Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Travel Bug's 3 Fascinating Facts About Florence

The Travel Bug's 3 Fascinating Facts About Florence

After a day relaxing in his apartment on the Arno River in Pisa, The Travel Bug awoke the next morning and demanded his humans take him to Florence.    As they're very obedient humans, the packed him in to the car and flitted away to the capital of the region of Tuscany.  

These are the fascinating facts that TTB uncovered while he was crawling/flying throughout the city.

  • TTB discovered that the photos that millions of tourists take of the Statue of Michelangelo's David located outside the Palazzo Vecchio isn't actually the real thing.    The replica stands here, whilst the real statue is housed in the slightly safer venue of Galleria dell'Academia.    So, basically, there are two statues of David, but only one can genuinely be called Michelangelo's.        

  • According to UNESCO, almost 1/3 of the most important works of art IN THE WORLD are located in Florence.    TTB promises not to touch anything he's not supposed to as he doesn't want to get squished by an angry security guard.  Or his humans before they're dragged off to jail.

  • During World War 2, the Germans blew up every bridge in Florence, with the exception of the famous Ponte Vecchio.    It is alleged that Hitler thought it far too beautiful to destroy.     The Travel Bug agrees - but he thinks everything in Florence is beautiful.  

Do you have any fascinating facts about Florence to share with The Travel Bug?


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Brexit: It's Not Me, It's You...

I woke up yesterday morning, happy and relaxed, in a little cabin on the outskirts of Pisa.    I popped on some coffee and headed out to the deck to scroll through the news and out what my fellow Britons had voted the day before in the EU Referendum before I made my way to the airport to fly back and face the music.  

Needless to say, I was very surprised to learn that the UK had, on the whole, voted to leave the EU. Scotland overwhelmingly voted to stay, as did Northern Ireland, London (and my little corner of Gwynedd in North Wales), but we are, as always, outnumbered by English voters and, in this case, also the majority of  Welsh voters.   

The result and the ensuing panic in the markets and unknown future for the UK got me thinking about consequences for...well, everything really.

Brexit: It's Not Me, It's You...
What a view... 
I love being European, as well as Scottish and British and I'm refusing to give that up.   I don't need to be in the EU to be part of the continent of Europe, do I? Switzerland still manages, right?   

I have noticed that the Italian press have been covering the vote very carefully in recent days and, it would appear, they're a *touch* upset.

As I stood in the queue at passport control (with the shiny, beautiful EU booklet I own), I was immediately alarmed by the Italian man standing behind who was making it abundantly clear, in his loud, angry voice, just what he thought of the UK's decision.    

It was like he'd been abandoned by his long term British girlfriend, even thought he knew the breakup was always a possibility.  Clearly, he didn't actually believe she would leave him until he heard the words: 'It's not me, it's you...'.   

His reaction was one of anger and bitter disappointment, so he made sure he let anyone with a British passport know about it by gesticulating wildly and chattering in his fabulously Italian version of English.  Also: he made his points in his native tongue, so there was a lot of 'Es finito! Es finito!' in his bilingual rant.   

Incidentally, he was on my flight back to Liverpool, so I hope he calms down before he lands as I think the the North of England was staunchly in the Leave camp.   He might want to keep his voice down later, lest he bump into someone who voted Leave because of all these bloody foreigners, coming here, spending their money, contributing to our society... 

Once I'd recovered from the angry outburst, I boarded the flight and the Pilot gave his usual update about weather and velocity and stuff. He also let the 200+ people on board know that we were no longer part of Europe and that it was a very sad day indeed for us. Nothing is more panic inducing knowing you're in a plane full of British people at the complete mercy of an angry Italian man.   

We tried desperately to placate him and soften the blow.   OK, Italy; we're sorry, but it appears it just wasn't working out after all.   We seem to have drifted apart somewhat and I just don't know how we can rekindle the flame.   We will always think of you fondly, though. Even if we delete all our old photos of you from our Instagram and Facebook accounts now.   

I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting this when I woke up this morning, but I'm fairly certain this wasn't it.  

Brexit: It's Not Me, It's You...
The fall out might be even worse than more expensive wine.   Heaven forbid.  
I had no idea that Italians (both of them) were quite so fond of us Brits.  They genuinely look like we've totally hurt their feelings.  Sorry, guys.  Please don't take it so personally, we just ditched everyone else, too.

If the price of Italian wine goes through the roof now, I won't even be able to drown my sorrows and drunk dial you after a few glasses to tell you how much I miss you...  

Te amo, Italia.   


Suzanne x 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Travel Bug's 3 Fascinating Facts About Pisa

The Travel Bug's 3 Fascinating Facts About Pisa
Mum....why so squint?? 
TTB is on holiday again!   This time, he took his humans to the beautiful Tuscan city of Pisa to eat pizza, work out how that building is squint and, generally, have a good look around.

These are the fascinating facts he uncovered about Pisa:

  • TTB thought it would be weird if he DIDN'T mention that the Tower of Pisa, which was built as a bell tower for the Duomo in the Square of Miracles in the city centre.  The Tower was already leaning when it was first presented to the public is 1372.     The building continued to tilt until the 1990's when a major project was undertaken to stop the building crashing down.     Workers moved almost 70 tonnes of earth from beneath the tower, thus reducing the tilt by almost 45cm.     Because of this, TTB has decided it should be named The Slightly Less Leaning Tower of Pisa.   That's bound to become a thing, right?

  • Pisa was the city of world renowned scientist, Galileo Galilei   The city's airport bears him name.    Galileo, amongst numerous other incredible achievements, was the man to discover that the surface of the moon was no, as previously suspected, flat; but rather rough.   He also wrote of the rings around Saturn and confirmed that Venus has similar phases to the movement of the Moon.    TTB has absolutely no idea what any of this means, but thinks that Galileo was obviously a very smart human.

  • Pisa is home to Europe's first and oldest University Botanic Gardens.  Orto botanic di Pisa was established in 1544!  

TTB x 

Monday, June 20, 2016

My Hand Luggage Essentials

My Hand Luggage Essentials

I like to travel light.   I’m also pretty lazy on holiday, so I’ve never been one for carting around hairdryers and straighteners.  I barely use them at home, so there’s little chance of me busting them out when I’m supposed to be relaxing.      

The lack of these electrical items generally means that my hand luggage can be difficult to fill.   That and the fact that I can’t obviously fill it with toiletries these days, like I used to. 
Despite my trusty hand luggage not being crammed to the brim, these are the things I can’t live without on any flight:

The Travel Bug:
Obviously.  That little bug is the first thing to be packed ANYWHERE I go, and I’m including Asda and B&Q in that statement.   I feel odd if I leave the house without him now and he’d be a rubbish Travel Bug if he stayed at home in North Wales all the time, wouldn’t he?
TTB sits at the top of my hand luggage and often earns me odd looks from security when they rifle through my stuff looking for liquids, tweezers and Semtex.   
I often worry that some over-alert guard will think my little stuffed amigo has a kilo of heroin stuffed up his bum and will rip him to shreds in front of my eyes, rendering me speechless and heartbroken.    It hasn’t happened yet.    The mere thought of that is the reason I always look so nervous at security.    Honestly…

This little champ is my constant travel companion. The wine in the background is mine.  He prefers red.  
On a flight back from Paris a few weeks ago, I spent the journey home blogging on my phone.  I use the Blogger app, so it means I can just turn on aeroplane mode and furiously type away.    It makes the time pass a bit quicker and makes me feel like I’m being all productive and stuff.  I only start once I’ve read the inflight magazine; obviously…I don’t want to miss out on news about the latest destination.   Or, indeed, any duty free offers on makeup.  

I need this to catch up with The Walking Dead/House of Cards and all the other shows that I never get a chance to watch during a regular week.  Holidays are the only time I really get to properly sit back and do nothing without feeling guilty that I’m sitting back doing nothing.

I also use my iPad for the Audible app every night to help me sleep, so I never leave for a night away without it.   I'm also finding it increasingly difficult to be away from Doug the Pug, Mr Bentley the Bulldog, and an assortment of other social media doggies that make me smile on a daily basis.  

My Hand Luggage Essentials  - iPhone
I need this with me constantly for blogging, Twitter, Insta and reading news.
Baby Wipes:
I rarely go far without baby wipes as they’re perfect for waking yourself up at the end of a flight, keeping you from feeling disgusting on a long haul, or just to take your makeup off on a night flight before you catch some shut eye.   They’re cheap and cheerful and can be used for pretty much anything. 
Also: whipping wipes out on a flight totally makes you look you’ve got your shit together when, in fact,  just because you’ve packed your wet ones doesn’t mean you didn’t leave home without your toothbrush*

Two Purses:
I hate mixing Euros or Dollars in with my Sterling, so I take a little purse which I use to pay for all the overpriced stuff at the airport and then put all my holiday money in my every day purse. 
This means I don’t spend ages looking through coins going ‘ooh, this coin was from my week in Valencia, and this was from…hmmm…might have been Krakow… or maybe Prague…’ *cue memories montage*… while people get all antsy behind me in the queue at the local Carrefour.  I hate that.    

My Hand Luggage Essentials - Two Purses
I can't deal with mixed currencies.  Gotta keep them separate.  
Flip Flops:
It doesn’t matter where on the planet I go, I will find a use for these bad boys; even if it’s just for a few hours on the flight.    I wander around my office with no shoes on most of the time, so the chances of me getting through any kind of travel without taking my shoes off is virtually nil.   
Flip flops practically scream ‘HOLIDAAAAAAAAY!’.   Even picking them up to pack them makes me smile, so actually putting them ON  my feet is my idea of heaven.   Never underestimate the positive, mood enhancing power of flip flops;  they are the Bank Holiday weekend of shoes.  

What are your hand luggage essentials??

*Yes, I have.  

Suzanne x

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Last Minute Trip Planning

I’ve never been one for fanatical planning of holidays or road trips.  If I’m being honest, much of my planning is done at the very last minute.  I have been known to pick up currency on the way to board a flight, but I like to think of this as efficient rather than useless, which is how everyone else seems to view it.

Last Minute Trip Planning
Yeah, this is NOT me.  
A couple of weeks ago, while dozing in bed, Les announced that he’d booked two flights to Pisa.   After waking up fully, I couldn’t recall whether it was a dream or whether it had actually happened.  Turns out; it had actually happened.     

Fast forward to a week before the trip and we had organised nothing.   With seven days left before we hit up Liverpool Airport, I finally conducted a half hour search of AirBnB and found an apartment that fulfilled my needs (Wi-Fi; kitchen with working stove/cooker; good location; balcony for drinking wine...).   I clicked ‘book’ and Boom: we had somewhere to stay.

Immediately after that, I ran through Pisa’s tourism information page and Pinterest, finding relevant articles about what to see and do while I’m there.  I have visited Pisa before, so this didn’t take too much time.  I then did similar searches for Siena and Florence; where I expect to take day trips, and made a note of all the sights I wanted to see.

By this stage of the game, I have friends who would have suitcases packed; routes planned and sat navs programmed, while I’m all over here like: ‘mañana, mañana’.  I see no point in causing myself unnecessary stress before a holiday so that I spend most of my trip trying to unwind.  

Plus, I quite like the whole unknown quantity of my holiday and have no interest in military type planning.  I like to go with the flow and realise that the things I might want to do a month before I go are very unlikely to be the same when I actually get there.   Apart from frequenting my local bar.  I *always* want to do that.   There's something romantic about the notion of aimlessly wandering around Italian streets, finding little places that you didn't know existed and never would have if you hadn't done very minimal planning before you arrived. 

Last Minute Trip Planning
This looks nice.    Ooh, and there's a bar next door.  Who knew?
My packing consists of a few dresses, vest tops, flip flops, money, passport and my trusty Priority Pass, so that I can relax in the airport lounge for a few hours before I board.     Apart from that, if I forget anything, I generally find it's nothing I can't pick up when I reach my destination.  And besides, I LOVE trying out foreign toothpaste - it's one of the many joys of travelling.    I'm not even kidding.

So, as I write this, I'm sat at the dining table, cradling a cup of coffee and pretty much ready to roll jump in the car and head North to Liverpool to spend the day doing, well...clearly I don't actually have anything *planned*, so we'll just have to wait and see what the day brings.

Are you a maniacal trip planner; somewhere in between, or completely relaxed?

Suz x 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

How NOT To Conduct A Visit on Skye

Tales Of A Tourism Adviser

When I first started with VisitScotland, I was informed that I would have to sell my own car and take out a lease through the company.  This was to ensure my safety because of the sheer number of miles that I would have to travel backwards and forwarded (and occasionally sideways) throughout Scotland.    

What is also meant was that I got to choose a shiny new car to scoot about in.   I chose a snow white Ford Fiesta with 3 miles on the clock and swiftly drove it to my first area of responsibility: The Isle of Skye.    Skye was a 250 mile drive from my home and was a 6 hours trek through some quite outstanding scenery.   

At 5am in the morning, though, scenery is NOT interesting and your only goal in life is to just to get there without incident so you can kick off your first inspection.  

My first visit of the day was to a small self catering cottage that was, quite literally, stuck in the middle of nowhere.  There was a winding single track road with a few passing places, lots of sheep randomly wandering around the countryside, and not another person for miles.    I had no phone signal and no wifi (obviously…).  

I was also faced with the slight problem of realising that all properties in the surrounding few miles  had the same postcode and that the one I was looking for had no street number and no name plate to let me know whether it was the one I was looking for or not.   

How NOT To Conduct A Visit on Skye
The cottage looked like this, but with way less space.   

I nervously approached the small, whitewashed cottage and pulled into the driveway.   I knocked on the door, hoping to find my owner, but there was no answer.   I checked my diary for times and dates and knocked again.  Still nothing.   I waited around for 5 minutes, getting more and more angry that I'd dragged my carcass out of bed at 4am and no one was there.    I then scribbled on the back of a business card and popped it through the letterbox. I totally wish I hadn't done that.  

After driving half way up an extremely steep hill, in the hope of finding somewhere I could turn the car round to leave, I eventually had to stop when I realised that I had no other option than to reverse back down the hill.   The farm track was becoming more and more narrow and it was obvious that there was no other way out.   

The cottage itself had a small area that could be construed as an early version of a parking space; possibly for a carriage.   Or for someone who isn't a nervous driver and doesn't have a new car that they have no idea of the dimensions of.

I gently slid the car back down the hill, panicking the whole time about the sheer size of the stones that were crunching under my brand new tyres, and basically praying that I wouldn't end up with a puncture.   I'm not entirely sure where the nearest AA rescue van was based but, without any phone signal, it may have well be on the moon.   

I made it to the parking space in some sort of order and decided, in my infinite wisdom that, because I had a few extra feet of space, this would be the PERFECT spot to attempt one of  those three point turn things that I was forced to do in my driving test about 15 years before.

Oh, how horribly wrong I was.

I turned three quarters of the way and got well and truly wedged against the cottage wall in a large rut.    I couldn't reverse as my back wheels were stuck and, after sitting there for a few panicked minutes, I realised I only had one option.

With no phone signal, I couldn't call for help.   With no nearby properties, I couldn't walk and shout for help and, as lovely as the local sheep were, I figured they were likely to be inexperienced in the field of expertise currently required (pun intended).

Hamish!  Come here!  You won't BELIEVE what this stupid woman's doing...
I had appointments booked in the afternoon and a meeting with a colleague in Portree scheduled, so the only way to get myself out of my current predicament was to drive forward.   Driving forward, however, meant that I would definitely, absolutely scratch the paintwork right along the driver's side of my shiny new car.

So, I did.     

I muttered an apology to my Boss and all the people at VisitScotland who would have to deal with my car repairs.    Smashing up your own car is fine, but smashing up a lease car means you have to confess your sins/stupidity to someone who employs you.    

Unless I wanted to wait days, weeks or possibly moths for someone to randomly drive past me, I had no one to help me but myself.   And, if this story tells you anything, I'm not exactly that helpful in getting out of messy situations.   Getting INTO them, yes. 

I slowly moved the car forward to the sound of screeching metal and thumping mirrors and doors and FINALLY managed to get into a position that had me able to leave the property.    The side of my beautiful white car was completely dented and I had managed to put a dent in my back passenger door that was so bad it no longer opened.      

I had been in my job for eight weeks and had the car for three.   Even for me, this was quite a disaster.      I was pretty much breathing a sigh of relief that I was in one piece, even if the car hadn't fared so well and could imagine my Manager saying to me: 'Don't worry, Suzanne.  As long as you're safe, that's all that matters...'   He didn't.    

Then again, I didn't actually tell him the *whole* story for another two years, until I felt I'd cocked up so many other things, that he pretty much suspected my version of events on Skye was bollocks anyway.     He wasn't in the least bit surprised.

What I should have been enjoying on Skye.
Whilst noting the extensive damage to my little car, I also noticed that I'd managed to scrape off a portion of whitewash off the cottage wall.    I was, at that point, eternally grateful that no one had been in because then they would have no idea what happened.

It wasn't until I was safely sat in a Cafe in Portree with a cup of coffee that it dawned on me that I'd already left my business card, stating the date and time I was there.

Despite having 6 months to complete my allocated visits on Skye, I never did get back in contact with the owner of the property.      I often wonder if she's still part of the VisitScotland grading scheme and hope that whoever inspected the property after me didn't downgrade her due for the state of her exterior walls...

PS - Had to get a whole new door.   Also had to fill out a diagram and give a full explanation of what had transpired.  You have no idea how difficult it is to explain this level of stupidity on one sheet of A4 using matchstick women and sheep.   

How NOT To Conduct A Visit on Skye
One of my later clients said my car looked like it'd been hit by a deer, so I totally went with that whenever I was asked.  

Suzanne x

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The Travel Bug's 3 Fascinating Facts About Torquay

The Travel Bug's 3 Fascinating Facts - Torquay

TTB has been on holiday in the south of England; spending time with his humans on the beautiful Devonshire coast.

While being dragged along the beaches in the English Riviera, these are some of the fascinating facts he picked up:

  • Torquay is home to one of the planet's best selling authors EVER, in none other than Queen of Crime; Agatha Christie.   TTB likes watching Miss Marple on the TV and having his humans read her stories to him when he's all tucked up in bed at night.   He also had lots of fun on the Agatha Christie Mile while he was in town.

  • While staying in Torquay to film sketches for Monty Python, John Cleese found the inspiration behind Fawlty Towers, due to the rather eccentric owner of the hotel he was staying at.   TTB loves watching Fawlty Towers and his favourite character is Manuel, because he's Spanish, just like TTB.    TTB's not from Barcelona, though. 

  • In 2010, famously reclusive artist, Banksy, allegedly painted a mural of a young girl drawing a robot on the side of the Grosvenor Hotel on Belgrave Road.   It was vandalised the following year and was then entirely painted over when the hotel was bought by new owners in 2014.  Noooo!    TTB would LOVE to have seen this.  

Do you have any fascinating facts about Torquay to share with The Travel Bug?