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We’re funny (usually), controversial (sometimes) and insightful (always!). Our travel experts share their experiences below in hopes of hearing back from YOU. So read, comment and enjoy!

Posts in ‘Things to do in Italy’

5 Reasons Why You Should Visit Italy This Summer

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Summers might be a perfect time to sit and plan that vacation which is long overdue. While you are still thinking about where to head for that perfect holiday, why not give Italy a try? After all, there are few countries in the world that offer the kind of variety and diversity that Italy does, with its ancient history, majestic mountains, sumptuous cuisine and glittering coastlines.
Still undecided?  Let us help and give you 5 reasons on why Italy will be your best pick this summer.

 Venice Gondola Rides

Venice Hero Image
A Gondola ride is a must when in Venice. Take in the views and transcend to another era as you lie back on cushions and feel the rhythm and movement of intricate waterways. With a partner, nothing can be as romantic as cuddling up in the boat as it passes through the old Venetian towns. If you go solo, then all you would need is a nice, romantic novel.

Florence
If the heat is too overbearing, get indoors. With Brunelleschi’s masterpiece at the centre, a number of museums and monuments dominate the city. For art lovers, no European city can come close to Florence. Admire the vast art collection of Uffizi gallery or plan a visit to the Galleria dell’Accademia, renowned for being the home of the famous statue of David by Michelangelo.

Florence, Accademia Galary

You can also simply stand at the centre of the churches of San Lorenzo, Santo Spirito and the Cappella dei Pazzi, and feast your eyes by looking at the intricate frescoes painted by the Renaissance artists.
You will surely feel the chill in the heat, when you gaze at the vivid works of art.

For people who like to explore under the sun, head to the Cinque Terre, the five small ancient coastal villages, and see some of Italy’s finest scenery.

Pompeii

Pompeii Day
The recent movie Pompeii featuring Kit Harrington and Kiefer Sutherland brought the wrath of Mount Vesuvius live on screen. It took just one day – 24 August, 79 AD, for it to get buried for the next seventeen centuries, under the volcanic ashes of the fierce Mount Vesuvius. Visit the ruins and get a glimpse of the life led by the people of Pompeii before they were swallowed by the lava of Mount Vesuvius.

So, pick your sunglasses, an umbrella and explore the lost city. It is indeed a fulfilling summer retreat.

Rome

rome colosseum
One can be in loss of words while talking about this great city. Italy’s capital city is so vibrant that even if you spend months here, you will get the feeling that there is a nook or corner of the city which still remains unexplored. Its existence since time immemorial makes it unique and offers a diverse culture, a mélange of culinary wonders and a range of historical edifices like the mighty Colosseum, Vatican structures, Romanesque churches et al.

Tuscany

Tuscany
Leave the bustle of the city and escape to the glorious Tuscan countryside. Its quaint hill towns and lush vineyards, make it a popular summer destination. Also, it is in this season that you could be lucky enough to witness a series of local festivals, which are being celebrated through the ages.

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Pompeii Contest – Win a free trip to the Lost City!

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When their world exploded around them, many of Pompeii’s residents tragically (or should one say ‘thankfully’) never saw it coming – literally!  When Vesuvius erupted, the ash it spewed completely blocked the sun’s rays!  The day Mount Vesuvius erupted and covered Pompeii, events happened so rapidly, many people were killed instantly.  In the midst of going about their everyday lives – cooking, carrying out business, domestic chores and even sleeping.

Pompeii Ruins, Italy

Ash totally blanketed the city and her citizens.  Pompeii’s tragedy was unknown for 1500 years!  That was because the ash and debris totally covered the city, hiding it for all that time.  We can view the wonderful houses, mosaics, statutes, jewels, coins and hundreds of artefacts that give us an amazing insight into the daily life and activities of average Pompeian’s – all incredibly intact! Pompeii is like a two thousand year old 3D picture book showing life-size pictures of restaurants, baths, a market, a bar, fountains and even a brothel.

The Movie
This is the epic story of Pompeii’s destruction in 79 AD and the hero, Milo, played by Kit Harington, a slave turned invincible gladiator.  He has to race against Vesuvius’ rapidly brewing ‘eruption’ time to save his true love Cassia (Emily Browning).  As Mount Vesuvius erupts in terrifying and destructive fury, Milo must desperately fight his way out of the arena in order to save his beloved.  The movie is directed by Paul W.S. Anderson.

Pompeii Competition
isango! has come up with an absolutely spectacular way for you to get to Pompeii.  You don’t even have to dip into your wallet or bank account.  All your travel expenses including an extra £200 spending money will be paid by isango!

Pompeii-2220x1192

It’s no gimmick.  Simply click on the link below and you will be directed to the Facebook app-

https://apps.facebook.com/Pompeii/isangotravel

Once on the page, you watch the trailer of Pompeii, answer the very simple questions based on the trailer, submit your entry and wait for our call.

Don’t hang about!  This offer is too good for you to miss.

Thousands of people have already put in their claim to that airline seat to ancient Pompeii and gorgeous Italy. The last date to enter is 30th June and the winner will be announced in July. Get set go!

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5 Must-dos While Visiting the Italian Dolomites

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The Italian Dolomites are one of the most fantastic mountains in the world.  Their sharp pointed pinnacles and steep pale stony cliffs plunge steeply down to green valleys, creating some of the most incredible landscapes in the world.  There are eighteen summits that extend beyond 3,000 metres in height with Marmolada being the highest.

The Dolomites (meaning ‘pale mountains’) are sturdy in contrast.  Rough crags, pinnacles and towers encircle magical green meadows, multi-coloured forests, fields and lakes.  These striking contrasts are at its best in Cortina – ‘the pearl of the Dolomites’.   The whole region has been designated a UN Heritage Centre.

Dolomites article

There are many reasons to visit the area.  Here are our picks on the most satisfying things you can do while touring the Dolomites.

Adventure Activities
The Dolomites are renowned for skiing, mountain climbing, hiking, base jumping, paragliding, hang gliding and free climbing.  The Alte Vie or ‘Alpine Trails’ are world famous and, in some instances, really challenging treks. These mountains are a rock climbers’ dream with different sorts of climbs for all – novices, skilled as well as the seriously professional types.

Soar like an eagle under a parachute or glider’s wings from one of the mountains and thrill to the feeling of weightlessness – and live your dream.  You will get a view which only a few others do – above the spectacular peaks of the Dolomites.

The Dolomite region is a skier’s heaven.  Short summers and long winters make it ideal for extended skiing seasons.  The most famous and best skiing town is Cortina d’Ampezzo.  The 1956 Winter Olympics were held there.

Visit The Tunnels And Galleries In The Dolomites
In the early 20th century the border between Germany, Austria and Italy passed through the Dolomites.  During World War I, it was the frontline.  Soldiers on both sides excavated several series of tunnels in the mountains in order to fire at each other and wrest control of the heights.

Hiding places in the Dolomites (World War I)

Hiding places in the dolomites

These tunnels and galleries contain the remnants and artefacts of that period till date.  You can explore and see the still preserved barrack rooms (complete with sleeping bunks and heating stoves), storerooms, machinegun emplacements and other war relics.

Take Cable Car/Ski Lift Rides
The experience of a cable car or ski lift ride in the Dolomites is unlike any other.  They provide spectacular views unequalled in the world.  Even in this picture postcard world, some locations stand out from the others.  Just to name three – Lagazuoi near Cortina, Pass Pordoi and Mont Seuc.  The Dolomites, with the light on them constantly changing, are a photographer’s delight.  Once viewed, the scenery from the lifts will be sure to drag you back.

The ‘queen of the Dolomites,’ Marmolada is the highest peak in the Dolomites.  The entire journey in getting up to the top is an experience not to be missed.  As your gently swaying cable car lifts you towards the peak and above the clouds, you feel like you have wandered into a movie set.  The views are awe-inspiring and on a clear day you can see Venice!

Tour The lakes
If the sight of peaks of this region leave you in awe, their counterparts, the placid clear waters among the Dolomites are just as captivating.  These numerous pools of magic are flanked by golf-course like meadows and groves of trees while reflecting the pale peaks rising above them.  The picturesque little towns and villages that sit on their banks add to their allure.

Lake Auronzo di Cadore is an outstanding example.  Its fairy-tale surroundings are further enhanced in winter when the waters totally freeze up to the point where polo is played on it.  Another serene and tranquil lake is Misurina which is worth a visit.  Lake Misurina is where the speed skating events were held during the 1956 Winter Olympics (it was the last time Olympic speed skating events were held on natural ice.)  The spectacular scenery of Lake Misurina features in most photos of the area.

Spend The Night In A Mountain Hut (Rifugio)
To round off your Dolomites adventure or make it even more memorable, you should stay at a traditional alpine hut.  You can really soak in the magical atmosphere of the mountainous landscape.  The long history of mountaineering in the Alps has seen the building of many huts (rifugios) along the trails and throughout the high Dolomite massifs.  These wonderful wooden or stone cabins are very often perched precariously on the rocks.  The vistas from here are extraordinary.  There is no greater feeling than the camaraderie of other walkers, sharing an excellent dinner, a good night’s sleep and a generous breakfast before you set off again.

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Tuscany – A Many Faceted Jewel

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What do you say about the Tuscany region of Italy that has not already been said, written, painted, photographed or filmed?  As a visitor it is impossible to decide what to see and what to skip – and you don’t want to miss any of it.  There is so much embedded in the place that you could spend an entire summer exploring just one facet of this fascinating part of Italy.  It is not an area that you can cross off your bucket list with a casual ‘been there, done that.’

Tuscany is located in the west-central region of Italy with a coast on the Tyrrhenian Sea.  It is crisscrossed by several mountain chains including the Apennines.  The mountains and hills make up more than 65% of the region and that distinguishes and defines Tuscany.  Its achingly beautiful multi-hued rolling hills capture your heart like no other.  It also partly explains why it is the most visited part of Italy.

Even the diversity of the climate seems made for your pleasure.  The coastal region is fair and mild; blessed with wonderful beaches and magical coastlines.  Away from the coast, among the mountains, it can get very cold in winter.  This fluctuation in temperatures and weather cycles combined with its soil and agricultural output once made Tuscany the main food source for Ancient Rome.  Today it is also probably the vineyard of the country.

Tuscany has many famous and notable towns but the large and important cities have grown and developed on the banks of the River Arno.  Their names – Florence (aka Firenze), Empoli, Pisa, Siena, Livorno, Viareggio – roll off the tongue like poetry (even if your Italian isn’t good) and conjure up images of splendour.

The region had a civilization and culture long before that of Rome.  Known as the Etruscans (from where the name Tuscany is probably derived) they developed an enduring cultural (and language) identity that survives till this day.  This long, rich and vibrant history has turned the whole region into a veritable museum and storehouse of extraordinary art – whether it is architecture, painting or sculpture – all masterpieces.

So numerous, wondrous and well-preserved are the historical, artistic and cultural legacies that UNESCO has designated seven whole areas as World Heritate Sites! They are the Historic Centre of Florence; the Historical Centre of Siena; the Cathedral of Pisa and the Piazza dei miracoli (square of miracles); the Historical centre of San Gimignano (a hilltop village with 14 fantastic towers); the Historical centre of Pienza; the Val d'Orcia and the Medici Villas and Gardens.
 
One could go on and on about Tuscany’s churches, palaces, villages and piazzas.  The region has an incredible number of amazing towns like Pisa and its leaning Tower and Cathedral Square and the renowned Uffizi Gallery and Museum but the two shining jewels in this glittering land are Florence and Siena.  

Florence is the birthplace of Renaissance and two incredible men – Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.  These three factors alone would have made many other renowned cities culturally rich.  However, Florence is also the beneficiary of the wealth, power and extraordinary legacy of the Medici family.  Without them Florence would not be what it is. Their efforts and patronage either directly or indirectly spawned the Florentine School of art with such alumni as Fra Angelico, Botticelli and a host of others.

TuscanySiena is another great treasure chest.  Its rich artistic tradition generated the Sienese School.  It’s well-preserved art and architecture date from the medieval period.  An outstanding example of the city’s artistic richness is its huge and beautiful shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, the Cathedral and the Palazzo Pubblico.

Tuscany however, is not all art and architecture.  The other face to the region is its natural side.  Travel across the rolling hills with their quilt patchwork of olive groves and vineyards; the changing colours of the fields and forests; the fairy tale houses of the small towns and villages and past the picturesque gardens of the villas and you will feel that you are imbibing the Tuscan essence through every sense.

Tuscany has over 120 protected nature reserves and parks.  They are home to some of Europe’s oldest forests.  One of the most beautiful is Pinocchio’s Park.  Carlo Collodi, the creator of The Adventures of Pinocchio, took his pen name from his mother’s village – Collodi.  The Park has lovely winding pathways that are populated with statues of characters from the story.

There are other things you can do and experience in Tuscany.  You can indulge in gastronomic tours and sample (or gorge on) the fabulous food.  Each district seems to cook things their own way, producing their own distinct flavours.  Then you could get well and truly happy by signing up for a wine tasting tour.  This is after all, Chianti country.  The region boasts over 30 wines!  Don’t get me started on this aspect of Tuscany.  I could spend a whole summer just doing wine tours!

No matter what you do, where you go or what you see, one thread binds all of Tuscany – stunning beauty!

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Touring the Sistine Chapel in Rome

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The Sistine Chapel is probably the single most impressive, influential and famous art-filled room in the whole world.  Intended to be the private chapel of a pope, the whole world now comes to worship at this altar of artistic creativity.  It also serves as the election room of new popes.

Sistine ChapelThe building and the painting of the Sistine Chapel was completed in three major phases.  The first was the building and wall painting phase.  Commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV (of the della Rovere family) it took about eight years (1475 to 1483) to complete.  It was consecrated and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary on 15th August 1483.  The architect was Baccio Pontelli and the construction was supervised by Giovannino de'Dolci.

In 1481, while the chapel was still being constructed, Pope Sixtus IV brought in several great Florentine artists to paint the walls.  They were Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Piero di Cosimo, Rosselli, Luca Signorelli, Pinturicchio and Bartolomeo della Gatta.  They took only eleven months to complete their commission.

The walls are divided into three horizontal sections.  The uppermost comprises of pilasters that support the vault.  The middle section (or order) tells two stories from the bible.  The left wall relates the life of Moses while the right wall tells the life of Christ.  At ceremonial occasions the lowest portions of the side walls are covered with a series of tapestries depicting events from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. These were designed by Raphael and woven in 1515-19 at Brussels.

There are six windows on the long walls.  Between each window is a niche with painted images of the first popes – Peter to Marcellus – who were all martyred.  A beautiful and delicately carved marble screen, with an inset wooden door, divides the presbytery from the nave.  The screen is the work of three sculptors – Mino da Fiesole, Andrea Bregno and Giovanni Dalmata.  The screen used to divide the chapel into two equal parts but was moved making the presbytery much larger.  The floor is a marble mosaic beautiful in workmanship and design.

The second phase saw the introduction of Michelangelo.  In 1508 Pope Julius II (a ‘nephew’ of Sixtus IV) wanted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel repainted.  The ceiling was originally frescoed by Piero Matteo d'Amelia with a star-spangled sky in 1481.

He had originally called upon Raphael (a passionate enemy of Michelangelo) to take up the project but he refused.  Instead he suggested Michelangelo’s name in an attempt to discredit him knowing Michelangelo was a sculptor and not a painter.  Raphael created one of art history’s greatest gaffes.

Michelangelo worked on the ceiling from 1508 to 1512.  What he created has become a beacon of art throughout the world.  He demonstrated control and understanding of detail, proportion, colour, texture, form and an unmatched originality that has illuminated the world – let alone art.  He brought perfection to reality.  The Sistine Chapel is a display of one man’s incredible creative genius.

The pope wanted paintings of the 12 Apostles.  Michelangelo dismissed the idea as a “poor thing”.  Thank heavens for his courage and ‘artistic licence and integrity’ or we would not have the most amazing works in the history of Western art.  Instead what Michelangelo painted were stories from the Book of Genesis – from the Creation to the story of Noah.

This phase of Michelangelo’s work included the incomparable and stunningly daring fresco, the Creation of Adam.  Michelangelo’s portrayal of God as a muscular figure with long white hair and big white beard is the one many of us, today, picture him to be.  In earlier works God was represented only as a hand reaching down through the clouds.

The near touching of God and Adam’s hands is one of the most replicated, parodied and iconic images of the world.  It also goes against the common perception of God breathing life into Adam.  Michelangelo also shows Adam with a ‘navel.’  Other departures are the serpent in Eden depicted with a woman’s head; the forbidden fruit is a fig and not the commonly accepted ‘apple.’

To paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel Michelangelo built his own platform, extending over half the chapel area.  It allowed him to stand upright (Sorry! He did not paint it on his back).  However, it denied him the possibility of viewing his work from the floor.  Despite that he painted huge scale figures from a distance of only a few inches.

Twenty-eight years later Michelangelo was back.  This time it was Pope Clement VII who commissioned him.  Shortly after Pope Clement died and was succeed by Pope Paul III who pushed the artist to quickly finish the fresco.  In this phase Michelangelo painted the Last Judgment on the altar wall – the largest fresco of the century.  He started work in 1535 and finished it in 1541.

Winding staircase in the Sistine ChapelEven if Michelangelo had not created what he did in the Sistine Chapel, it would still be a room filled with an extraordinary collection of masterpieces.  From this single room emanates more creativity, beauty and inspiration (artistic and religious) than any other collection of art anywhere.

Despite its amazing fame there is nothing outstanding about the Sistine Chapel’s architectural features.  Its dimensions are based on that of the Temple of Solomon as detailed in the Old Testament.  It is 40.93 metres long, 13.41 metres wide and 20.70 metres high.  The roof is barrel-vaulted.  The exterior is a remarkably bare brick-walled edifice with no ostentatious embellishments, sculptures or carvings.  There is no grand entrance door.  Entrance to the Sistine Chapel can only be made from within the Papal Palace.

Visitors today are blessed because what they view is the restored and cleaned frescos, which took about 30 (1965 to 1994) years to accomplish.

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The Last Supper

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The Last Supper

The Last Supper is one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most well-known works; and along with the Mona Lisa, could be said to have established his fame as a painter. The painting represents the scene of The Last Supper of Jesus with his 12 disciples where he announced that “one of them would betray him”.

The painting is located at the Santa Maria delle Grazie church in Milan, covering the wall of the dining hall. In it, Leonardo grouped the apostles in four groups of threes, with Jesus in the middle sitting calmly.

The remarkable thing about this composition is how Leonardo brilliantly depicts identifiable reactions of the apostles with varying degrees of shock, outrage and disbelief when Jesus dropped the bombshell announcement.

Deterioration and restoration

Leonardo’s decision to use oil paint rather than the more reliable, fast-drying and stable watercolour fresco technique meant that the painting deteriorated soon enough. Several painters attempted to repair and major restoration works were done from 1978 to 1999, but the popularity of the work remains.

It could be argued though, that very little of the original paint now remains after all its repairs.

The fascination continues…

The painting continues to mystify and fascinate nonetheless. Speculations by writers and historical revisionists centre around supposed purported hidden messages or hints—and plenty other such-like interpretations —within the painting.

The fact that it plays the central role in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code does little to quench the spurring of new wave of research and interpretation of one of this world’s most famous artworks.

The Last Supper Tickets

It is advisable that you book your ticket well ahead because of it being a very popular attraction…or simply prepare to be disappointed! Also be warned that visitors are not allowed to stay long.

The excellent audio guide will help you make the most of this must-see painting.

Image credit: Waiting For The Word
 

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What to know about Venice Gondola Rides

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Venice Gondola Ride

We’ve all seen the movies and pictures and are aware of the romantic power of a gondola ride on the canals of Venice. The enchantment of the experience changes the girl’s mind…‘and they live happily ever after.’ Beguiling, enchanting, romantic, magical etc, are standard adjectives to describe a tour of Venice in a gondola. It is a must-do thing.

True a Venice gondola ride is maybe that or maybe more but there are some practical things you need to know before you get on one of them. Some of these pointers may be a bit of an eye opener for you.

There was a time when about 10,000 gondolas plied the canals of Venice carrying goods and passengers across and around the city. Today there are roughly 400 of them and they are primarily used to ferry tourists. Though the number of gondolas is seemingly small the routes are limited. So you could find yourself in a prow to stern gaggle of gondolas – a veritable traffic jam!

The gondolas of today are all painted black as per the city’s regulations. However, many of them have colourful, individualistic and ornate decorations with comfortable seats, cushions and blankets.

The gondoliers have to wear a uniform of sorts, which are black pants, a striped (generally black and white) shirt and closed dark shoes. They also have a special hat but very often they don’t wear it. I suppose many a hat has been whipped off the gondolier’s head by the wind.

Not all gondoliers can sing nor are they required to. Some do but you may be disappointed by the results. Also it would be pretty hard to hear them over the chatting of your co-passengers and the calling and shouting among the other gondoliers. The night rides, though could be better for the singing. Some of them will give you information on the bridges and palaces of Venice as you pass them by.

Venice gondola rides are between 20 and 40 minutes duration. They also seat six people so if you are thinking ‘exclusive’ and romantic forget it as you will be sharing the boat with others.

The Grand Canal is perpetually crowded so take a ride along the quieter back canals, away from the more touristy places. It will give you a different view of Venice and a much better experience. Actually the smaller canals (you can touch the walls of the palazzos) will give you the feel of what makes Venice – Venice.

To hire a gondola to take you on the quieter routs look for one away from the main streets and the Grand Canal. If you have a particular route or places in mind then discuss it (and the price) clearly with the gondolier before you sit down.

Getting back to the singing gondoliers, several tour companies arrange a 40-minute Gondola Ride and Serenade. The glitch is that there is not one singer for each gondola. They travel in groups. Several gondolas will be listening to the same singer/musician as you glide along.  Another drawback is that you will be sharing the gondola with other people. So, maybe your Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn moment may not be the same.

The trickiest part is the fare. Gondola rides and fares are regulated. The standard day time 40 minute ride costs €80. The night ones are €100. However, you will be very lucky if you ever get one for those rates. Haven’t met or heard anyone who got a ride at the official rates.

This piece is not intended to turn you off a Venice gondola ride. You have to do it, no question. Just don’t go in starry-eyed.
 

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Cruise Through Europe

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Many cities in Europe are laced with rivers and canals, and some are at the edge of the Atlantic or Mediterranean Oceans. So why not make time for some cruises, featuring gorgeous sights in some of the most beautiful cities in the world?

Prague, Czech Republic

One of my favourite cities in Europe, Prague has a perfect combination of Neo-classical charm and modern attractions. It is one of the few cities that as just as beautiful during the night as it is during the day. This tour takes you through an informative and insightful trip through the city, stopping at some of the most notable places. It then proceeds to a picturesque glide down the Vltava River, giving you a wonderful view of Prague’s skyline by night. Food and drink are provided on the cruise, as well as live entertainment.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

A wonderful combination of a canal and city cruise, this Amsterdam tour takes you past some of the most prominent landmarks of the city, like the Royal Palace and the Skinny Bridge, as well as some of the iconic sights of Amsterdam, such as the windmills and 17th Century Merchant Warehouses. Enchanting and informative, this cruise crosses off two must-do’s in Amsterdam.

Frankfurt, Germany

This activity brings together a tour of the city with a dinner cruise by one of the most scenic parts of the city, the Rhine! The tour begins on an open-top bus, and stops twice: at Romer Square and Sachsenhausen. The cruise takes you through the Rhine Valley, which has inspired many poets and artists. Enjoy dinner with this picturesque backdrop in a charming waterside restaurant.

Venice, Italy

When you think of canals, you think of this Italian city. Out of the many Europeans cities I have visited, Venice is my favourite because of its quaint houses and built-in charm. Venice is famous for its myriad of twisting and connected canals, but that is not all there is to this loveable city. The islands close to Venice are just as remarkable, with unique aspects of their own! Visit Murano to see how its distinctive and beautiful glasswork is made, Burano for the wonderful lacework and Torcello for Venice’s first cathedral.

Budapest, Hungary

A defining aspect of Budapest is the river that runs through the city. The Danube used to separate two separate cities – the Buda side from the Pest side – but history has brought these two cities together into the one we all know. So slide along this historic and beautiful river to the many other towns along its edge. This cruise is extremely lovely and allows you to appreciate the beauty of river outside the bustling city of Budapest.

Whichever cruise you decide to try out, a good time and beautiful scenes are guaranteed!

 

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New Year’s Kiss

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New Year's Kiss A friend once told me that her New Year’s resolution was to be kissed as the clock struck twelve on the first day of the New Year. So here are some great and different places that I would suggest for that magical kiss with that special someone:

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Famous for its Carnival, Rio is also great destination any other time of year. This is one of the few times of the year that the locals join the tourists for a great time! This celebration is on par with their Carnival and the fireworks are absolutely amazing. Dress up in white and share that New Years kiss on the beaches of Rio! And you cannot come all the way to Brazil without experiencing its rainforests, can you?

Venice, Italy

This small city in Italy is perfect for a New Year’s kiss. On the last night of the year, many restaurants in Venice have feasts starting from 9p.m. and lasting until midnight, with great food and cheap wine. Also, in St. Mark’s Square there is a huge celebration with music, fireworks and a huge group kiss at midnight. And nothing spells romantic like a gondola ride through the canals of Venice!

Cape Town, South Africa

Welcome the New Year dancing in Cape Town! Some of the hottest parties and celebrations are held in this seaside city, and you can have your special New Years Kiss while on the beach. You of course will have to try the wine while in South Africa, for it rivals even Italy for quality!

Hong Kong, China

Although the Chinese Lunar New Year does not coincide with December 31st, there are still celebrations held in Hong Kong! You will not be at a loss to find a popping party the night of. Top the Hong Kong experience off with your New Years kiss while LED lights count down the last 60 seconds of the old year! You cannot forget the wonderful beauty outside Hong Kong either, for China is home to some of the most breathtaking sights.

Sydney, Australia

Although not as typically romantic as European cities, Sydney has a lot to offer. Enjoy your New Year’s kiss as some of the first New Year’s fireworks in the world explode in the night sky amid music! The best part of being in Sydney at the end of the year is that it is not wintertime; you will be coming in the height of summer. You can spend your days at the beach, dolphin spotting and enjoying the Australian lifestyle!

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The Perfection of the Piazza Del Duomo

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Looking back on my week long, mid-semester break to Italy I simply can’t shake the feeling I got at the top of the Piazza del Duomo, so I thought I’d share, and hopefully inspire some other travelers.

First, I should probably mention that I was traveling with my four other friends, and it was our last day of our five day Italian extravaganza. Nobody wanted to leave Italy, the land of pasta, pizza, wine, and gelato (four things that will never taste the same to me again), the place where people relax and enjoy simple pleasures like coffee, which we normally find more of a necessity than an indulgence.  Where real leather was as common as the authentic Venetian masks.  But enough of my Italian tangents, the point is just when we thought it couldn’t get any better we came across the infamous Duomo.  The entire week we were running around Italy we had been so focused on seeing everything that the cities had to offer, I realized we rarely took a moment to stand back and take in everything that was around us.

Piazza del Duomo proved to be the exception. duomo

Totalling 463 steps to the top, we were surprised that the staircases were windy, narrow, and very dark, not exactly user friendly.  About half way to the top you find yourself on a walkway, inside the church walking around the circumference of the dome giving us an up close view of the painted dome.  And if anybody’s wondering, looking from the top tier down onto the inside of the church was just as stunning as standing on the floor of the church and looking up.  After the brief break on a flat surface we continued climbing.  If we thought the stairs before were cramped, it only became tighter!  With a large school group in front of us, and other visitors squeezing by to get back down, I would give up your values of personal space for a couple minutes while you wait to get to the top.

And just as quickly as I felt bombarded by people, I felt overwhelmed by the sweeping views as we stepped out of the stairs into the open air on top of the Duomo.  It’s a small area, but you can walk around in a complete circle getting the full 360º of Florence.  It’s weird how at only 90 meters high, we were able to overlook all of the city, from the people below us at the market, slowly stretching out to the rolling hills and mountains in the countryside.

duomo 2 After getting our pictures from all sides, and constantly repeating how we were never leaving, the exhaustion from a week of walking, combined with a whole lot of stairs seemed to hit us all at once.  If you find yourself in the same position, we found there’s no better place to regain your strength than on top of the Duomo.  We sat down by the fences on the perimeter and watched as the sun set over the city–another suggestion I would make would be to go at this time because watching the sun set on the infamous Italian terracotta houses was truly breathtaking.

duomo32

The Piazza del Duomo was the perfect ending to our perfect trip, and I hope that you have an experience that’s just as memorable.  Happy traveling!

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