Day trip to the shores of Irish Sea, Blackpool

England, UK

Blackpool is an attraction for all during summer in the UK. It is an old town on the seashore of the Irish Sea, welcoming thousands of tourists every year. I had an opportunity to visit this place as a first to see the seaside in England.

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It is true, that the most rewarding time of the year in there is the hot summer days, however, we’d to be happy with windy and somewhat cool weather; but, nevertheless, we had a great time, because of what Blackpool had to offer.

Getting there

If you are coming from the south, as we did, one of the best ways is to use the coach coming from Manchester Piccadilly, which wasn’t expensive at all and takes something like an hour and half to get there. They would drop you off at the coach station, which is the centre of the town, and you would be able to see the Blackpool tower already, in which you can get in, however, it was too expensive for us.

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Blackpool Tower

Staying in Blackpool

We stayed in one of the hotels, located in the central part of the town, while booking through Booking.com, it was a cheap deal at that time, 28 pounds for a double room per night, however, I do think that prices vary on the season and demand. You can view property here, it was clean and had what we needed, our needs being…humble. The best part was that it was in the centre and the coach and train stations were within the walking distance.

What to do

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Comic Carpet

First day was rainy and very windy, so we took our time to look around at the moments that weren’t so damp; walked around the town and visited seaside, which was refurbished and fairly modern, and you can see the Comic Carpet in front of the Blackpool Tower. We also had a lovely dinner at Bella Italia, which was one of the few open in the evening, since it wasn’t the tourist season, they had vegan options, so I chose Lenticchi and it was good. Blackpool has a shopping centre, so if you find yourself bored, you can spend some time browsing shops.

On the second day, we thought that we have a long afternoon for such small city, knowing that swimming in the sea or tanning weren’t our options during this weather, we thought, we could go to Blackpool Pleasure Beach, an amusement park. We made our reservations a day before online, apparently this way it is cheaper. The park is a bit further away from the centre, so it took us around 40 minutes of walking to get there. Little piece of advice, if the weather is somewhat sketchy, do purchase raincoats in city centre souvenir shops, because if you are in the amusement park, they will be much more expensive and some rides can get you wet!

After we got our wristbands, we went to deposit our backpacks into safe lockers, because it would be tedious to carry them around and went in to have fun. Honestly, we spent more than 4 hours there until we got exhausted, but there is so much to do. Rides vary from mild ones and the ones designed for very small children to extreme and aggressive ones. You can purchase some merchandise and food in there, however, none of the stalls that were open that day seemed to have vegan or vegetarian options, so you might need to think beforehand.

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Pleasure Beach

We tried almost every ride in there, getting wet, scared or screaming; the Big One, was actually really really high for my standards, so I must admit, however am I brave, it got me scared as hell.

That park got a lot of to offer to keep you occupied and I think it did its justice for the price. Blackpool also has some other amusement sites including aquapark, but we had to choose an option and I wasn’t disappointed with the Pleasure Beach.

All in all, I must say, while Blackpool was definitely a different England experience for me, I wouldn’t spend more than 2 or 3 days in there, because if the weather is not good enough, the town is way too small to keep you occupied. However, for a family or couple daytrip it is a very much suitable place.

Discover the unique Italy: visiting Tivoli’s Villa d’Este and Villa Adriana

Rome

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Scene of everyday Tivoli

Tivoli is a small town, located an hour away by a train from central Rome. The journey there was planned and I encourage everyone to consider going as well, especially for it being a very popular tourist attraction. Tivoli boasts of hosting historical villas and we visited two of them – Villa d’Este and Villa Hadriana (Adriana).

Getting there

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We took a train to Tivoli from Roma Termini, which, I will be honest, is a very confusing train station, so we were forced to seek out help in the tourist information, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to understand which train is which. The tickets weren’t expensive, without return it cost us €2.6 to get there. To get to Villa Hadriana from Villa d’Este, you will need to use a local bus, which runs within Tivoli frequently and is not expensive. Tickets are bought from tourist shops.

Villa d’Este

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Fountain of Neptune, Villa d’Este

It was such a lucky day for us, especially in terms of weather. Not too hot, not too cold. Going from Tivoli train station, we stopped at a local flea market and a coffee shop. Coffee there was very delicious and we tried Italian sweet treats as well, all for cheap; make sure to try local food and drinks in Tivoli! Stop there to refresh your taste buds and higher your spirits up for the rest of the day, because it will be overwhelming.

We strolled through tiny centre of Tivoli, making our way to Villa d’Este. First we were confused which way is the right way, however, locals are very friendly and will do their best to advice you about the directions.

Honestly, about Villa d’Este. It is a remarkable place, originally built for Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este in 16th century. Villa is renowned for its Renaissance architecture, especially fountains and is one of the most important architectural sites in Italy, also being protected as a UNESCO world heritage site.

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Inside Cardinal’s halls

We walked into the Apartments of Cardinal, and we were stunned by the frescoes and the extent of the building, having in mind that it was built for only one person to enjoy. Each hall had its own purpose and name, personally I loved the Hall of Venus, which had its own fresco and a fountain, which is no longer original (Venus statue was replaced after Cardinal died).

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Detail of Cento Fontane

We toured around the building for awhile and rushed outside to see those beautiful fountains that everyone fuss about. I fell in love with Cento Fontane or The Hundred Fountains. Each of the fountains had a unique face, it left such a huge impression on me. The garden itself is quite big with fountains, grottoes, statues on the way. Everything was overwhelming with luxury and details, so I would suggest taking your time to observe the uniqueness of this place. You can observe The Fountain of Neptune straight across the fish ponds. This fountain is the main detail of whole villa, something you will see in pamphlets and advertisements, however, this one was built in 20th century due to original piece deteriorating. It receives water from the upper fountain, called Fountain of the Organ.

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I can’t put everything I saw there into this single post, but every single piece in this villa is extremely detailed and ingenious. To think that this villa, with whole lot of fountains, pools and channels was designed in 16th century without any modern technologies, is fascinating. The amount of symbolism in this architecture was the most interesting to me actually. Symbols of both, Christianity and pagan religions, co-existing together and making an overall harmony, are simply beautiful.

Getting there: The villa is within walking distance from the train station (approx. 15-20 minutes) and is not too hard to find. I am pretty sure that tickets can be bought online and at the villa, here is the official site for more info.

The Hadrian’s Villa (Villa Adriana)

After Villa d’Este, we continued our journey in Tivoli by visiting Villa Adriana, which is an archeological ruin complex dating back to 2nd century AD, designed for Emperor Hadrian, who later governed the country from there.

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When we entered the gardens, we immediately felt a different atmosphere than that of Villa d’Este. Time stopped to us completely. The day was warm, there was no wind and the setting sun created mysterious shadows, the feeling was indescribable. You could feel like you travel in time and found yourself somewhere far away from civilisation, surrounded by ancient ruins and mountains in horizon. It was especially enforced with the fact that there were barely any tourists, maybe due to the season or because that it is more remote area.

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Pool of Canopus

Villa consists of vast garden, its flora seems almost unique and adapted to that villa through the course of centuries, pools, baths, fountains and aqueducts. The most notable place in this villa is pool of Canopus, that is usually the selling point of this place.

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It is worth to take a walk through all (or most) of this site, paying attention not only to the ancient ruins that have lots to tell, but also to plants (and animals! You will meet fearless turtles nearby the pool by the entrance).

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Tickets are bought at the entrance, I’m pretty sure there is a discount to young people. More about Villa Adriana here.

General advice for Tivoli

I would encourage to pack enough food for whole day, because there might not be any chance for you to stop to eat (I hope you will have time for it, though). Water can be acquired almost everywhere in Tivoli, including Villa Adriana, it has its own water fountains, designed for drinking. If you are lost, don’t hesitate to ask locals for information and have your ID with you when you go, you might get discounts if you are between the age of 18-26. Also, make sure to plan your day accordingly and think about the villas you want to visit (there are more than two that I wrote about), because each of them takes time to enjoy and some of them can be located far away from each other. If you are staying in the central Rome, make sure you don’t miss the last train or the bus (you can go back to Rome with either of them).

More information about travelling in Tivoli can be found here.

Visiting the Europe’s cultural pillar – Rome, Italy

Rome

In this post I am going to share one of the most magical experiences so far in my life. I had an opportunity to visit Rome for roughly 4 days together with my family. Being an avid fan of ancient Roman history and mythology I was extremely thrilled to see the everything myself, the city which was built around this great history and cultural roots of Europe. I knew I will be impressed, however, I did not know that it will impress me to this extent.

We arrived to Ciampino airport, which is around 30 minutes away from the city centre by a shuttle bus. I do not recommend taking a taxi from the airport, because it is overpriced and people are complaining that taxi drivers are trying to rip off extra money even though the taxi fares are regulated by the city council. Anyway, the shuttle bus costs start, I think, from 4.90, which is at least 6 times cheaper than taxi and it takes people from the airport (the stop is located near the arrivals). The bus took us to Roma Termini, the main railway station of the city from which we walked to our apartment for around 20 minutes.

The apartment we stayed in was a good price for 5 people sleeping 5 nights, as I remember. Located just few minutes away from Colosseum and Roman Forum; all sightseeing spots were within walking distance. More about bookings and the links I will write later down below.

Colosseum and Roman Forum

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Once one has seen it, everything else seems small. It is so huge that the mind cannot retain its image; one remembers it as smaller than it is, so that every time one returns to it, one is astounded by its size – J.W. Goethe on Colosseum.

We dedicated first day of our journey to visit Roman Forum and Colosseum. Ticket reservations can be made online (link), however, as I did not fully understand the online booking, we decided to buy on the spot and ended up paying less. We came straight to Roman Forum, which was close to the placed that we stayed, and joined the queue for tickets, which went fairly quickly, as you can also observe the beautiful scenery. So, the tickets were 12 for adults and 7.5 for young people (ages 18-25) and they are for both, Colosseum and Roman Forum, one entry each, for two days (starting with the day you bought them).

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Roman Forum

Roman Forum is ancient ruins of government buildings dating back to 8th century BC. Rome as a city was built around Forum, which functioned as a marketplace, site for trials, elections, gladiator fights, important speeches and list could go on. Basically, everything important for the city and the country would be found there. The site has a path from the entrance, which could be followed easily around the site. Exhibits are secured by chains, so most of them have to be admired from a near distance, but there are also few buildings that you can enter. Going further, you can discover a panoramic view of the city, so take your time to admire and savour it. I suggest taking a book or preparing some information beforehand, because not all exhibits have explanations and the little map that you will get on the entrance contains too little information to understand what really you are seeing.

The site is accommodated by drinking water fountains (as also is the whole city) and toilets a bit further within the site.

So, when you are through all Roman Forum, make your way to exit to Colosseum, which will be seen straight ahead. If you have already bought the tickets, join the ticket queue and pass through the security (they will check your bags) and make your way to see the, oh, mighty Colosseum. Really, its presence was overwhelming. There will be footpaths for you to follow, but be aware, as I am going to warn you, there will be loads, I say, LOADS of people. I will be honest, as amazing as Colosseum was, it was a bit challenging to enjoy it through the crowds of people. And it wasn’t the tourist season yet. But it should be in everyone’s /Bucket List/ as it is an important part of history. Colosseum, or sometimes referred to as Flavian Amphitheatre, dates back to 70 BC and has lived to this date with some restorations. It was used to host various events, and yes, there were the gladiator fights.

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Inside the Colosseum

Pantheon, Trevi fountains and more

So another day of our journey was dedicated to wandering out and about the city, seeing other famous sites. We paid a visit to Trevi fountains which were built in 18th century by Nicola Salvi and Pietro Bacci. One of the most famous fountains in the world, surrounded by tourists and young couples taking pictures.

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Trevi fountains

Trevi fountains were followed by Spanish Steps, that led us towards Villa Borghese. We went around the park, however, didn’t enter the villa itself. Went through a path which was accompanied by busts of famous people and then relaxed while laying peacefully on the grass, nearby a pond.

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Fountains in Villa Borghese

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We continued our journey by strolling back to the city centre, while popping into 150 flavour gelateria. If you ever find yourself in there, first thing you got to do is to prepay for your gelato at the till and then go and select your flavours. The place was buzzing with people and was quite confusing, we left without getting anything, but it looked impressive (vegan soy gelato was available as well).

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Pantheon

Going a bit further we arrived to Pantheon, that I was very excited to see. The entrance is free to witness this masterpiece from 2nd century. Originally, it was a temple for all ancient Roman gods, however, later with the Christianity it was accustomed to the needs of the new religion.

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Altere della Patria

On the way home, we stopped by Altere della Patria, a monument for Victor Emmanuel, king who unified Italy. It is a really impressive building, worth seeing!

Food and accommodation advice

Contrary to my belief, Rome was not too expensive for food, as a large city. Sure, local food shops charged way more than those of a small village or a town, but in exchange we were able to buy fresh vegetables, fruit and delicious meals from there to take home! The Italian food quality is something impressive when you are coming from the UK. Also, there are many canteens, restaurants, pizza places to cater for your meals, a lot of them, usually bigger places, have vegan/vegetarian options. If you cook in your apartment, there should be no difficulties in acquiring vegan products, especially fresh veggies, but the problem is that Italian cuisine uses a lot of cheese, something to look out for when going out for a dinner. Be sure to try Italian wine in there, it is devilishly cheap and very tasty!

As for accommodation, we stayed in Baccina 45, this particular room. It was clean, spacious, had all kitchen and bathroom inventory, towels and a nice view through window. For me, the street, although in centre, was calm enough to get good sleep. If looking for a cheap student sleep, I suggest looking out for hostels, their prices are reasonable.

 

Visit to the holy land of Vatican

Rome

Please note: Vatican’s museums are closed on Sundays except on the last Sunday of the month. More about the working times, follow the link.

Before I start, the most important thing to say about Vatican is that I advise wholeheartedly, reserve the tickets beforehand, otherwise you will be stuck in endless queue for the museums and Sistine Chapel for hours. Tickets can be found here.

Another advice before you leave is that Vatican requires a certain dress-code, meaning that no shorts, miniskirts or sleeveless shirts are allowed, otherwise you might be asked to leave or to change.

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St. Peter’s Basilica

We left our apartment quite early in the morning and went there by foot, since it is not that far away from where we stayed and we could enjoy views while walking. Vatican is a theocratic state located within Rome, protected by walls, with a population of a bit more than 800 people, rest of whom you will see will be tourists.

We started our trip here by going to see Vatican Museums, which hold impressive treasures acquired from around the world, ancient Rome artefacts and all of that is basically Pope’s property. I found it impossible to see everything in there just within one afternoon, taking in mind the queues (which can take ages to get through), fatigue and the extent of what there is to see. Since we had reserved the tickets in advance, we skipped the line; be aware that you will be stopped by a lot of people, who will try to sell guided tours or whatnot, it is up to you whether you will choose to buy, but in all honesty, it wore me down trying to evade all of it.

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You will be given a short plan with how to navigate the area, somehow I lost mine and I cannot upload on here. We followed the crowd and went through different rooms and galleries of ancient statues and art, and made our way towards Raphael Rooms, where you could take pictures and take a short moment to admire the works of a great Renaissance auteur.

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The School of Athens (1509) by Raphael

Going further, we found our way to Sistine Chapel and the ceiling painted by Michelangelo, the highlight of Vatican. No pictures or talking is allowed, which would be very appreciated by the staff in there, who were shouting on people without catching a breath while some lady took one picture followed by big ass flash-light straight to their faces. Thus, I did not take any pictures out of respect and took my moment to appreciate the magnitude of Michelangelo’s legacy.

Being tired and barely walking, we sat down in an inner garden of the museums to have some coffee, which was surprisingly not that expensive and quite good! So look out for a coffee bar.

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The Gallery of Maps

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Inside St. Peter’s Basilica

Next after the museums, we went on to join a queue for St Peter’s Basilica. One of the main Christian religious sites, a symbol for Italian Renaissance that took over 100 years to be completed. While I am not religious myself, being in the presence of this magnificent church took my breath away, and I am sure I was emotional, because the beauty and the size of this building is hard to describe by words. You will find Michelangelo’s “Pieta” straight on the righten side when you enter, surrounded by people. You are allowed to take pictures in the church, so go for it. We ended our journey with taking last pictures of Vatican and Swiss guards near the basilica, I loved their costumes!

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Day trip to Warwick and Stratford-upon-Avon

England, UK

Not exactly a day trip, more like a day and a half; was quick, sweet and asks to be repeated. While I kindly ask you to excuse my poorly taken photos (at that time I was trying my newly bought camera), I would like to shortly introduce why I liked these little English towns and what makes me want to go back.

Warwick is a very small town, by my judging, surrounded by beautiful nature. Located in the county of Warwickshire, region of West Midlands. Small population. A lovely place to live for middle-class people, yes. I had an opportunity to visit St. Mary’s church, although most of the photos were ruined due to the lack of my ability to work on manual settings. This church was founded in 12th century by Roger de Newburgh, Earl of Warwick. The only original part of the building left is the Crypt. While it was interesting to see such archaic pieces of architecture left, I was more impressed by the exterior. Gothic buildings were always my passion and this particularly is impressive due to its size. The entrance to the church is free when not in service, open to donations. You are allowed to visit the Crypt and other rooms, take pictures. The cemetery and the backyard behind the church is worth seeing as well.

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Warwick is not big of a town, but there are things to see. Especially the Warwick Castle. While I had the time and the funds only to see it from afar and not to visit the inside, it certainly took me a moment to appreciate. The original castle was built in 1068 and the one today is rebuilt and changed bit by bit, the historical location remains the same.

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Another place I would definitely suggest seeing is Lord Leycester Hospital Garden, I do not remember paying anything for it, but it was lovely, it had this Egyptian urn; I had to take pictures! However, as it was not the season, it was not blossoming and giving the full effect, so it is smart to visit the garden in spring/summer.

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Food: Afternoon tea experience in Thomas Oken Tea Rooms: a tudor house just right in the city center. Cutesy, teeny tiny house with that ‘medieval’ feeling. Generous amount of tea served in vintage china. We ordered afternoon tea, which included sandwiches with side salad (sandwiches had vegan&vegetarian options; vegan one being hummus and chutney?), two scones with jam and clotted cream and there were also options to choose a cake, however, not too sure if any of them were vegan, but you always can ask. Despite being a bit pricey for my pocket, it was a good English experience and I would certainly recommend it.

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Getting to and around in Warwick: I caught some cheaper train tickets via Birmingham, however, best it is book online through trainline.com very well in advance. English trains are a luxury here and buying them on the day is going to hurt your wallet badly and earn them money they do not deserve. I was lucky to be picked up from the station by a car, but Warwick Train Station itself is only 10 minutes away from city centre by foot, unless you get off somewhere earlier, like Warwick Parkway which will be 2,5 km away from city centre. All attractions are within walking distance in here.

Second day in Stratford-upon-Avon

The second afternoon was spent in Stratford-upon-Avon, however, I believe it needs at least two days to fully enjoy and visit everything. I did not take that many pictures and there is a lack of them in this post, sorry for that.

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So, it is a prominently tourist town, therefore, consider your SEASON of travel, otherwise it might be ruined by mass tourism that this tiny place attracts. As you would expect, everything about Stratford will be themed around William Shakespeare from souvenir shops to museums, streets and whatever. Lots of medieval-themed buildings, alleys, great fun for children or adult sized children (me).

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I will have to be honest, I did not go to the Shakespeare’s Birthplace, the main museum; why? I could not bring myself to pay over 20 quid for an entry. It was really disappointing, I wish I could and I want to blame every single person who made this national treasure into unaffordable business for people like me. It was all blocked by a wall and bushes, so I could not even peek at it. However, I made myself a promise that when I am back there, I will definitely go and make sure I savour and devour all of it for those bloody 26 or so pounds.

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Thou shalt not pass; this I gathered.

However, I went to a souvenir shop few steps away and bought some Shakespeare themed goodz, I could not hold myself from that. Then, as I clearly remember, we went to see the Royal Shakespeare Theater (I mean the building from the outside) and I did not imagine it was so… architecturally… unappealing? It was one of those experiences of old buildings being mated with modern buildings that look always out of place, however, do not get scared. Because it is supposed to look impressive on the inside, that is why I will be going back there to see an actual play, because it is in my so-called bucket list for all things England.

Startford has a lot of independent medieval-looking shops and I think one of the bookshops looked particularly Harry Potter styled. Maybe. Definitely worth visiting and seeing. Especially the candy shops, so adorable. Go there. I did not see too much in inside and museum wise, however I walked around the main streets and I strongly suggest going to Stratford, especially to experience what you primarily came to England for. There are couple things I did not see, including the University of Stratford, which I do not think of a loss though.

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Getting around in Stratford: I did not use public transport, but there is all information on here.