Tag: Adventure

Beautiful Paris; The Catacombs & Notre Dame (unedited photos)

In March my feet started to itch and I decided I wanted to visit Paris. I had been only the year previous in February but it’s such a lovely city that I wanted to visit again and this time, with my lovely boyfriend in tow. So I booked us an impromptu and very last minute trip and off we went! For three nights and four days we spent our time wandering around the beautiful city and soaking up the familiar yet exhilarating sights. I toiled with the idea of blogging about our adventures for some time yet life got in the way and two months rolled around without me doing a single thing with the amazing photos I took. So here it is now – a little late. Just some unedited photos of our trip and some brief descriptions of famous landmarks!

The Catacombs of Paris

Picture the scene; it’s dark, the air is thick with the smell of damp and the cold stone floors are slick with water that drips methodically from the jagged rock ceiling. You’re in a dark, twisting tunnel with loose, gritty floor. You find yourself there after descending an impossibly curved staircase that seems to spiral down in to the very centre of the earth. You know that at any corner you could be faced with the grostequely fascinating – hundreds of skulls and ribcages and thighbones – arranged intricately to form columns and designs. Sounds like a scene straight from an Indiana Jones movie doesn’t it? And that’s because visiting the catacombs of Paris is the closest you’ll get to feeling like you’ve stepped straight in to a lost world. I have visited the catacombs before and I will visit again. It is unlike anything else you will experience. Whilst I don’t know the exact history of these winding caves I can tell you it is beyond fascinating. The tunnels wind on for what feels like a lifetime – all the while as you ramble through them you have that prickle of dread and anticipation – because seeing human skulls laid out like they are is a really crazy experience that will stay with you. I found myself thinking about who the remains belonged to, what they would have looked like, how they got there etc. This is definitely one for the adventure seekers at heart.

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Notre Dame

Notre Dame is impossibly beautiful. It rises up magnificently to the sky and, it stands alone which seems to make it all the more impressive. Architecturally it is stunning – with carved columns and huge stained glass windows. I feel like I throw the word ‘beautiful’ around a lot when I’m describing the sites in Paris but this is just…wow. Breathtaking. Again, I have visited Notre Dame before and I will again. It is without any doubt my favourite thing in the entire city topping even the Catacombs. The ceilings rise up and away and even though Notre Dame is permanently crammed full of tourists it feels very spacious. The stained glass windows are a real treat for the eyes – with the sun filtering through beautiful shades of gold, red and blues they look like jewels. I don’t have the words to do this place justice so you’ll have to go by the unedited photos and take a look for yourself.

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Thanks for reading – there’s more to follow soon!

 

Walking for mental wellbeing

I find that as I get older, I am more open about my mental illness. It’s not something I generally tell people when I first meet them, or bring up in discussion but it’s not something I go to great lengths to hide anymore. This past week I have been feeling particularly down. I’m unwell at the moment so I think that has had its’ part to play, but generally the mood has not been good and I have found myself feeling really upset.

One thing I find that helps to lift my mood is walking. I know they say exercise releases endorphins (and I’m sure it does) but I don’t particularly subscribe to intense cardio sessions when I feel miserable. What is more manageable however, is a nice walk.

Since moving back to Essex I have been tremendously lucky in what I have around me. There are beautiful thick woodlands and country parks that sprawl across acres. I have explored many rambling paths and stood at the edges of many glittering lakes. I have fed deer, ducks and watched colourful birds. I know I’m lucky to live so nearby to so many wonderful places, so I try to take advantage of that as much as possible. Most weekends I am outdoors.

The other day was not a good day for me. I was feeling particularly unwell and down in the dumps after finishing my day of working from home. However, the sun had made a rare appearance which did seem to brighten things a little. Gareth and I decided to drive down to Chalkwell to take a walk by the sea. My aunt had mentioned it in conversation at the weekend, and I had fond memories of lurking about in the beachy mud over there when I was a child. We got in the car and made the 40 minute trip down.

When we got there the tide was out, but the sun shone brilliantly and I could feel myself relaxing and starting to feel happier. We took a long walk on the empty beach, searching for sea glass and revelling in the quietness. Although it was not warm, I felt fine in a jumper and jacket and I very much enjoyed feeling the sun on the back of my head. I find that the nicer the scenery the more I start to relax. The longer I walk the more my problems seem to melt away also, almost as if I’m leaving them behind me. I have always liked the seaside, and although it may sound strange, to me it is more enjoyable during the colder months when it is empty yet beautiful. When other people can’t interfere with my experience.

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Empty and wonderful

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Stretching my legs 

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It doesn’t have to be the height of summer to be beautiful by the sea

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This lovely pic was snapped by Gareth
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As was this one!

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We found a bedraggled looking Winnie

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Posing with my egg necklace
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Looking serious but lovely. Don’t worry, he had a good time really!
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I told him to look serious!
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He is a natural behind the camera!

We walked for a long time, taking photographs and enjoying the beautiful views. We walked all the way up to Southend where we stopped for a cold beer. By the time we reached Southend the sun had set, and it was dark and much colder. The walk back to the car was chilly to say the least, but as my legs began to silently burn, I felt a lot more positive in my mind.

Sometimes I think when you’re feeling rotten, the best thing to do is to do something else. To remove yourself from a situation or a place, and to take yourself outside where it’s easier to breathe and you can think more clearly and freely. Empty or quiet spaces are really what I’d recommend for people feeling stressed and frustrated. The woods can be really good for this. I find that a lot of people are dissuaded from walking around the winter months because of the cold, but I think it’s the perfect time to get out there. I really enjoyed my walk by the sea, and think that I will go again before it becomes too busy to be a relaxing experience.

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Day three: The Forum, Palatine Hill and parrots.

On our last day in Rome we woke at six but snoozed until eight. Almost overcome with exhaustion yet not wanting to waste time this felt like a good compromise. My legs had seized up and were sore but today we had planned to see the forum and walk up Palatine hill.

Ideally it’s best to visit the Colosseum and forum together because they are in such close proximity. We would have done this ourselves but, not wanting to miss the Capuchin Crypts (and not being able to find out if they’d be open on a Sunday) we chose to break our time up and leave the forum to last. Besides, this way we had more time to give to our surroundings.

We stopped first for breakfast. Our last day in Rome required a breakfast befitting of such an occasion. I had a beautiful custard pastry and milky coffee whilst Gareth had a pain au chocolat and freshly squeezed orange juice – this was vastly nicer than the offerings of the hotel and left me feeling ready to take on the day.

We took the Metro to the Colosseum.

When we arrived at our destination, we wandered around for a while stupidly unable to find the correct entrance.

Inside the forum were beautiful and intriguing ruins and as we rambled further among them I felt as if I were in a story book or film set. Some of the charm was lost to the pain I felt in my legs as I struggled on. Often I had to take a seat on a bench. Sometimes this was pleasant, especially when I could hear the melodious sounds of a violin waft on the breeze (it felt like a private concert.) Other times it was frustrating as I willed my poor legs to work so I could explore this exciting place. Although there are plaques up to briefly describe what everything is, not much information is given. For those who want to learn the history I’d recommend a tour. Personally I just enjoyed soaking up the surroundings and feeling as if I’d stepped in to a text book.

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As we walked around the Forum we came across this adorable bunny who didn’t seem very shy!

We eventually found ourselves traversing up Palatine hill and taking in the views of the forum below us which were stunning. At the top we came across orange trees, fountains and exotic green parrots feasting on seeds and berries. I was truly surprised to see parrots as I hadn’t expected them at all. I also caught site of two chaffinches which made me happy.

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And that was it. Our trip to Rome was over and it was time to catch the plane back to rainy England.

I had a wonderful time in Rome and saw some beautiful and extraordinarily interesting things. It’s more than possible to see a lot in a short space of time but if you’re thinking of visiting Rome as a weekend break I’d recommend sticking to the main attractions – they are more than worth it!

 

Day two: The Colosseum, Capuchin Crypts and pizza.

We woke early on Saturday morning and my legs ached like they hadn’t before. Standing on my feet I felt unsteady and like my legs were untrustworthy. However, I didn’t have much time to contemplate my aches and pains because we had booked a tour of the Colosseum at 10.40.

We showered and dressed quickly before heading down to the cafeteria of the hotel for breakfast. Usually this wouldn’t be done, but it was included in the booking and we were trying to keep costs down. The breakfast was pleasant enough – a selection of warmed croissants, fresh fruits, juices and coffee. I wouldn’t say it was one of the finer meals we ate in Rome but it was fuel for the busy day ahead.

We arrived at the Colosseum early to collect our pre-booked tickets (thus enabling us to avoid the horrendous queue that would form just an hour later.) Eager to start seeing more of Rome we decided to have an unofficial snoop before the tour started. The structure itself is very iconic and magnificent to see in real life- it loomed up in to the sky and we felt very excited to see something we’d read about in books and watched in films so many times before.

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After a quick look around and some snaps we assembled at meeting point 3 and waited for our guide to arrive. One of the reasons we booked the tour as opposed to walking around ourselves was that in a tour you can access the upper and lower levels of the Colosseum -something which you cannot do if you decide to go it alone. Included in the ticket price is also access to the Forum and Palatine Hill which are just metres away and well worth a look.

The tour itself was very informative and our guide helped us to imagine how the Colosseum once was. Tales of gladiators fighting lions sparked my imagination and as we wandered through the ruins I imagined to myself all of the weird, wonderful and horrifying things that had taken place where I stood.

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The view from the lower levels – you can only access this if on a tour.
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The view from the upper levels of the Colosseum was fantastic.

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Throughout the tour my legs began to seize up and I felt increasingly uncomfortable so afterwards we sat and rested on a bench for a while before searching the back streets for a pizzeria. We found a small cafe and ate hot, fresh slices of Margarita pizza washed down with cold lemonade. Lunch was delicious and everything I had hoped it would be. Refreshed and content we headed back to the hotel for a well-deserved 30 minute nap.

Batteries temporarily recharged once more we hopped back on to the Metro and towards Barberini in search of the Capuchin Crypts.

Inside the small, quiet museum we learned about the Capuchin monks and observed objects that belonged to them including rusted pocket watches and retooled books. No photos were allowed inside the museum or crypt and I respectfully abided this despite my burning desire to capture every tiny little thing I saw. The winding museum led us down in to the crypts which were dull – lit only by faux flickering candles.

Inside were ornate patterns and designs spread carefully across the walls and ceiling, macabre lampshades made of human bones. Hooded skeletons guarded the crypts, humbly bowing their skulls down to the gritty soil beneath them.
I have visited the Catacombs of Paris and as such, did not anticipate feeling ‘creeped’ out by these crypts. How wrong I was. I learned that no one really knew how the bones had come to be in the crypts or who had arranged them in such a manner. I felt a shiver crawl across my shoulders. Some of the skeletons still had withered skin that clung to their skulls and looked to be mummified. This combined with the thick hooded monk cloaks made them look terrifying. The detached thigh and shin bones placed to make shapes were easier to digest but having no idea of the sort of man who might arrange them as so made the whole experience feel unnerving. I would definitely recommend a visit to the Capuchin Crypts for anyone who wants to see something different and unique. The experience was haunting but grossly interesting.

From here we roamed the area until we came to a cafe. Outside we sat and had a glass of red wine whilst observing the bustling streets. I was happy to see a pair of chirping sparrows and fed them crumbs which they greedily pecked up.

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We fed the sparrows over a glass of wine.

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When the wine had been drunk we wandered further in to the city and perused the shops and busy cobbled streets until my legs felt as if they were on fire.

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Muscles screaming we headed back to the hotel to freshen up and rest some more before the evening ahead.

Once again we headed for the Trevi fountain and the plethora of restaurants that surrounded it. We settled for a small restaurant with outside seating and heat lamps to keep us toasty. Here we had beautiful cold beer and bruschetta to start, followed by spaghetti and meatballs and lashings of salty Parmesan cheese. Although it was not comparable to our first nights dinner, it was still delicious and very enjoyable.

After a very quick stop by the Pantheon, we headed back to Pepy’s bar, as we had done the first night. Here we had bourbon served with bitter dark chocolate and chatted about our adventures in to the night.

By the end of our second night in Rome we had walked 30 miles.

Day one of Rome: Sistine Chapel, St Peters Basilica & lasagna

I’m painfully aware that my last blog post was a whole 12 days ago…the reason for this is that I have been extraordinarily busy! I guess now is as good a time as any for an update and I’d like to talk about my recent trip to Rome.

I have decided to break up each day in to a post (I went from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon.) The reason for this is the sheer volume of photos and stories I have to share! (Please bear with me.)

We left our flat late, half an hour late to be exact. Even though we’d carefully laid our plans the night before and had set up the timed lamps, cleaned out all of the bird cages and packed – we still didn’t make it out on time. Rushing to the airport, we boarded the plane – just. Our flight took two bumpy hours before we landed in Italy. The sun was shining, the skies were blue and the air was crisp – not quite cold yet not particularly warm either…my ideal weather. We took a taxi to the hotel (Hotel Gambrinus) and as our taxi hurtled its way through the cobbled streets and outskirts of the city, I marveled at the beautiful old buildings that looked set to crumble at the slightest touch. By the time we reached our hotel I had decided my jacket wasn’t to be needed that day.

At the hotel we quickly decanted and arranged our belongings about the room. Our stop was quick – being in Rome from Friday to Sunday meant that time was against, it was precious and we didn’t wish to waste it.

Our first stop in Rome was to be the Vatican, and as we walked along the dusty pavements to the Metro we saw that the streets were lined with orange trees, heavily laden with fruit.

We decided to take a tour of the Vatican museums and walk the (quicker) route through and to the Sistine Chapel. We moved slowly from room to room soaking up all there was to see. The rooms were opulent with floor to ceiling paintings or carefully carved statues of marble. The thing that most impressed me (even more so than the art on display) were the ornate ceilings with their beautiful depictions, paintings and carvings in rich inky blues interjected with gold and swirling patterns. Each room seemed to be in contest with the last and I found myself drifting through them with my head craned skywards.

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A stylish spiral staircase in the Vatican museums.
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Stopping for snacks to keep us going. The pizza snacks were bland but we were fans of the bacon.

Along our way we saw Matisse and Dali and felt quiet satisfaction at being able to recognise something. At the end of our route we came to the Sistine Chapel. Of course everyone in this room had their eyes fixed firmly to the ceiling and that iconic painting The Creation of Adam. Photographs were not permitted here and without the clicks of flash the room seemed darker and stiller. Much more peaceful than it had been moments before outside of it. I thought the paintings were amazingly beautiful but architecturally the chapel is not spectacular.

From here we moved out on to the grounds and strolled through them with the sun on our faces. We walked further still towards St Peters Basilica stopping for our first taste of gelato at a grubby vendor. Unfortunately the ice cream tasted stale and I worried we would be sick so the limp coned ice creams went in to the bin and our first lesson of Rome was learnt – do not buy from street vendors!

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The Basilica is very beautiful to admire from the outside, but inside it was breathtaking. The ceiling rose up so high it was almost lost but I could make out yet more magnificent paintings and depictions of Rome. The Basilica felt very special to me was a real highlight of the trip. I would recommend this to anyone wishing to visit Rome.

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On our back we stopped at a proper gelato bar and got our first real taste of the city. I had a delicious chocolate and Nutella cone that tasted just like a frozen Ferrero Rocher and burst with flavour in my mouth. Gareth had chocolate and stractiatelli.

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Gareth thinks Jesus is cool.

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Back at the hotel we quickly changed in to smarter attire before hopping back on the Metro in search of dinner. In Rome there are two lines A and B – we quickly established which lines we needed to take to get where (or rather, Gareth did) and it was simple enough to get around.
We headed to the Trevi Fountain because we had wanted to see it and we had heard there were a lot of restaurants around it. By the time we got there it was dark. The fountain was much larger and more beautiful than I could have anticipated. The water was aqua and highlighted with spot lights that reflected and sparkled on its surface. The fountain was bustling with activity. Tourists stopping to take photos of the enchanting scene, street vendors selling selfie sticks and Italians having a quick kiss by the water.

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We ate nearby in a pretty restaurant that was covered in ivy with twinkling fairy lights poking out from between the lush green folliage. Inside the walls were lined with tempting bottles of wine and the atmosphere felt relaxed and happy. The tinkling of glasses, scraping of cutlery against plates and the gentle murmur of Italian accents made the place feel welcoming. Our service was wonderful and we were recommended a strong red wine which we sank half of as we hungrily made our way through the basket of fresh breads. We both ordered lasagna and I can say with confidence it was the nicest meal I have ever eaten in a restaurant before. Beautifully rich and creamy, every bite of the lasagna was like a slice of heaven that left me wanting more.

After our meal we wandered through the city and came across a bar called Pepy’s. There we ordered Italian Iced Tea (just like a Long Island Ice Tea but with amaretto.) At night the street sellers come out in force and try to sell you all manner of rubbish from collapsible baskets, to hunks of goo and laser pens. Sitting outside the bar we were constantly swatting away the sellers like flies, although one managed to coerce one euro out of us for two African bracelets.

By the time we curled up in bed much later that night we had walked 15 miles.