Tuscany: A deep kind of love that involves nakedness

Cathedral at Pisa

I have fallen in a deep kind of love with Tuscany. The kind of love that makes you question everything you know and wonder if the sky really is blue. Is it? Are you sure it’s blue not some constant hazy grey? What is happening to me.

The moment I stepped off the train at Firenze S. M. Novella station into the crisp morning Florentine air on what was supposed to be the tail the end of winter, I knew. Tuscany was about to steal my heart and it would never give it back.

If you arrive Florence early in the morning, the first the you want to do is grab an espresso and head to Pisa. Hop on a bus or a train and spend your morning marveling the cathedral (duomo) at the square. This same square houses the leaning tower and the Baptistery. In the cathedral you will be transported to days long gone and beauty that can only be described as true commitment to art, religion and love.

When you’ve had a gelato and bought some jewelry crafted from utensils head back to Florence. There you will be greeted by yet another heartbreakingly beautiful duomo and the tiny Florentine streets that pay homage to the days of the House of Medici, rich merchants and castle lords. A short walk away from the duomo you are encouraged to take in a moment with David, where he stands in the academic gallery in all his well sculpted and naked glory.

David

When you find yourself on the other side of the river that divides Florence, Michaelangelo’s Piazza is the perfect spot for reflection. There you will gaze on the whole city and its iconic red rooftops. As the day draws to a close it is best to head off to Siena for one of the most enchanting sunsets you will ever see, accompanied by a fine glass of the best Chianti classic you can find.

The food here tastes like the perfect alchemy of skill, ingredients, passion and nature. You can taste the story of your pizza, the strength that went into kneading every bump in the dough. You savour how your pasta came to be, with every mouthful the intensity of the sauce plays on your palette. You imagine the chef in a tomato field selecting the perfect, juiciest and sweetest ones for the task. It is glorious love affair.

Tuscany has a certain charm that I can’t seem to find the right words to describe out loud. If you will indulge me for a moment: close your eyes and listen to the sound of silence. Then imagine the smell of olives and freshly cut tomatoes, then hear the sound of laughter, real boisterous laughter that comes from the depth of your soul. Then I want you to taste the Chianti classic from grapes grown just three meters from your feet, you can taste the forest and the land that it came from. You can feel the air gently caress your skin, it’s sweet kiss hello and welcome home. When you open your eyes and you see the beauty of Tuscany before the blood orange sunset that burns in the horizon. This is Tuscany, it is a deep kind of love the one that you can get’s get away from and you don’t want to.

Europe on a budget: three countries, six days, less than $1000 spent

Duomo

I am in Milan, it is the last full day and half stop before I fly back home after a week of traipsing through Europe. Traipsing, I love that word, makes it seems like I was frolicking through the continent in a white flowy gown.

If you have been reading this blog then you know I have been in Prague, Vienna, Florence (post to come) and now I am in Milan much to my friends chagrin ;). It’s been a week of fun, adventure and Instagramable moments. By right and logic, I am told, this should be costing me a fortune. It’s not.

Full disclosure before we begin, this above cost does not include airfare from your home country, just hotels and travel with Europe and meal expenses.

Prague

I have a $1000 and I want to see at least three countries in Europe, can it be done? Yes it can. Let’s begin with hotels. Most cities in the world can be explored in a day and a half. So I recommend staying one night and a full day in most places, you can do two nights if you really want to explore the surrounds.

I stayed in a four star hotel in Prague for $30 a night close to the castle area, in Vienna I was right around the corner from the major shopping district for $45 a night, also four star. In Florence I was 10mins walking distance away from The cathedral and the gallery that houses David $48 a night and now in Milan I am 100meters away from Piazza Duomo for $72 a night, both four stars.

Pisa

What is this magic, a friend asked. Hotwire. I discovered this site before I set off on my trip when I was looking for affordable accommodation in Florence, the only destination at the beginning of the trip. The catch with the service is they don’t tell what hotel it is until you actually book it. So pick the top stars, 4 and 5. I was expecting the worst when I arrived in Prague but my hotel was pretty decent old but well kept, free wifi and breakfast included. All four hotels have not be disappointing. There are plenty services like this I am told. You can Air’BnB it too.

Then I needed to get to these places, how do I afford to travel from one place to another affordably. Usually best to travel to countries quite close to each other and always take the train, it’s more scenic. Prague to Vienna $75, Vienna to Florence $158 and Florence to Milan $41 — getting to places done.

When on holiday people always fall in the trap of getting guided tours of places, this isn’t a bad thing but they can be expensive. Walk around a city and get lost, it is the best way to discover the place. I once got so lost in Paris that I ended up in front of the Moulin Rouge and went in for a show.

Budget some train or bus money for surrounding areas, in Florence you can catch the train to Pisa for the day. In Vienna you can get on a bus to Bratislava, the capital of Slovenia for the day and add a extra country to your list. Unless you really like museums you pay to go inside them but walking around them is free.

Food, Europe can be mighty expensive. But if all your breakfasts are sorted from your hotels all you need is lunch and dinner, street food is your friend. This also gives you the opportunity to get a taste of the country you’re in. Chum up to some locals and find out where they eat because those places don’t have tourist prices. Street food on average costs about $10 and add an extra $20 for a decent dinner in a non-touristy restaurant. If you’re desperate there is always a MickyDs or Burger King somewhere.

If you like to shop it’s always best to haggle. Now if you walk into a Ferragamo or Gucci in Milan I can’t help you but if you’re looking for some trinkets from street vendors then you can significantly reduce your cost.

So trip over, and my bank is still in tact not broken and I have kept to my budget with out feeling like I missed out on anything major. I actually believe I have some change to spare.

Hotels: $297
Trains: $258
Meals: $180
Day trips: $60
Airport/train transfers: $50
Shopping and trinkets: $100
Grand total: $945

Vienna: it kinda sucks in winter but still sorta pretty

Mozart cake

I am in Vienna, yawn. This is a city that only the summer is enjoyable, really. Everything is almost at a standstill, well the cool fun things anyway. Day trip to Salzburg? No only in summer, oh how about a tour of this place? No only in summer and on Thursdays. Are you fucking kidding me? No he is being serious. Fuck this shit I am going to Bratislava.

Okay so I didn’t go to Bratislava because I am sitting at Cafe Mozart, where I am about to wolf down a Mozart cake (yes I did that on purpose) because I am so hungry from all the walking and staring at some grey buildings. Against my earlier issues I decided to actually do a guided tour of the city because you know, YOLO right. The guide, a small balding man with affinity for slightly rude jokes is a peach. In his opinion, the Euro was the worst thing to happen to Austria as everyone is now very poor in this very expensive country. Preach brother, my cake and coffee is costing almost the price of three course meal in Prague and most parts of Africa and the United States.

Palace

This tour titled: City tour and Schönbrunn Palace last three hours and the city part of it was about 20mins max. I spent the rest of the time walking around a giant palace that costs a fortune to maintain and wasn’t allowed to Instagram anything, fuck that shit. The whole time the tour guide kept telling us how in summer we would be able to do this and that place would be open in summer, yes yes we get it winter is a shitty time to visit Vienna thanks!

The palace is huge and there is a room for everything. Some lady apparently ate a lot of pork and drank red wine to have a male child but that didn’t work. Then some other lady was apparently “so ugly” according to the guide no one wanted to marry her then she got rich and went through five husbands. Some 15-year old married her 64-year old uncle and they didn’t have toilets and people went round the bushes. It’s kinda gross.

Aside from that, the area around the city centre around the famous Ring Avenue is quite nice, some of the buildings are photographable and the Opera is very much an architectural marvel, it’s close to Albertina square, my current view, and one of the cities redeeming qualities.

Vienna

It’s not that hard to get a good and possible full Vienna experience in one day, I would say 10 hours in this city is enough time. A nice highlight if you are lucky to find a company doing this in winter is dinner and a show, a concert of the best of Mozart and Johan Strauss because, whaat!. It’s expensive though, I am talking 70 euros for cheap seats but in summer you will get around 45 euros.

Alright I am off the Florence there’s only much cake one person can use to dim a not so great experience. Don’t go to Vienna in winter, unless it’s Christmas and snowing and you can skate.

I should have gone to Salzburg, could have done the vontrapp thing.

Three days in Prague: Nutella and Astaire

Prague

Europe is a fascinating continent, I love it so much, everything is so close together that you can hop on plane and be in a new place in less that 2 hours. As I write this I am sitting on train whizzing through the czech countryside as I take the four-hour sojourn to Vienna the next stop on my trip.

I have spent the last three days in Prague via London. Before we go any further is it incredibly important to begin with wow! Prague such history such devastating beauty it makes you want to cry.

Three days in Prague or two and half to be precise. What do you do when there is so much to do. Three things stood out about my experience here: the city, the food and the beer. The plan was to get here, have look around and hopefully gain some meaningful experiences. It’s easy to get on plane and prepare for the greatest tourist experience after all it is Prague.

Day one was packed full of all the traditional touristy activities, which I recommend anyone visiting this city should do. Get on a tram to the castle area and walk it. It is said to be the biggest castle in Europe, the cathedral is an icon to everyone religious or not. It is built in the french style cathedral anyone who has been to Notre Dame will notice this immediately. Your heart stops and the walls dare you to not feel anything. It is building that demands your attention and your soul’s purpose. You feel a part of something here and if you can light a candle for someone special or for the world.

Then it’s off the castle surrounds, now the office of government, it’s palatial presence is so regal you have to wonder if Czech people should just go back to monarch role just so grand balls could be held here. This is also said to have housed some of the most brilliant minds of the time, and Kafka had a “writing house” here too.

From the castle you will find yourself in Jewish Town now one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Prague. The neighborhoods all have a special place in Czech history and are all fascinating to hear but I won’t go into that.

Prague by night

Without a doubt my favorite experience of this trip was the Prague by night dinner boat cruise. This will set you back 40-something euros or more depending on who you go with but it is worth every penny. You are ushered into a boat and slowly driven around city on the main river under the famous Charles Bridge. The city is illuminated to highlight some of its most breathtaking features. The music is questionable but entertaining nonetheless and the dinner depending again on your choice of company can be quite sumptuous.

Nutella dessert

After a day full of traditional tourist experiences, I decided to meet up with a friend on my last to see Prague from a local’s point of view. This brings me to food and beer! Whatever you do here, you must try the beer, you haven’t lived till you have had beer in Prague or just Czech beer. It’s both refreshing and exotic in taste. I ordered a small one to test the waters as it were and Martina (my friend) had said I would want more, she wasn’t wrong I wanted more so much more. Fun fact beer is cheaper than water here. The best accompaniment Czech beer is a traditional Czech meal, Svíčková was my favorite but the goose leg is good too. Dumplings served with beef and vegetable and cream sauce. Oh my word, heaven where have you been my whole life. These meals are quite heavy so pace yourself. When you have recovered from the main meal I suggest stuffed dumpling for dessert, mine was stuffed with Nutella, need I say more.

The dancing house

Once all that gastronomy is done it is best to take a walk through Charles Bridge to Old Town square to marvel at the astronomical clock, it’s underwelming when it gongs on the hour but still a pretty sight. Walk around the square through Paris street, the most expensive part of town then go ahead to the Dancing House, this building is modelled after Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire dancing. From there make your way around the river banks taking the city before watching the sunset from the tower.

Prague is an architectural delight and worth many visits over. What better way to spend three days.

Amsterdam: Europe’s crazy storm, Twitter threats & Dutch speaking pigs

KLM

So here is the situation, there is a big storm and it has messed up everything, I mean everything. I arrived in Amsterdam on a rather bumpy note, no worries, not the first time and hardly the moat interesting thing about my arrival.

Things get more interesting due to the storm (in case you missed it there is a storm): KLM can’t open the cargo hold to get the baggage out, so it sends us on our merry way saying hopefully our luggage will arrive by morning, yes 24 hours.

You can imagine what this means for all the travellers that just go to the country. One woman voiced her disapproval and yelled at the poor KLM customer service lady who was just the messenger, accusing her of trying to steal from her luggage. Her justification for this? She travels through Africa a lot and “people always help themselves to things” and she was certain that KLM would help themselves to her precious nuts in her bag. Seriously? Then she went on to threaten the poor KLM lady, who I think handled the whole thing rather gracefully, with Twitter.

“If one thing goes missing in my bad, it will be all over Twitter and in all the newspapers,” she says to the KLM lady. “I understand ma’am,” KLM lady responds.” “Are you SURE YOU WON”T STEAL ANYTHING FROM MY BAG?” the lady asks for the 10 millionth time.

Yes lady, because the staff at KLM engineered a storm just so they can steal your nuts.

So after all that drama, which I had front row seats to as I was behind her in the queue, I finally left the airport: no bags, which means no clothes, nothing, so I need to go buy myself stuff. Sure I can deal with that, 24 hours right? Well I could deal with that expect that the bloody trains aren’t working due to, you guessed it, the storm! And from where I am getting a bus is as easy as walking the 10 kilometers I need to go.

So I have been stuck in a hotel room since I arrived, the wind and rain beating against my window and Dutch speaking pigs for entertainment (don’t ask). This is going to be fun! But I have faith, tomorrow my conference starts and hopefully all will be well.

PS if you happen upon this and have gotten your luggage from KLM please let me know.

Greece, where there is always a ruin in sight

What more can a person want on this city? A little sightseeing, A lot of climbing and a ton of history with Islands to boot.

Greece takes my breathe away, every inch of it. The country is shrouded in history and mythical romance. It will exhaust you, exhilarate you and expound its essence all over you. Always worth a visit. If you have never been save and go.

One of my favourite places to visit.

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