information that only become useful on this one day of my life, and then the moment I step out of Pompeii I can file those once again useless dribbles of information back into the deepest parts of my brain where they will either stay forever, unless I ever visit Pompeii again, or be forgotten.
Michael had picked up a map at the entrance (me being me and collecting maps only to stick them into my travel journals – never to actually use them), but I’m sorry, I personally found Venice easier to navigate my way around than Pompeii – and Venice was, I swear, designed to be confusing and impossible to navigate. Every sign in Pompeii was different to what the map said the sign should say, we often found ourselves walking up and down the same street several times looking for something that was apparently on that street, or we would find streets that didn’t appear to be on the map at all, or we’d be looking for streets shown on the map that I swear did not actually exist at all.
It did not help that I was constantly on edge because there was 100’s of the biggest hornet/wasp things that I have ever seen in my life.
Still, Michael said that if we managed to leave Pompeii without being stung or falling flat on our face on the uneven surface, ‘we’ve done well’. We did well.
I also couldn’t help but notice that 95% of the original wall murals, mosaics, etc that decorated the various buildings of Pompeii were all destroyed in the eruption, but from what I saw, and from what I also overheard a tour guide saying, the best preserved wall murals etc are almost solely in the brothels of Pompeii, where you can find lovely ‘menu’ artwork such as this:
If I ever find myself in the path of a volcanic eruption, I know where to head – to the brothels!

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Joie de Vivre… Part Two

Budapest
 
I admit to took me a night to warm to Budapest. When I arrived it was already dark, the train station was full of the types of people who only seem to emerge at night, the sort of people who you don’t want to bump into at night! Everywhere I turned people were trying to convince me to ditch my host Vanda and come and stay at their hostel instead, or they were trying to offer me lifts and bundle me into their car. I managed to catch the right bus to Vanda’s home but in the wrong direction, gave up, headed back to my starting point – the train station – and caught a taxi. On learning I was English, the taxi driver’s reaction was ‘ah! England! Manchester City! Liverpool! Arsenal!’ He didn’t seem to care that I have no knowledge or interest in football, I just let him ramble on about Wayne Rooney and David Beckham, and I think he felt pretty proud of his knowledge of English football clubs and players.
Vanda was a darling. She greeted me with pizza, which by this point I so needed. She pointed out places to go – and places to avoid – on a map, and just generally she was really lovely.
Budapest is a completely different city day to night. That first night when I arrived I really wasn’t sure if I could like Budapest, but when I woke up the next morning, I swear I didn’t even recognise it. I walked with Vanda into the centre of the city, and everything was misty and already it was far too hot for my then still pale-as-milk English complexion, and I ended up rather sun-burnt – the only day of the whole trip that I burnt.
Once she had finished work, Vanda showed me around the city, firstly showing me this amazing bar:
And then taking me up to Budapest Castle.
And finally to the city’s Statue of Liberty, my photograph of which can be seen on my ‘part one’ post.
Because I’d decided to spend an extra day in Prague and I had my flight to Venice booked, I could only stay in Budapest for one and a half days, but despite the rough start, I have definitely decided that I will be returning to Budapest to see the rest of it ASAP.
Especially as I spent my final morning before my flight at one of Budapest’s famous baths, but I only had time to spend about an hour and a half there – definitely need to come back and explore those little gems further!
Venice
As much as I loved pretty much everywhere I visited, I think Venice just about scrapes it’s way to the top of my ‘Favourite Cities’ list… if only it wasn’t so damn expensive!
When I arrived I had no map, no idea which part of Venice I was in, no idea where I could find internet access and no idea where I was sleeping that night – and only about two hours left of sunlight. I ended up in a fit of giggles that made everyone stare at me because I could just picture all of my friends in a complete panic and I felt like I should be a bit more anxious about things rather than casually strolling around, refusing to use a map (I mean it’s Venice  – the whole point of Venice is to get utterly and hopelessly lost) and just trusting that I would internet access eventually so that I could find a place to stay.
And I did, of course. Eventually I stumbled across a tiny internet cafe – or rather it was a normal newsagents-style shop with a few computers in the back room. I started chatting to an English teacher who was trying to arrange for his girlfriend to meet him in Paris, and she didn’t seem to be very organised.
My hotel was on the island of Giudecca – which I think is why it was so cheap – no one wants to have to cross the water on a ‘waterbus’ twice a day. These people chose wrong. By being on Giudecca rather than ‘main Venice’ (Dorsoduro, San Marco, S. Polo etc), it meant that I had an incredible view to wake up to of the ‘main islands’ – especially as my hotel was right on the waterfront, so in the evening we would all sit directly outside the hotel’s front door and watch this sunset:
which quite literally stopped me in my path when I first arrived at the hotel, dumped my things and coincidentally decided to go for a walk, not realising the time of day.
The view that greeted me first thing in the morning was damn beautiful too:
I sat around in the shade for hours, listening to this guy place the same piece of music over and over all day long – but it never got boring. I don’t know what the piece was, but it was beautiful ♥
I admit I didn’t go on a gondola – they’ve become too touristy and I tend to avoid anything horrible touristy. I did however enjoy listening to snippets of the gondolier’s stories about Venice’s history and their songs while sitting on the various bridges of Venice – especially the ones that lead to blank walls because then you can’t possible be in anyone’s way by sitting there!
I did, however, spend a lot of time in – for my first day – water buses and taxis, and after that, my friend’s boat. He even let me pilot it, but that nearly ended in disaster when I came far too close to crashing into a 500 year old building that already looked to be on the brink of collapse. After that I just sat back with my camera and enjoyed the view.
When I took this photo below, I was laughing because just on the opposite side of the canal was a very expensive restaurant, the sort where you have a musician – in this case an accordion player – serenading you while you eat. I laughed because they had paid an awful lot of money for, yes, good food, yes, enterainment, yes, shade from the sweltering heat, but I was sitting cross legged on the other side of the water, shaded from the sun by the buildings of Murano, I’d spent 7 euros on a delicious lunch of bread, cheese, ham, wine and – my favourite – raspberries, and I could hear the accordian player’s music just as clearly as them, but I didn’t have to feel obliged to pause my eating to clap, tip him, or just generally be polite and show him that I am listening to him.
I’m sorry but even if I had all the money in the world, I’d still choose to picnic in the shade alongside the canal, eavesdropping on the accordian player, any day.
My last photograph in Venice, which I took while waiting for my train. I found Venice almost impossible to leave. Definitely need to go back there ASAP. And no, to everyone who has asked me, Venice does not smell bad at all – it smells like the sea.

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