Friday, May 22, 2015

Rome | Italy

Rome… the city where dreams go to die!

I think it is important for me to first disclose that I visited Rome in early July, which is prime tourist season. This meant there were herds of people everywhere, at every point throughout the day. I hate herds of people. I also didn’t have a tour guide and I am certain that were I with somebody who knew Rome extremely well, more glorious parts of the city would have been discovered.

Regardless, when I reminisce over my time travelling through Italy, my heart skips a beat. When my mind wanders through to our last stop in Rome, that racing heart turns to complete disappointment. Rome was certainly not what I had in mind.

The city was made the last stop on our Italian adventure, firstly, because it was the most southern city and secondly, because I truly believed it would be the best part of the trip. There was something about Rome that sent my imagination wild. I envisioned majestic architecture and medieval buildings in the middle of a quaint and beautiful city. Scenes from Eat Pray Love were playing in my mind as we jumped on the train from Florence, I was going to be immersed in Italian culture and embark on the biggest history lesson of my life.

The moment I stepped off the train, I felt all my hopes and dreams for the city slowly diminish. I can only describe the view as East London with grand historical ruins and monuments scattered randomly throughout. There was no magic, certainly no upkeep, and instead just an array of hungry tourists in your face at every corner.

The historical sites in the city were majestic, the Colosseum being a personal favourite of mine, but each sight required a battle of will in order to actually see what you came to see. Every photo you snap will contain a section of Rome, above the heads of John, Kate and their five children. We failed to find a single corner of the city that wasn’t filled with camera snapping people.

The city had nothing on Florence, in terms of beauty and the simple upkeep of the streets. Florence was quaint, beautiful, and meticulously clean. Rome however, was extremely messy, and as we made our way through the litter filled streets, the image of a pristine and majestic city that I’d built up in my mind was systematically dismantled.

On our first night, we stayed in the Mandarin Guesthouse, opposite the main train station. A Chinese family, who at first seemed extremely frightening by their impatient demeanor, ran the place and were actually very helpful. Before the evening had even begun, the two friends I was travelling with received some bother by the locals congregating outside the guesthouse and decided to spend the night elsewhere. Jake and myself remained where we were, undeterred by what we joked was like being back at home. In the end, the Mandarin Guesthouse turned out to be one of the nicer places we stayed at, considering we spent every other night of the trip in a tent.

Day two was spent walking across the entire city to our new accommodation for the next two nights. Every mile or so while walking through the disheveled ‘East London,’ we stumbled across something beautiful but nothing beat the Colosseum for me. I could only make out the top of the Pantheon; sadly it was impossible to get any nearer. Castel sant'angelo was a similar situation and the Trevi Fountain was broken. Capitoline hill was beautiful and we hit the jackpot because it was fairly quiet. After a whole day of walking, an exhausted Hollie and Jacob grabbed some food and collapsed for the evening.

Our accommodation was Camping Roma, situated outside the city centre, requiring public transport to get almost anywhere. To uplift spirits and not be controlled by the disappointment, a trip to the Vatican City was arranged and the morning before our last we awoke early and headed to the headquarters of the Catholic Church. I will try not to be too critical of a location that means so much to so many, but all circumstances included, this came to be an extremely dire day. Firstly, Jake and myself being the silly human beings that we are did not even think about dressing appropriately and chucked on any clothes we could find in the top of our rucksacks. I had on a strappy dress and Jake a sleeveless top – this did not go down well! Secondly, the Vatican is expensive, extremely expensive. So when one dresses inappropriately, they are forced to buy a scarf to cover up and scarfs cost over 100euro. We settled for a tablecloth, which cost significantly less, but the panicked start certainly lowered the tone for the rest of the day.

The Vatican in early July is basically one long line. You queue for a couple of hours to get in (we got the earliest bus possible to get there), and then you follow that queue all the way round. It is hard to admire the artwork on every wall, when you are being herded around like cattle.

Disclaimer: I am a philistine where art is concerned and can only apologise for what I am about to write.

We walked for what seemed like hours, up and down stairs, along corridors and hallways, to the famous Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo’s ceiling looked EXACTLY THE SAME as every ceiling that we saw on the five-hour walk to the chapel. In fact, the most exciting thing was watching a young man be removed from the premises for taking a sneaky photo. We stayed as long as we could handle before returning only to realize we had to wait three hours for the next bus back. A dire day was had, mostly for reasons that were no fault of Rome’s, but ruined the experience nonetheless. Looking back, a day of eating ice cream would probably have been better than Vatican City for me.

Our last day was spent at our accommodation, (which was very similar to Centreparcs, for those of you that live in Britain) where we lounged by the pool and caught a tan. The city of Rome was pretty bleak and I don’t think I could have faced another day attempting to explore.

The thought of ever going back gravely upsets me, but I can’t help ponder why so many people love the city so much. I can only come to the conclusion I missed something, and maybe a different time of year would help Rome to redeem itself. Until then, it remains the city that broke my heart. 

Most of the photo's I took were bad, so instead I aimed for tops of buildings and blank walls which didn't attract the tourists, here are my favourites... Enjoy ♥


Friday, May 08, 2015

Venice | Italy

Last summer I travelled through Italy and I wrote a post about all the lessons I took from the incredible experience. One lesson was not to form a judgement until I had seen somewhere with my own eyes. I thought Venice would smell and induce panic attacks from all the birds in the city (I have an intense phobia of birds). I also thought Rome would be a history lesson of all history lessons, filled with beautiful cobbled streets, little hidden coffee shops and panoramic views that would bring scenes of Eat Pray Love to life... I could not have been more wrong.

I thought it was about time that I explained myself in more detail, and what better way to start than with the city that stole my heart.

When I think of Venice (which happens often), one word comes to mind... magical.

As I stumbled off the train last June and stood in front of the entrance staring into the city at sundown, everything was seemingly picturesque. It was as if I had fallen onto a Disney set and somebody was going to jump out screaming 'CUT,' moving away the backdrop. I waited, but nothing happened.

The view was simply beautiful. Old, quaint, Italian buildings, fighting to stay above the water, as boats glided past and the sun laid down to rest. It took a few moments to digest what I was seeing and it is a memory that I hope never fades.

We spent three days wandering the city of Venezia, with narrow streets and tall buildings either side, it's easy to get lost. Every time you think you're going in the right direction, you hit water, and are forced to head back the way you came. It's a maze, but being lost often results in finding magic.

Piazza San Marco is the most popular place in the city, but not at 6am or 9pm. Early in the morning and late at night it becomes a ghost town - absolute perfection if you can't stand huge crowds - and the architecture is otherworldly!

Murano was my kind of place. Quiet, quaint, picturesque and homely. There was something very traditional about this little Island situated right next to a city filled with tourists. It felt like home - and the only way to go home, was by boat.

The water bus in Venice is fundamental. Buy a pass (50euro for 72 hours), jump on board and head to the back of the boat. There's four seats outside and they will provide you with the most incredible views of the entire city. Watch the waves splash against the side of the boat as you head out into the open sea, and marvel at the panoramic view of the city. I spent more time on water than I did on land and I don't regret a second of it.

During our first day there was a heavy thunderstorm. Streets were flooded, cameras were broken and a few hours were spent hiding under a bridge watching the thunder and lightening above our heads. We were soaked and smelly, but even in the pouring rain I had a smile on my face. No storm could dim the beauty of Venice.

There are many places I have wanted to return to, but so far I have never been to the same place twice. Venice will be my first. I have to go back. I need to go back. I want to learn my way around the maze, stay in a hotel on the water and look out my window in the morning watching the boats go past.

Here are some photos that in no way do the city justice, but I hope you enjoy them regardless ♥


Tuesday, May 05, 2015

I ♥ Consent.

It was Christmas Eve 2014 and I was celebrating with some friends in a local bar. We spent most of the evening on the dance floor, screaming our hearts out to Jessie J (because who doesn't) and cooling off in the garden, when busting shapes resulted in hair stuck to your face. I'm sure I'm creating a beautiful image in your minds.

It was while heading to the bar for a round of drinks that a young man, or rather 'boy,' as I shall refer to him here, took it upon himself to engage in eye contact as I passed. I smiled in a friendly manner, which apparently is so rare today that many mistake it for flirtation, before grabbing our drinks from the bar. 

Eye contact however, soon turned to physical contact as when he saw me next he put his arm around me, sending a wink in my direction. I carefully removed his arm from my shoulder, telling him that I did not wish to be touched, while trying to remain polite. After all, I'm not one to knock a guy's confidence and it appeared to be seemingly innocent. 

The next time I passed, the physical contact became more persistent, and much more annoying. He grabbed my arm to pull me closer and with a firm grip, it took some effort to get him off. I wasn't feeling intimidated, this was my local and I had friends and family close by, but it was a nuisance.

Before long, he grabbed a part of my body that wasn't my arm, and suddenly I had gone from annoyed to angry. I was lucky enough to possess a sober head, and began sternly expressing my agitation while simultaneously pushing him off of me. He looked at me blankly and I couldn't work out whether he was unable to speak English, or just extremely drunk. Regardless, I didn't seem to be getting anywhere by way of communication. 

I headed over to the entrance and grabbed one of the bouncers who I knew fairly well, explaining that a guy was making me extremely uncomfortable and despite attempts to avoid him, it was seeming impossible. The bouncer was lovely, informing me that he would keep an eye on us and if the 'sexual pest', as he labelled him, touched me again, he would be removed from the club. The harassment continued, each time I thought about how much I needed to do weights as my physical weakness wasn't helping my situation. Sadly in a busy bar however, the bouncer saw nothing, and neither did my overprotective brother, who had joined us on our night out and (luckily) remained in the garden all evening. 

I ended up avoiding the bar, but a dire need for the bathroom meant I was pushed into leaving the safety net of my brother and his friends. I managed to head out undetected, and on my return I bumped into a guy from school. We stood by the bar having a lovely catch up before deciding to head outside, away from the music, where we could hear each other properly. Queue 'boy.' I felt myself squirm, as he appeared drunker and more active in his walk towards me. He grabbed my waist and I immediately stuck my arms out, telling him to stop. My words appeared to have no effect. 

Then I witnessed something magical, an eye-opening scene that was so uncanny I could have been in Narnia. My friend from school stepped forward, put his hand on this guy's (boy's) shoulder and shook his head. Within seconds, the extremely drunk, possibly non-english-speaking boy, straightened his back as if instantaneously sobering up, and said, 'sorry mate, I didn't realise she was with you.' I stood, shell shocked, like I had been slapped across the face by Muhammad Ali. He spoke? English? And he was sober enough to put together a sentence? Almost three hours of harassment, and I had received no verbal communication, but the second a man says no, it's time to back off. 

I would love to say that this was the first time this has happened to me, but it wasn't, and I'm certain it won't be the last. It's a shame that there are men (and I'm sure women) in the world who think sexual harassment, and in some instances sexual assault, is a form of flattery. I was told while on holiday, when somebody grabbed my behind, that I should take it as a compliment. When I woke up the next day with bruises, somehow I didn't feel complimented but instead violated. 

This is no doubt the reason that I tend to avoid clubs, but sadly it's not just clubs and bars where this sort of behaviour occurs. I remember, aged fifteen, explaining to a boy in the year below me at school, that he should really ask girls' permission before he puts his hand up their skirts. He replied with the word 'frigid' - implying that not wanting to be sexual assaulted somehow made me averse to sexual contact altogether. 

Communication by way of words appears to be unnecessary within a youth culture accustomed to headache inducing music, way too much alcohol and clubs as the number one location for leading to one night stands. What's important, is that there is nothing wrong with that, as long as when communication is formed, particularly in the shape of the word 'no,' you are not ignored. 

Consent is fundamental, and it is becoming seemingly more apparent that it needs to be taught. Everyone gives their daughters lectures on the importance of not giving the 'wrong impression,' not walking home in the dark and my personal favourite, wearing 'appropriate' clothing because all these things will prevent you from gaining attention. As much as they should be irrelevant, these instructions are common because sexual assault is real and apparently something that us women have control over. But who teaches their sons about the meaning and importance of consent? We become so invested in telling our daughters how to avoid unwanted sexual advances, that we forget to tell our sons not to make them in the first place. 

Somewhere along the line, wires have been crossed and the line between right and wrong appears to have faded (particularly when alcohol is blurring one's judgement). Campaigns, such as 'I ♥ Consent,' which are taking place at a number of UK universities, are working their magic and bringing these issues to people's attention, hopefully finding a solution to this overwhelming issue of miscommunication.

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