Monday, 7 July 2014

Discovering Venice

As all famous cities are mid Summer, Venice is a gaggle of tourists and tacky souvenirs. So if you’re not into group tours of more than 50 people following around a red umbrella raised above some unenthusiastic man's head (I have no idea why people find this an exciting prospect) then don’t follow the crowd, discover the real Venice.

Myth busting- Venice is expensive, smells of sewage, and is full of sleezy Italian men.  Walk the tourist route and yes you’ll pay twenty quid for a microwave pizza, get a few stenchy whiffs, and those risqué shorts and strappy top will attract a good few romantic invitations. So opt for a local haunt, avoid the dustbins, try to avoid the school holidays... maybe go in Winter and wrap up warm. A year of living in the sinking city and you realise that if you dress and act like a tourist then you’ll get the tourist experience, but don some jeans, trainers, and an unstylish purple shiny puffer jacket and the locals welcome you as one of their own.
Drenched in rich culture and history, Venice is architecturally inspiring and atmospheric. After a wander around St Mark’s square and a vaporetto ride at sunset you’ll realise that it’s more fairy-tale than the Magic Kingdom.
To me Venice signifies sensational wines, timeless fashion, delicious food and cultural beauty. Oh, and a drunken Erasmus year spent ‘studying’ the local bars.

Considering a day in Venice?  Have a look at my day plan:
  • Begin the day early with a visit to a coffee and pastry shop. Tonolo, a local favourite hidden away by the university in Dorsoduro, serves fantastic coffee, miniature cakes and pastries which are so popular they often sell out by mid morning.
  • Beat the hoard of tourists spilling off the cruise ships by getting to St Mark’s basilica as early as possible, ideally 9am at the latest.  Soak in the beauty and opulent design of the city’s most famous church. If you have time, go to the top of the bell tower opposite for spectacular views over Venice.
  • Hop on a vaporetto (waterbus) to Ca’ Rezzonico and choose one of the local eateries to get a platter of ham and cheese accompanied by a glass of wine (don’t worry, drinking wine before midday is totally encouraged!)

  • Grab a gelato from the best ice cream shop in existence, Grom. You will have walked past it not long after you got off the vaporetto. Take full advantage of the free tasters while deciding your flavours. Enjoy this in the bustling square of Campo Santa Margherita which is an ideal spot to people watch.

  • Unless there is a particular gallery you want to see or if you’re feeling flush and fancy a cheeky gondola ride, I would spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around the streets taking photos, getting lost and indulging in a few more drinks. Maybe stop for a few cicchetti (snacks),or  try a Mozzarella in Carrozza (fried Mozzarella sandwich)  unless you’re on a diet!

  • Jump on a vaporetto (waterbus) to Rialto bridge and take a snap of this must see bridge in its daytime madness.

  • You will have noticed everyone sipping on a fluorescent orange beverage... this is not lucozade. If you haven’t already had the pleasure, I introduce you to Spritz- sparkling white wine or wine and soda, with aperol (or campari if you have no tastebuds). Have one at Muro bar by Rialto bridge.

  • Find another local eatery and order a pizza. (Send me a message if you want a few recommendations) Wherever you end up, just make sure you don’t get a tourist menu as they are always poorer quality!

Got longer than a day? Try these too...

The small islands of Murano (famous for its glass) and Burano (famous for its lace and brightly coloured houses). Great for photographers and beautiful at sunset .
Lido beach. A great place to get away from the hype with a bottle of Fragolino.
Visit some of the many art galleries Venice has to offer.
Doge’s palace in St Mark’s square.
Go to the opera.
Giudecca’s women’s prison.
San Michele-The Cemetery island. A weird suggestion but really quite impressive.
Send me a message if you want any more tips!

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Fight for what you want

As we get older, getting what we want becomes increasingly less frequent. This is probably due to the fact that our wants have upgraded somewhat from 'I want an ice creeaaam!' to 'I want to win the lottery'. Our wants grow bigger as we grow up.. 

But how do we know if what we want is achievable; are we just chasing dreams or is there a chance that we can make them come true? Unfortunately a date with Ryan Gosling or Sienna Miller is highly improbable no matter how much you tweet them, but a date with that cute barista at your local coffee shop, or that (can you be more than my) friend .. Why not?
Actually, lottery winning aside, plenty of our desires are achievable, but a lot of the time we are too scared to put ourselves out there and take the risk. Far too often we limit ourselves with the fear of failure and rejection. But fear is what makes things exciting (Hi I'm Laura and I'm a thrill seeker)! Don't be restricted by it, be empowered by it. You want a date.. Ask. You want a pay rise because you know you work twice as hard as that  lazy cow in the office.. Ask. And if at first you get shot down, put on a bullet proof vest and try again. Just because you didn't get what you wanted the first time around doesn't mean you'll never get it. 
Embrace your inner child: when you were six and you wanted to go to the park you would ask (aka 'pester') your begrudging parents if they would take you, knowing full well they would say no. You weren't afraid of failure, or the rollocking you would get off your mum, you kept badgering on, hopeful that there was a chance (all be it a small one) that they would cave in and you would get what you wanted (take off those rose tinted spectacles, I wasn't the only demanding child).  
So I guess what I'm trying to say is, don't be afraid to fight for what you want, embrace fear and accept that yes, rejection and failure is a fact of life, but 'feel the fear and do it anyway' (one of my mum's most memorable mottos). 

...and on the theme of lottery winning; remember you can never win the jackpot unless you play the game!

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Conquer that fear!

There are the classic fears of spiders, heights, and enclosed spaces. The obscure and ridiculous ones such as a fear of socks, cotton wool or losing phone signal (nomophobia is a genuine a phobia...I told you there are some ridiculous ones). Worst of all are the subconscious ones which creep up on you in your sleep and terrify you as nightmares.  Whether you’re a hard nut who laughs in the face of danger, or a massive hypochondriac who squeals when someone puts mushrooms in their meal (like my fella), we’ve all got a fear.

Two years ago my biggest fears were spiders and heights. I had vivid nightmares about being on the top floor of a shopping centre and there being no railings to stop me tripping and falling off the side. I would pelt out a horror film scream if even a tiny money spider crawled past me.  With this in mind, my decision to go to Australia, a country famous for its deadly spiders and dramatic cliffs and gorges, may have seemed a little absurd. Yet determined not to let my fears control me, I booked my one way flight and prayed for the best (no point in wasting money on a return flight if I may not survive!).

It was very early morning when I arrived, but my spider sensor kept me exceptionally alert. It began with checking the bus seat before I sat down, and quickly escalated to insisting the windows be kept shut in the hostel room despite it being a sweltering 38 degrees (obviously spiders can only get in via windows and doors). As you may expect, I wasn’t the most popular person in the hostel. On my first night in Oz I managed a meager 3 hours of sleep, and that was just because my boyfriend lied and told me that he would keep watch to make sure no spiders crawled into my mouth while I was sleeping. The ‘every person eats an average of 7 spiders in their lifetime’ fact becomes slightly more petrifying when you’re surrounded by red back and funnel web arachnids (aka the killers!).

Yet somehow, amid showering with my poisonous eight legged friends and trekking to gigantic gorges and waterfalls in the Kimberley, I overcame my fears. The stupidity of having to be surrounded by an infestation of truly deadly spiders to finally overcome my fear of them makes no sense to me, but it worked. I now have two well fed daddy long leg spiders living above my front door, and rather than squash them, I leave them there to eat all of the pesky flies, and to remind me not to let fear stop me from doing anything. Give it a go; climb to the top of a tall building and peer off the edge, dare yourself to take the lift, let a spider crawl across your hand (maybe not a poisonous one though), and I bet you’ll feel proud afterwards.  Take control and conquer your fears!