Milan (Italy)

Type : City Break
Best Date : Summer April-July
Expense :  Medium
Things to do : Shopping, Sightseeing,
Points of Interest: Duonmo, San Siro, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Sforza Castle, Last Supper, ect

Brief

Milan is the capital of the Lombardy region  in the north of Italy. The city highlights both old and modern Italy with the city hosting many exclusive events such as the Fashion Week but also homing many historic artifacts, most notable being  the ‘Last Supper’ painting by Leonardo Da Vinci. Milan is also the country’s main financial, industrial and business centre and gets its luxury profile by being the fashion capital of the world.

The Place

Milan for me was small but extravagant, the city in a tourist’s perspective would be concentrated around the Duonmo area, with only Sforza castle and the San Siro probably being the other major places to visit in Milan.

20170813_100838Duonmo which is the most visited area of Milan is home to the ‘Milan Cathedral’ which in my opinion is the cover attraction of the city. Milan Cathedral which like many around the world is a church dedicated to Mary of the nativity and is said to be one of the largest church in Italy along with ‘St Peter’s Basilica’ in the Vatican. The building itself was amazing, every block and corner had statues which you would have thought would only be found in museums. Entering the church is quite annoying as there is a ticket charge (for a place of worship), however it is only 3 euros which also permits entry to their museum which is just left of the cathedral. The collection in the museum is actually worthwhile as it had many different religious art the cathedral has or had in the past.

Just left of the Cathedral is a special arcade of sh20170811_164225ops, the ‘Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II’ which has an amazing architecture, the shops and restaurants here are luxury with upper class restaurants and high end Italian fashion chains such as Armani, Prada, Gucci and Versace being the brands with stores in this small outside mall. The building has of 4 quarters with a roof installation that consists of a huge glass iron dome in the centre, all buildings were also covered with a luxurious decorative design which illustrated the extravagance of its resident shops and restaurants. Further more the floor are also a thing of beauty as rather just a plain old concrete or tilling, a beautiful art and mosaic display is at you just at your feet throughout the building. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II  also has the ‘Town house Galleria’ which is a 5 star hotel and the most central of Milan.

Sforza castle is another amazing place in the city, it is just a 15 minute walk from Milan cathedral. The castle which is also easily visited through many of the surrounding metro stations, is situated at the front of ‘Sempione Park’ which also has another attraction in the ‘Arco della Pace’. Renovated and enlarged through three different centuries of a late gothic and early renaissance fortification, the castle is now a museum which host many of the cities art collection. When I was there a Michael Angelo exhibition was on which seemed very popular, however the castle itself is a sight to see and very nice to roam around.

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‘San Siro’ is another place to visit if you like football, it is the largest stadium in Italy and is the home ground of both of Milan’s  major teams Inter and AC Milan. The stadium itself is away from the centre of the city however it is possible to reach by metro with various stops surrounding the stadium. San Siro is the largest stadium in Italy and one of the largest in Europe with just over 80,000 seating capacity. The architecture is not as impressive like other stadiums around Europe as it is also one of the oldest, being built in 1925. Nonetheless it is still massively visited by football enthusiast whether on match days or not.

A huge turnout in Milan usually happens when the world famous ‘Milan Fashion Week’ occurs. This event happens twice a year for the autumn/ winter and spring/ summer collections, and is one of the big four fashion week of London, Paris and New York. Within this week there are many celebrities, photographers and press around Milan.

Overall as a major city, Milan proves to be smaller than other European destinations. Although only a number of attractions and landmarks, they are not without their merits. Milan also has plenty of treasures that people come to see,such as the ‘Last Supper’ in ‘Santa Maria delle Grazie’. A popular time to visit Milan would be on one of their fashion weeks, which would make Milan much more extravagant. Visiting Milan should not be limited to staying within the city, as a quick day tour to Lake Como is also very popular with tourists.

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Zaragoza (Spain)

Type : City Break
Best Date : ?

Expense :
Cheap
Things to do
Visit Museums, Cathedral
Points of Interest: Plaza del pillar square, Nuestra Señora del Pilar Basilica, Aljaferia Palace, Zaragoza market, Goya Museum, Caesar Agustas Museum.

Brief

The city of Zaragoza is the capital of ‘Aragon’ a region on the north east of Spain. Zaragoza is a growing city with a population of over 600,000 people, the city is well known for being a place for pilgrimage.

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The Place

Zaragoza for me was a quick visit, and I don’t think you can stay longer than 2 nights without roaming the city over and over again, resulting in boredom. One thing is clear and that  it is a place for many museum exhibition, whether cultural, historic, religious and arts.

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The cover attraction of Zaragoza is the ‘Nuestra Señora del Pilar Basilica’ which towers high in the main square of Zaragoza the ‘Plaza del Pillar Square’. The Basilica which is a Roman Catholic church, dedicated to the virgin Mary under her title lady Pillar which Pope John Paul praised as the mother of the Hispanic people. Situated at the centre of Zaragoza, the basilica is visited by many tourists for its beauty, overlooking the Ebro river there are many angles for a terrific photograph. However the Lady Pillar basilica is a operating church and going inside strict rules are applied, firstly you wont be able to enter if you have a vest or unappropriate clothing and at many areas of the church, picture or video taking is not allowed.

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Surrounding the basilica there are many other different monuments, museums and churches  for visitors. Many museums are free however some such as the ‘Goya Museum’ have an entrance fee. Surrounding ‘Plaza del Pilar Square’ there is an arcade full of shops, many retails shops and some antique and older boutiques. A great aspect of Zaragoza are the free walking tours the Zaragoza has to promote the city you could see many different groups and with all different languages.

Overall Zaragoza is a well thought out medium city, which visibly wants its tourist industry to grow. For me Zaragoza was amazing, but could have done with more people (tourists) around to liven up the city as it was very empty, however the hotel did tell me that it was the wrong time (July) for tourists. Nonetheless I can see the city has its strong aim to promote tourism in their city and I can see the future is very bright for them.

 

 

Bellagio / Como (Italy)

Type : Culture, Luxury
Best Dates :
Summer April – August
Expense :
Expensive
Things to do :
Dine, Photography, Shopping, Cruises
Points of Interest:
Lake Como

Brief

Bellagio is a small village in ‘Como’ province within the Lombardy region in northern Italy. The village is situated at the pinpoint location of the upside down ‘Y’ shape of lake Como with one of the best panoramic views of the lake. The Como region has been a haven for celebrities and the show business lifestyle with residence such as George Clooney, Catherine Zeta Jones, Richard Branson and more alike. The ‘Como’ region has also been featured in many blockbuster movies, most notable being Star wars, James Bond, Ocean Eleven and many more.

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The Experience

If you are looking for a luxurious place to unwind with terrific panoramic views for plenty picture taking and a taste full of authentic Italian flavours, then Bellagio would be an Italian village to visit. However all villages around ‘Como’ are alike, keeping in mind that Bellagio is one of the most visited village around the area, visiting here would more or less fulfil the experience of the other villages.

Firstly to visit the ‘Como’ region it is possible to drive however with minimal parking and congested roads it is advised to reach the region by train arriving at ‘Como station’, from there it is usually the norm to take the ferry to which ever village you desire. The ferries take around 2 hours to do the full circuit where people get on and off at different ports. In my experience on using the ferries was that it was very full and looked overloaded, but it was peak holiday season so this could be understood. Nonetheless using the ferry is something I advise to do, as the scenery you see is one of a kind.

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Bellagio is probably one of the main villages to visit around ‘Lake Como’, it is at the centre of the lake with many restaurants, hotels and shops. Bellagio itself is small but has plenty of character, everything was authentic Italian. There were many restaurants to choose from, cheaper restaurants were further up the village and the more expensive ones were lakeside. Food was mainly Italian seafood with many restaurants serving local catches. Shops also had Italian products selling artwork and clothes made locally.

All buildings in the village looks well preserved but one main building that stands out is the ‘Chiesa San Giacomo’ which is the local church. However every structure made the village what it is with the stone stairway and alley ways also adding characteristics. A walk around the village is tiring but also very pleasing, the only way to describe the atmosphere in Lake Como is like being in a movie such as ‘James Bond’ where interestingly enough ‘Casino Royal’ hosted the movie in one of their scenes.

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Overall Bellagio or any villages around ‘Lake Como’ has class and if you are looking for a holiday to unwind, have authentic Italian food surrounded by exceptional scenery then Lake Como is a place you’ll need to visit. However do save a bit as it can get very expensive around the area, hotels can range to an average of £300 per night, and meals could cost 30 euros for a main meal. If staying here will prove to be too expensive, I advise to just stay in Milan and plan a day trip as in my opinion day is enough to enjoy this place.

click for my Bellagio Gallery

Marseille/Provence (France)

Type : City Break, Beach
Best Date :  April- August
Expense :  Fair
Things to do : city tours, cruises, shopping, dining
Points of Interest: Vieux Port, Notre Dam de la Garde, Palais Longchamp, Marseille Cathedral, Calanque National Park, Pointe Rouge ect

Brief

Provence is a region in south east of France, which includes cities such as Montpellier, Avignon and Cannes. The Romans made this region into their first settlement which they called ‘Provincia Romana’ which has since evolved through the years. The largest city in Provence is ‘Marseille’ a port city used for cruise, freight and commerce ships. Marseille is and has been the main port of trade throughout the years, being the main entry point of France from Africa. Today tourism has taken heights with Marseille being a huge layover for many cruise ships, here tourists have the chance to enjoy Marseille’s architecture, culture, natural beauty and history dating back to the ancient Greeks.

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The Place

Marseille was a pleasure to visit, it was warm and sunny (beginning of july) with many friendly and lively people. Firstly Marseille is a relatively huge city and unlike many other places in the world where the attractions are close and a walk away from each other, Marseille has nearly all of their touristic areas far apart, which either means lots of walking or lots of transports. However there is many ways in order to make visiting all areas easier with minimal walking and using different of different transport and that is by using their hop on hop off bus tours which has 12 stops to all Marseille has to offer.

There are also many different points of interest to go and visit in Marseille, main one (in my opinion) being the Notre Dam de la Garde, which towers over Marseille just like ‘Christ the Redeemer’ in Rio de Janiero  Brazil. However the Notre Dam de la Garde is more than a statue but a church/ basilica which was built for the virgin Mary said to watch over the sailors. Underneath  the basilica is a crypt also available to be visited without any tickets. Another place to visit is Marseille Cathedral which like many cathedrals around the world have a special roman structures. About a 20minute walk away from the cathedral is the Museum of European and Mediterranean civilization, which is a very nice building but to be honest I have got no idea what it is inside. Connected to this with a newly built bridge is Fort St Jean which is a nicely preserved.

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As Marseille is a port city, it is only right that there would be boat cruises to nearby attractions. There are many different companies offering tours to many different places, there are tours just across the beach to Chateu D’If , some cruises to other ports of Provence and some across the Calanques National Park. Many cruise tours stop over places for people to get off and have a swim and others are solemnly just a ride around.

Marseille has plenty different activities which visitors can do, and if you are adventurous, strolling and even biking around Calanques national park is a popular feature. Water Sports and activities are also huge in Marseille with scuba diving, snorkelling, kayaking , paddle boarding, are just some of the many activities done in Marseille waters. Adrenaline seekers will also find Marseille pleasing as there are now many companies offering canyoning or an orienteering race.

If a stroll is more like your holiday Marseille has plenty of places to do so, Vieux Port which every morning has a fisherman’s market selling the daily catch is a brilliant area to have a walk. Another place I heard was a nice place to have a walkathon is the ‘National Park’ just 30 minutes outside of Marseille.

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Overall I fully enjoyed Marseille and all it had to offer, it is a city full of tourists whether a stopover on their cruise ships, or purposely visiting the city. There are many different hotels and restaurants at different budgets for everybody and many of their attractions are free.

Transport

Getting there

Marseille is a very popular destination in the south of France, and it attracts scores of people throughout the year. There are plenty modes of transport that can be taken to go to Marseille from around the world.

Firstly by train, Marseille has many domestic and international rail journeys to St Charles train station. SNCF is the main company which connects Marseille, however SNCF-Renfre partnership also has journeys coming from Spain.

There are also many airline carriers that operate in Marseille Provence Airport. Only British Airways is the only notable direct flight from LHR and only 1 of 3 from London. Other airlines flying from London to Marseille are ‘Easy jet’ which flies from Gatwick and ‘Ryan air’ which flies from Stanstead. Other airlines including ‘Air France’ have a stop over so it will not be too convenient as the 3 direct flights.

In Marseille

Getting to Marseille from the airport is a bit more difficult than other cities. There is no subway system and the nearest train station is a 15minute walk. The best way to travel is by the  airport-city coach which takes you straight from the airport and into St Charles train station which is central to the city.

Once in Marseille there are various modes of transport you can take buses, metro subway, tram and even by boat.

The metro (subway) in Marseille consists of only 2 lines identified a simple metro ‘1’and ‘2’. Metro 2 journeys north to south, whilst  Metro 1 is a U shaped starting from ‘La Rose’ which goes inwards to ‘Vieux Port’ the outwards to ‘La Fourragere. Both lines interlinks at St Charles which is the main train station of Marseille and Castellene.

I was very impressed with the tram system in Marseille, it was new, modern, very easy to use and spacious. You can see that Marseille has put a lot of thought to their trams and the carriages were designed with a futuristic modern appearance, inside the tram was air-conditioned and had lots of space, very comfortable. There is 3 lines to the Marseille tram system, T1,T2 and T3.

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There were many different bus journeys available in Marseille, however their intervals can be far apart, which means longer waits and fuller buses. I took 3 buses on my time in Marseille and they were all alike. The buses were very comfortable, air-conditioned and had fast journeys, I didn’t have any problem with them apart from the long waits and packed buses.

As Marseille is mainly a port city, it was just right that boat transport would be available. Between many of the different boat ports such as ‘Port Rouge’ were I scuba dived, and ‘Vieux Port’ there are now boat journeys. I didn’t try them so I cant really write about it.

Transport in Marseille is very easy and straight forward, so even the most amateur of travellers shouldn’t get lost.

Click for Marseille Gallery

Pamplona (Spain)

 

Type : Provincial
Best Date : 
July
Expense :
Cheap normally, Expensive when San Fermin Festival is on
Things to do :  
Cultural, Watch Bull fight, San Fermin Festival
Points of Interest: Pamplona Cathedral, San Nicolas, Plaza del Castillo, Museum of Navarre, Palacio de Navarre, Pamplona Park ect

Brief

Pamplona or Iruna is the largest and most prolific city of the Spanish province of Navarre. Most noted for being the host of the ‘San Fermin’ festival (famous for the Encierro, bull run) which is said to be the most exciting cultural event with huge turnouts each year. Apart from the San Fermin there is plenty of other reasons people visit the city, having a huge religious and historic up bringing, many pilgrims visit the city all year round.

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The Place

Once you arrive in Pamplona ( I arrived through Pamplona/ Iruna train station) you can feel the difference, the age and strong preserved culture of this city. Pamplona is small and it is possible to walk around the city and getaway without using public transport, as I didn’t need one at all. However I do want to stress one thing and that is the approachability of many locals is very bad, helping is not something they are familiar with and it seems they are just fed up of tourists, that’s my experience anyway but I do not believe all Pamplona residents are like that.  Apart from its people Pamplona as a city is superb and although difficult to find your way around, all points of interest is very close to each other.20170713_103939

Pamplona’s old town is a spectacle in itself, the bricked floor and concrete layout is something special and people who visit always love it. One thing that is definitely popular in the city is balconies, and it seems that every household has one. The city can be best described as a gothic medieval town with roman influence.

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If you like visiting religious buildings, Pamplona has plenty of them. Firstly the city is heavily catholic as of most of Spain and its patron saint is ‘Saint Fermin’ who the main festival here is named after. Pamplona Cathedral, San Nicolas, Church of San Saturnino, Iglesia de San Lorenzo and many other churches cover the city  and has many history towards them. The city is a huge haven for many pilgrimage hence the large turnout throughout the year.

Other touristic places to visit in Pamplona are those heavily linked to the Bull fighting, the ‘running of the bulls monument’ is situated just outside of the old town and in the more modern high street. This monument is a sight to see and there are plenty of tourists who flock this monument to take pictures. ‘Plaza de Toros de Pamplona’ which is the bull ring, is not too visually pleasing from the outside but is a spectacle to see on the inside, the ring which is still active, welcomes many visitors e20170713_130456ach year.

Beautiful parks are also available throughout Pamplona one of which the river Argo runs through making excellent scenery with the surrounding nature.

Overall Pamplona is a pleasure to visit, the town and buildings are just one of a kind and every step is a photo opportunity. The only huge downer is many (but not all) of its people as they can be aggressive, arrogant and very unhelpful towards tourists. However although my experiences with people haven’t been positive, not all were bad and there are some that are friendly. When the San Fermin festival is on the city can get very expensive and crowded, and at any other time of the year is a bit more laid back. Pamplona is for everyone with families of all ages visit here. If you love a little walkathon through a city full of history then Pamplona is for you.

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