I knew this Monday was going to be more difficult than usual. Nevertheless, at 8.42am, I found myself staring blankly past my computer screen in a zombie-like state (due, in large part, to jet lag) unnervingly surprised at the sudden – almost physically painful – onset of post-holiday blues.
This time last week, I was lying on a sunny beach in Sicily with a book in hand, basically getting a free hot stone massage from the pebbly shoreline that Italians call a beach. It was divine. And it sure as hell beat the uncomfortably-ergonomic office chair (with no massage features) that I’m sitting in this Monday.
Yes, I have just returned from 4 blissful weeks of (unpaid – gah!) leave in Europe. This gallivant was a bit more targeted than usual, trying to hit at least 4 cities/countries that I have never been to, but it ended up being the perfect balance of city exploring and beachside relaxing.
Now I get to re-live the memories and share my highlights with you as I try to soothe these post-holiday blues away! There are so many things I could say and suggest for each city, but I’ve tried to keep it a short and sweet post. Hope it’s useful!
Drop in for High Tea at The Ritz! I’ve had my fair share of English breakfast tea and finger sandwiches, but The Ritz has the perfect balance of excellent tea (a must), a good selection of sandwich fillings and sweets, ambience and proper British culture (I should know – I do have a British passport after-all…) The scones are not the best I’ve ever had but overall it’s an excellent way to spend a few hours in London. It’s £50 per person and you will need to book in advance.
I’m not going to deny the fact that the day I went to Sandham just-so-happened to be the first and only day of sunshine in Stockholm… so there could be some bias! But getting out of the city was a great decision. It’s a couple of hours on the ferry but Sandham has everything you need for the day – some knick-knack shops, great restaurants for a lazy long lunch, mini golf course for a mid-afternoon swing and outdoor music and bar by the water. If you want an even greater finish to the day, head back into Stockholm for a late night bite at Gondalen – fine dining while suspended above Stockholm’s harbour with panoramic views of the city? Oh alright then!
Nothing much beats a summers night in Copenhagen. Ride your hire bike down to Tivoli Gardens – one of the most famous and oldest amusement parks in the world – after 8pm (avoid the kids) to have some cotton candy, ride a rollercoaster and watch an outdoor movie on the grass. An alternative but equally fun idea is to grab a take away pizza from Itzi Pitzi in Vesterbro (a clear local favourite), a bottle of vino (nothing against street drinking in Copenhagen!) and chill on the nearby grass.
This was my second trip to Rome and the romantic allure of this city never ceases to surprise me. And if it’s romance you seek, you should head to Hotel Eden for dinner and drinks on their balcony. Admittedly, it is ridiculously over-priced – even for Europe – but the memory of a romantic dinner watching the pink clouds of sunset over Vatican City has got to be priceless right?
Naples and Pompeii
A very curious city that, as it turns out, as a tourist destination tends to attract a lot of haters. If you want to experience the best of Naples, stay in the Old Town for a (maximum!) of two days and spend your time people watching and eating pizza and Sfogliatella. (It’s a traditional filo pastry in Naples filled with citrus-infused ricotta deliciousness.) A visit to Pompeii is an absolute must (and, to be honest, the main reason most people will find themselves in Naples). But, skip the lines and the stress and hire a private tour guide – it sounds kind of indulgent but is actually great value for money. Otherwise you are at risk of spending a lot of time looking at marble columns and piles of rubble without much idea of what’s going on. I highly recommend Lello – a brightly coloured character on the inside and out, he gave an extremely knowledgeable 2.5 – 3 hour tour of Pompeii for €200 for two people.
If you find yourself on the winding cliff tops of Positano on the Amalfi Coast, do yourself a favour and make dinner reservations at Trattoria La Tagliata. It’s a fixed price, family style menu – and a family-run kitchen. The food was traditional Italian at its best and for a measly €35 each, including 5 courses, unlimited wine and water. The view isn’t bad either – the vast and seemingly-never-ending but still Adriatic ocean, against the rugged cliffs of the Mediterranean coast (and, if you time it right, those pink sunset clouds again) is well worth the visit alone.
I’d always heard rumours that southern Italy and Sicily were the most beautiful and less tourist-ravaged parts of the boot – so I couldn’t wait to visit Taormina on the coast of Sicily this time around. It was just as beautiful as I expected but filled with Italian tourists! You know it must be good if it’s where the locals go on holiday. If you find yourself in this neck of the woods, track down Massimo and do a Sicilian Cooking Class. It includes a market tour, hands-on cooking lesson (legit – you will be hand-gutting anchovies and rolling pasta almost immediately) and a gourmet lunch featuring the fruits of your labour and bottles of wine. It’s a small group of 6 – 8 and you never know who you might meet! I can now say I’ve rolled pasta with The Deirdre O’Connor – the first female Federal Court judge in Australia. Who’d have thought?