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Can you afford a trip to Venice?

Venice, lovely Venice, is famous for being expensive. The Venetian grandeur of eighteenth century- where aristocrats splurged and Casanova, well, also splurged- might have been knocked down a notch or two, but Venice is still a byword for decadence.

So, is Venice affordable?

Sure, you could spend a fortune on gondola tours, take the most expensive taxis in the world, buy exquisite handmade masks and dine out in the finest Italian boutique restaurants. You could. You’d have a lovely time, and I wish you the best of luck in getting home without your arm and your leg.

Of course it can be affordable! It’s the same as any other destination- you spend as little or as much as you want. As long as you don’t fall into the tourist traps you’ll be fine. Here are my tips to enjoying a cheap Venice.

My tips 

  • Get there by train, not plane. If you have the option, fly to Verona instead. Flights to Venice are typically much harder on the bank balance- and train tickets from Verona cost less than €15 one way. They run all day, but make sure to get the local train, which is cheaper and takes about 20 minutes longer. We stayed in Verona and day-tripped to the floating city.
  • Forget the gondola. You don’t have to have deep pockets to experience Venetian canals. It might not be as romantic, but taking the vaperetto (the waterbus) is a million times cheaper (€7 for an hour ticket), and a great way to travel through the city. Save those pennies for pasta.

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  • Pasta After consulting the blogosphere and TripAdvisor for foodie advice, we came across recommendations for Alfredo’s Pasta. They serve what can only be fairly described as the best pasta in Venice. I’ve never enjoyed pasta this much. Seriously, it nearly reduced me to tears of joy. The second best thing about this pasta is the price- you get a full chunky portion freshly made at around €6. It’s takeaway only, so grab a box and wander along the canal while you eat, and try to hold back your emotions.

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  • Attractions Half of the beauty of Venice is in wandering around the streets, lazing by the canal, watching boats float past. That costs a grand total of €0. But if you’re desperate to see the inside of the main attractions, there are euro-savvy ways to do this. MY main tip would be to skip the galleries and museums. I’m sure they’re lovely, but if it’s art and architecture you’re after, there are umpteen gorgeous churches (including Basilica di San Marco) displaying some of the finest sculptures and structures in the city- for free. (Polite reminder, don’t be a dick)

I loved Venice- it was probably my favourite place in Italy. Venice isn’t a question of whether you can afford it- it’s a question of whether you can afford not to.

 

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Living in London: Lessons

It’s a recurring theme in my life, this whole startled-at-how-much-time-has-passed thing (evidence 1, 2, 3), and it’s time for another bout of wonder/panic/sheer disbelief. I’ve been living in London for twelve whole months. I cannot believe how quickly the time has gone, and how much has changed in such a busy year.

To commemorate My First London Anniversary, I thought I’d do a Twelve Things I’ve Learnt in London, one for each month.

1. Yes, all of those people will fit onto that tube carriage.

You don’t know the meaning of the word cramped until the Northern line is delayed (which it is, btw. Without a doubt.) and there’s several hundred people itching to get to work on time. Every nook and cranny of that carriage will soon be filled with humans and their bloody fold-up bikes. Someone will be shouting “CAN YOU MOVE DOWN PLEASE”- which despite being totally reasonable, will ignite a flair of passive aggressive shuffling so potent I’m surprised the train doesn’t spontaneously combust. Also, tube strikes.

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2. You’re going to become unbearably impatient

Ten minutes is a fair amount of time to wait for a train, right? Wrong. That is an outrageous amount of time, and if you don’t angry-tweet TFL right now then you’re a weakling.

3. All the choice in the world, and you’ll still go to Wahaca

There are approximately seven million restaurants in London. I live in a really small South London town called Southfields, and we have, off the top of my head, 25 decent restaurants within walking distance. In Huddersfield, to get to a good restaurant you had to get a bus and then train to Leeds. There are amazing restaurants on every corner in London. Despite this, whenever I’m hungry, I invariably end up in Wahaca. It’s like they’re a giant burrito-shaped magnet and I’m a willing iron filing looking for tequila cocktails and nachos.

4. A coffee order can be seventeen words long before you sound like an idiot.

In the north, you have two choices of coffee; black or milky. If you order anything with more than two words, or anything that ends in the letter “o”, you’re automatically in the Dick club. This does not exist in London. You can legitimately order a “soy decaf double shot grande mocha latte with a pump of hazlenut syrup” without even blushing.

5. London is gorgeous.

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6.  Big cities are overwhelming.

If you’re having a bad day, London sucks. Not too long ago, I received some bad news, and the rest of the day felt like the entire city was trying to trip me up. There’s too many people, you’re in the wrong flow of traffic, everything is expensive, you left your Oyster card on the bus and you’ve just been called a bitch for not having a lighter for some random dude’s cigarette. It’s busy, uncaring and cruel. I wanted nothing more than to get on a train and fling myself two hundred miles up north and settle down in a nice silent field somewhere and burst out into tears. That, or punch the next guy who screams “EVENING STANDAAAAAARD” in my ear. Bad moods don’t bode well in big cities.

7. You’re in the centre of the universe

London is scientifically the centre of the universe. Or at least, that’s what the news would have you believe. I’m not saying this is a good thing- the other day when the Shard was precautionarily evacuated, BBC news spent as much time going into to detail about the Shard not being on fire as it did on, oh I dunno, the crisis in the Middle East, kidnapped Nigerian school girls and the Ukraine. It’d be slightly more understandable if the Shard actually was on fire (which it wasn’t). Slightly.

8. The power of invisibility

Look like shit? That’s fine! Everywhere you go you’re going to be able to blend right into a swarm of people. Nobody will ever notice the mismatched shoes and/or last night’s makeup.

9. It’s changed my views on almost everything.

I’ve always considered myself a pretty open minded person, but living in London really opened my eyes. The causes I was blind to, the people I’d never heard. I’ve blogged some of it (Blog Alpha), but some of it has simply come from seeing comedy gigs like Aamer Rahman or Bridget Christie, or talking to Big Issue vendors, or drunken night bus rambling.

10. London never gets old.

The novelty of gliding past St Pauls on a bus never gets old. Watching street artists spray onto the walls of Brick Lane never gets old. Climbing the stairs out of the tube station to be met head on with Big Ben never gets old.

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11. I live for live entertainment.

My interest in going to gigs peaked in the early 2000s to see Kate Nash smash up a piano in a Cockney accent. My interest in comedy, poetry, theatre and talks, however, is flying high and facilitated by London’s vibrant everything scene. Whether it’s empty poetry gigs or West End musicals, I cannot get enough of it all.

12. I can now spot a tourist a mile off.

I’m not one of those Londoners who thinks that tourists are demons sent from hell to trip me up with suitcases on my way to work. Nope, I’m the kind of Londoner who feels insanely smug at having any level of insider knowledge. Once, when the District Line was down (it always is, btw), I spent about half an hour giving detailed travel instructions to groups of confused tourists and it made me feel like I was the Queen of the Underground.

 

What have you learnt since living in London (…if anything)? Here’s to the second year, now please mind the gap.

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Verona: Northern Italy’s hidden gem

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I’d always written Italy off. It wasn’t as exotic or fiesty or distant as somewhere like New Zealand, Rome looked cramped, and besides, pizzas are just tarted up cheese on toast. Italy wasn’t for me.

Until, like the true eagle-eyed budgeter I am, I spotted hella cheap flights using Kayak’s “Everywhere” tool. Return flights to Verona for two people for less than £150? I decided I’d put up with Verona for that price, and use it to get to more interesting places. I am nothing if not a reasonable person.

After trundling off the plane and squinting into the sunlight, I realised “putting up with Verona” is the very least anyone can do. It’s incredible.

Verona was to be our base- and I wasn’t expecting much from it other than a cheap place to sleep in between day trips to the more expensive locations Venice and Lake Garda. Sure, there was the whole Romeo and Juliet situation, but I was dead certain that’d be a bawdy museum full of bored school-trip groups, and maybe a few tourist traps selling tacky “Romeo 4 Juliet” tee shirts, but nowt actually interesting.

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Well, more fool me. What a place!

Verona is a city of colourful alleys, marbled streets and Roman ruins, hidden gelatarias, gorgeous parks and bell towers both adding to and offering city-wide views of this breathtaking city.

Our B&B was a stone’s throw from the city centre, which was full of amazing places to eat. I used to very much an Italian food cynic- anyone can knock together cheese and tomatoes, that doesn’t make it a national cuisine- but I’ve firmly shut my mouth since firmly stuffing into my mouth several portions of fresh gnocchi, tagliatelli and my previous pet-hate, pizza. Oh, and gelato. Fuck loads of gelato. All hail Italian food.

Other than food (which is obviously my priority), Verona proved to be a labyrinth of gems. Every side street had something awe-inspiring tucked down it, whether it was the best damn sandwich you’d ever had, or the entrance to a sweet little garden, or, I dunno, a massive Roman ampitheatre. These streets constantly surprised and impressed me.

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So what would I recommend to do in Verona?

Well, eat. The best restaurants in Verona are the ones you’ll find filled with locals- Leone Pizza behind the Arena, RetroBar hidden down some sidestreets- so ip-dip-do your way through the centre until you find somewhere with a terrace, grab yourself a bottle of Bardolino or Soave and challenge yourself to a little game of Man vs Food.

When you’re stuffed, go view hunting. Through Verona snakes the Adige River, which we crossed every day. If you climbed up the mini peaks of the foreboding medieval Castelvecchio bridge, you’d get a glimpse of the river winding around the city, and maybe catch a sunset like the one above. Clamber up the Torre de Lamberti (above, top right) and gaze out onto the city.

There’s a market on the Piazza del Erbe, which when it’s not full of hoardes of school children in matching caps trying to steal ornate face masks, is a delight. Giardino Giusti (below) was probably my favourite place to wile away the hours. There’s a maze, which suitably confused the fuck out of me for far too long, gorgeous views and all the beauty a Renaissance Garden should have. Sigh.

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Be warned, it’s a very romantic city. Lots of couples gazing into each other’s eyes over the last lick of ice cream, lots of very public snogging and candlelit dinners going on at every turn. Made not unbearable, naturally, due to the equally large population of incredibly cute dogs. Couples and pomeranians galore.

Although we still used it as a base to get to surrounding destinations (the big V has excellent and cheap connections with Venice and nearby Lake Garda towns), Verona is not a commuting city. It’s it’s own destination, and a bloody lovely one at that.

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Tw*ts in churches.

There are a few things that bug me about travelling. Nothing too big, just the usual. Delayed flights, insect bites, being jealous of other people’s adventures. The same things that irritate anyone going away.

But there is one thing that I loathe. Utterly, utterly hate.

Twats in churches.

You know the ones. You’re in a touristy spot, you’ve just entered a church out of appreciation for it’s cultural significance, the architecture, the lavish embellishments and decorations, and maybe, if you’re that way inclined, for a spot of prayer/worship/religiousness. There is a sign at the entrance, written in several languages, welcoming all people indoors if they would be so kind as to observe dress rules and no take any photographs.

In you walk, ready for a spot of quiet observing. Then you see them. The Twats In Churches (TICs). Stomping around in short-shorts, strapless tops, making loud phone calls, farting as the flash of their camera blinds a passing vicar.

I wandered into a gorgeous church in Venice recently, and was silently apoplectic (that fabulous British mood) to witness some douchebag stood in front of the altar next to a sign asking people not to take photos. The service was about to begin- with people literally kneeling all around him- filming the organ music and people’s prayers with his fucking iPad.

Where do these people think they are? Are they lost?? Did they queue for an hour outside the Basilica thinking there would be a bloody theme park inside? Were they expecting showgirls?? Has this man totally lost his mind?

I have no problem with people capturing the inside of these buildings. None. I personally don’t do it that much, but I have done and I probably will do again. I have no beef with photos of ceremonies, recording the music, or with anyone that is even mildly interested in what the building is intended for. But these douchecanoes cross the line in two ways.

One: Respect what should be respected, dude. You might not believe in whatever deity the building you’re in was designed to worship, but the people around you, yeah those ones kneeling and praying, do. And let me tell you this, they’re not doing that to provide you with some top action shots, they’re doing it because they’re praying for their suffering or future or other stuff that does not need documenting by your dumbass iPad.

And, most of all, two: No TIC will literally ever watch or look at those badly-shot crap quality images of what is a supposed to be sacred place ever again. Anyone who is culturally buttheaded enough to record a private moment is not culturally interested enough to actually ever fucking look at it again. Which makes the whole selfie-with-praying-old-lady spectacle pointless.