Often overlooked in favour of Northern Italy’s other big hitters (Florence, Milan and Venice, I’m looking at you), Bologna is an underrated gem which, dare I say it, I much preferred to its northerly neighbour, Florence.
Florence is synonymous with the Renaissance, and I’d wager most visitors to Florence venture to at least one of its museums to catch a glimpse of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus or Michelangelo’s David. Not us.
Once upon a time, Ostia was a thriving port city with over fifty thousand inhabitants and a buzzing social scene (a theatre, plus public baths and taverns aplenty). Over time, attention shifted to Portus – a harbour on the north of the River Tiber – and Civitavecchia – a city sixty-odd kilometres to the north-west of Rome. Trade in Ostia slowed, and the city fell into decline.
Rome took me surprise, in a good way. I expected it to be busy – and it was, but not excessively so (travelling in shoulder season certainly helped). I expected it to be rainy, because the weather forecast looked dire for the few days we’d be there – but it was balmy. I expected it to expensive – and while I’m sure it can be, I found it wasn’t all that difficult to visit on the cheap.
East Anglia is home to some glorious stretches of sand and shingle. From Hunstanton’s pinky-red cliffs and Blakeney Point’s grey seal colony (if you want to see oodles of adorable seal pups, now’s the time to go) to Cromer’s sandy shores and the colourful beach huts of Southwold, there’s a beach for everyone and every season.
If you tuned in to London 2012, chances are you’ll have caught a glimpse of a cherry-red, spaghetti-like structure in the corner of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Designed by Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond, the ArcelorMittal Orbit is a fusion of design and engineering; an icon of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Tour du Mont Blanc fini. Hello, lie-in, I thought. Alas, it’s not to be: I wake up at half six, sans alarm clock. (Trust me, there’s no chance of me waking up at that hour without an alarm these days.) I doze for another couple of hours; half-eight is a bit more like it. Time for a spot of pastry-hunting. There’s no shortage of boulangeries and cafés to try in Chamonix, but we opt for tried-and-tested Le Fournil Chamoniard. I chomp my way through a pain aux raisins; Laurence opts for a croix de Savoie myrtille (a cross-shaped pastry, filled with crème pâtissière and blueberries) and a café au lait.