AMAZING FOOD AND BEAUTIFUL DAYS: A week driving around Sicily

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PALERMO

Palermo’s centre is easy to navigate on foot and on a sunny day you can cover many of the main sights on Via Roma and Vittorio Emanuele. Stop by Teatro Massimo to reenact the famous last scene from Godfather 3, or wander around the park by the Norman Palace.

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Palatina Chapel: This famous chapel located by the Norman Palace is full of intricate details and beautiful mosaics. Tickets for 10€.

Pizza Frida: I was looking for recommendations of good pizza places in Palermo (of course there are plenty) when I came across Pizza Frida. This place is popular so it’s best to book in advance. They have lots of different options and they’re all AMAZING. Dinner for four including drinks and tip for 90€. Highly recommended.

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Villa San Giovanni Degli Eremiti: a great local restaurant where large families taste the local fare. Meal with drink and tip for 15€ per person.

L’Antica Focacceria San Francesco: This popular place serves yummy street food, like arancini and aubergine caponata. Portions are huge. Dinner with drinks and tip for 15€ per person.

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Haiku: The only vegan place in Palermo is located in a nice area to the north of the city centre. The menu is varied and includes a mix of Italian and international dishes. The gnocchi had the best tomato sauce, and their famous pistachio tiramisu was definitely worth trying. Lunch for two including drinks, dessert and tip for 55€.

Stay: This Airbnb is great for a family trip. Each of the four rooms has its own bathroom and Giovanni, the host, is super helpful.

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ERICE

This little medieval town over the hills is a great place for a day trip. You can spend a couple of hours exploring the little alleys and stop around for lunch at one of the many restaurants.

Follow that with a stop for dessert at Pasticceria Maria Grammatico, which serves yummy boozy pastries.

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CATANIA

From Palermo to Catania by car it takes about three hours through the countryside. You get amazing views of Mount Etna with its snowed peak along the way.

Catania’s centre is a combination of mismatched grandiose buildings and areas that have seen better days. You can spend a couple of hours exploring the fancy Corso Italia with lots of high end shops, or explore the Old Town, with its busy street markets and lively piazzas.

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Savia: This is a great stop for lunch. They are famous for serving the best arancini, for just 2.50€. Portions are huge and everything is delicious.

Nievski: This cool bar and restaurant with a revolution theme is a good place for a relaxed meal in an area where there are lots of nice restaurants. Dinner for four including drinks and tip for 88€.

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MOUNT ETNA

About one hour off Catania, Mount Etna provides the impressive backdrop for the city. You can take a cable car up the mountain, then get on a 4X4 bus and finally walk around a couple of the highest craters.

The trip costs 64€ per person and can be booked directly at the cable car entrance. Go early before it gets busy.

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TAORMINA:

A good stop after visiting Mount Etna, Taormina is rightly regarded as one of the most beautiful towns in Sicily. The small centre provides scenic views over the sea and there are lots of cute restaurants around serving delicious pizza and Aperol.

The main local attraction is the Ancient Theatre (tickets for 10€) with beautiful ruins and panoramic views of the sea and mountains.

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AGRIGENTO:

Located on the south of Sicily, Agrigento is home to the Valley of the Temples, an impressive collection of ancient temples and ruins overlooking the Sicilian countryside and the Mediterranean sea.

You can spend a couple of hours exploring the site before driving on to Catania or Palermo. Tickets for 10€.

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ITINERARY PLANNING:

There’s plenty to do in Sicily, and you can spend lots of time exploring the coast, the countryside and historical sites.

The best way to travel around is to rent a car. Navigating is relatively easy with Google Maps but traffic can be a bit crazy, especially around big cities.

We spent seven days in Sicily, staying in Palermo and Catania and exploring from there.

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ART IS NOT AN END BUT A BEGINNING: The Venice Biennale in pictures

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This was our third time at the arts Biennale in Venice (we went in 2013 and 2015 as well).

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As ever, there was absolutely loads to see.

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And the two days we had to explore just flew by.

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Long days of art-spotting…

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…followed by nights of sipping Aperol spritz by the canals.

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I could do this for a living!

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But as I can’t, at least I know I can come back for more in two years.

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As Ai Weiwei, said…

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“Art is not an end but a beginning”.

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DELICIOUS PASTA AND MARBLE STEPS: A lazy weekend in Pisa

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This year we hadn’t had as many holidays as we usually do, so I was looking forward to a nice little weekend away in Italy.

We arrived early afternoon, and headed straight to our flat where our host welcomed us with a delicious bottle of local wine. After stocking up at the supermarket (and buying way too much pasta to bring back home), we went out for a walk around the leaning tower. It was a beautiful afternoon, and the light was amazing!

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We had dinner at Da Antonio, a restaurant which is among the touristy area close to the tower. Despite the location and the fact that staff was not at all Italian, the food was great. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for 40€. We went for a nightcap at Mani’Omio, a cocktail bar which served aperitivi for 6€.

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The next morning we had tickets to visit the leaning tower. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the site wasn’t particularly busy, which was really good. We visited the Cathedral and then started climbing the tower, which is a strange experience as the building pushes you around as you climb the steps.

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The view from the top was beautiful, with a nice contrast between the red roofs and green mountains – the kind of thing you can take for granted in Tuscany. We took some silly photos and headed for our next stop: delicious ice cream at La Bottega del Gelato, which had the best fiordilatte gelato I’ve had in a long time (two scoops for 2€).

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In the afternoon we took the train to nearby Lucca, a walled city which is really cute. We had lunch at Nanda’s, a vegan place that served yummy (if a bit cold) food (lunch for two including a drink for 20€). We stopped at the local cathedral (tickets for 3€) which has impressive artworks, including a large panel by Tintoretto.

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We spent a couple of hours exploring the narrow roads, and finished our visit by climbing another tower, Giunigi, which is unique because it has trees planted at the top (tickets for 4€ per person). Again the views from the top were really amazing.

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We headed back to Pisa where we had a dinner reservation at Vegusto, an amazing vegan place that had a gnocchi with lemon and ginger that was just the best (dinner for two including drinks and tip for 50€).

The next morning it was time to leave – this was a nice and chilled little trip, the perfect little break from my usual routine!

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HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: There are direct flights from Gatwick with BA, and they take about 2h. The airport is really close to the city centre, only 10 minutes by bus (a single ticket costs 1.30€).
  • Get around: Pisa is a nice base to explore Tuscany. Lucca is a 30 minute train ride away (tickets for 3.50€ each way), but there are many other nice places around: Cinque Terre is 1h30 away, and Florence 1h – all reached easily by train.
  • Stay: We stayed in this cute Airbnb which was just what we needed – well located but with a local feel, and there were tons of tips by previous guests and our host.
  • The Leaning Tower: Tickets can be booked online up to 20 days before your visit, and cost from 16€ (depending on what is included). You need to leave your bag in a cloakroom before you go up, so make sure to leave plenty of time as lines can be long.

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SIPPING APEROL SPRITZ IN THE SUN: A chilled weekend in Milan

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In my first time in Milan it rained the whole time, so it was great to be back when the weather was nice.

As I expect everyone does, our first stop was the Duomo and surrounding areas. The Duomo is very impressive, and on a sunny day it made for great photos. There are many options for tickets, but we chose the one which only gave access to the cathedral itself as it only cost 2€.

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We then visited the beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, reaching the Teatro alla Scala right behind it. We had a quick gelato stop at Cioccolati Italiani, where service was confusing but the gelato was delicious.

Our next stop was the unique Sforzesco Castle and the beautiful Sempione Park behind it, where we sat in the sun watching buskers entertain the crowd.

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We got on the metro to Navigli (Porta Genova metro stop), a nice area absolutely packed with cool bars and restaurants. All the bars offered aperitivi, a great deal in which you buy a drink (about 10€) a get lots of nibbles alongside it. We had Aperol Spritz (my favourite!) and many other delicious cocktails, then headed back to the hotel at midnight, when the area was still buzzing.

In the morning we headed to Brera, a bohemian neighbourhood not far from the city centre. Brera Palace hosts the famous Pinacoteca and it’s also a great place for a drink in the sun at one of the many cute cafes in the area. We had an Aperol Spritz or two before heading back to the airport.

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HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: Flights from London take about 2h, so you can easily go after work on a Friday.
  • Stay: We Stayed at Zambala, a place with serviced apartments which was a good option. We paid 158€ for two people for two nights.
  • Transportation: Milan has a good network of metro and trams. You can buy a 48h travelcard for 8.25€. Taxis from the airport are expensive, but frequent buses to and from the Central station cost only 8€.
  • Do: Leonardo’s Last Supper is a big draw, so it’s imperative to book in advance as tickets sell out weeks before your visit.

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COMING BACK FOR MORE: Places I visit again and again

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My current travel objective is to visit all European countries. And although I’m only (or already, depending on how you look at it) halfway there, I also keep coming back to my favourite places – it’s hard to find a balance! These are some of the places I want to visit again and again:

1. Berlin

I’ve been to Berlin three times already, but I think I haven’t even scratched the surface yet! Berlin strikes the perfect balance between having lots for tourists to do while still being cool and modern.

I’m looking forward to my next trip in August!

2. Paris

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Paris was the first place I’ve ever visited in Europe, and I’ve been there eight or nine times, spending whole months there. I still visit almost every year: it’s very close to London and wandering around is always great.

It’s just so scenic… you can’t really go wrong in Paris.

3. Rome

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I went to Rome for the first time in 2003, and only returned (twice) this year. Rome is, in many ways, the birthplace of western civilisation, and just by walking around you grasp the importance of the place – the architecture is absolutely awe-inspiring, and history is everywhere.

Plus the food is probably the best in the world. I’m not a foodie in any way, but as soon as I get to Italy all I can think about is food!

4. Marrakech

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My dad is always asking if I work for the Moroccan tourist board (I don’t, but I’d definitely take that job!) because Marrakech is the first place I suggest whenever people ask me where to go on holiday.

Somehow it really feels like home to me, which is weird given that it’s completely different from anywhere I’ve ever been. I love the food, the people, the architecture, and, most of all, the bustling atmosphere. I don’t know when I’ll be going back, but it’s just a matter of time!

Where do you want to go back to?

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SUNNY BREAKS IN EUROPE: 3 places to visit this summer

I’m mostly done with my summer holiday planning, but there’s still one weekend in August to go somewhere. Here are three ideas for summer breaks:

1. The beach holiday: Sicily, Italy

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Sicily is one of the most naturally beautiful places I’ve ever visited. Deep blue seas and sunny days make it the perfect summer scape. Plus there are lots of historical sites to visit, from Erice to Taormina, where you can see old walled cities and Roman ruins.

Go: Fly into Palermo and explore the region by car, bus or ferry.

The perfect beach holiday without the crowds!

2. The city break: Stockholm, Sweden

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Stockholm is amazing in the summer. Walk around the Old Town (Gamla Stan) and take a ferry around the many islands. There’s lots to explore on foot and the temperatures are mild – perfect for walking around.

Go: Get a cheap flight with Norwegian and book a flat around the city centre.

The perfect time to discover a great city!

3. The hidden gems: Ljubljana and Bled, Slovenia

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Ideally located by the Julian Alps, Ljubljana is not very touristic and is really pretty. Nearby is the amazing Bled, a scenic town with a famous church in an island in the middle of a lake.

Go: Flights from the UK take around 2.5 hours and are cheapest with Wizzair. Book in advance for the summer months to get the best prices. Buses between Bled and Ljubljana are frequent and take around 1.5 hours.

A sunny break in a new place!

THE BEST ART SHOW IN THE WORLD: An artistic scape to the Venice Biennale

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Two years ago I decided to visit the Arts Biennale in Venice and it was great! So I wanted to come back to see this year’s edition.

The Venice Biennale is a paradise for art lovers. There are two main sites, Arsenale, a massive exhibition space with room after room of all sorts of contemporary art from all over the world; and Giardini, an open garden with pavilions from many different countries. There’s also lots of art all around town.

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Because we had visited Venice before, we decided to stay at this lovely place in Arsenale. It was the best decision – we were close to the city centre but not in the middle of the tourist crowds.

We decided to visit each of the main venues on a different day (last time we needed to see both on the same day and it was definitely too much).

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We visited Arsenale on our first day there, which was good as it is the most intense of the two places. Then we visited the different country pavilions in Giardini on our second day, when it was sunny and just generally lovely.

The rest of the time we spent waving at boats going by our window, or drinking delicious Aperol Spritz by the canal.

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Isn’t life grand?

HOW TO DO IT:

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  • Go: The Arts Biennale happens on odd years from May to November. Flights from London aren’t particularly cheap so book in advance.
  • Tickets: Tickets to the Biennale cost 25€, including entry to Giardini and Arsenale (you can visit those on different days on the same ticket).
  • Stay: We stayed at this amazing place which we found on Airbnb. There are lots of good places around, so pick an area and go from there. We stayed in Castello which is very close to the Biennale but also only about 15 minutes from San Marco square.
  • Food: The first time I visited Venice I wasn’t massively impressed with the food, as everywhere looked like a tourist trap. This time it was much better, mostly because we weren’t staying in the city centre. Da Paolo was a good choice for our first dinner. We also stopped at Osteria alla Tana, which is a great affordable stop just outside Arsenale – perfect for relaxing after hours of walking around the many exhibits. But just by venturing a bit further from the city centre it is possible to find nice restaurants.
  • Do: Aside from the Biennale, Venice is a beautiful and iconic place to visit. But it can be quite touristic too – from the busy San Marco Square and Rialto Bridge to the expensive gondola rides, it can all get a bit much. But the Doge’s Palace is beautifully decorated with paintings by Titian, Tintoretto and many more, so it’s definitely worth a visit. And a walk around San Polo is a great way to see a more authentic side of Venice.

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I’m already looking forward to going back in 2017!

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