Sunday, 25 November 2012


Edinburgh has been the Scottish capital since the 15th century. It has two distinct areas: the Old Town, dominated by a medieval fortress; and the neoclassical New Town, whose development from the 18th century onwards had a far-reaching influence on European urban planning. The harmonious juxtaposition of these two contrasting historic areas, each with many important buildings, is what gives the city its unique character -
Asking a person who's just returned from a trip what their favourite part was is pretty ingrained in most of us, and when people popped this question at us after we got back, our answer was usually Edinburgh. And yes, that's our favourite place out of everywhere we went in the UK and Italy.

Visiting Scotland at the end of November might seem like a bit of a folly weather-wise, but apart from some slight drizzle on the first day, we were blessed with blue skies for the rest of our stay (which I'm sure helped with our positive impressions). Mind you, it was still bloody cold!
Thanks to Airbnb we snagged a private room in a flat smack in the middle of town. In fact, it was directly opposite the famous Elephant House, where JK Rowling penned much of Harry Potter.
Elephants on display at The Elephant House
We love historic places, so it's no surprise Edinburgh was so appealing, really. I mean, check out this photo we snapped whilst just on a casual, pre-dinner stroll:
This is honestly one of my favourite trip photos, ever.
We ended up at The White Hart for dinner, one of many pubs lining Grassmarket. One of the oldest pubs in Edinburgh, parts of the building date back to 1516, and famous patrons include Robert Burns, William Wordsworth and Burke and Hare. While not as ancient as, say, Greek and Roman ruins in Italy, it still gives you a sense of awe that real historical figures could have sat in the very seat being occupied by your bum at that very moment!
As much as I love Italian food, I have to say the food in Italy itself was somewhat of a disappointment most of the time. Sure, we had some amazing meals, but we were just as likely to have terrible meals, and plenty of just 'meh' ones in between. Definitely not the magical culinary wonderland some food travel programs make it out to be. Sure, if you have a dedicated local guide and a film crew it probably helps, but even my liberal consultations of review sites couldn't weed out all the blah places. Plus, sometimes you're so hungry you simply don't have time to spend 20 minutes scouring TripAdvisor first. Either way, no matter how delicious one type of food may be, it's nice just to have variety sometimes. This piece sums it up well.

Anyway, at the White Hart James opted for an old pub favourite, bangers and mash, while I eagerly ordered the haggis, neeps and taters (turnip and potato). I love offal, so I had been looking forward to trying haggis in Scotland ever since we booked our tickets. And man, did the dish deliver!
I feel hungry just looking at this again
Honestly, if you asked me what the best meal I had on this UK/Italy trip was, I would probably say it was the haggis at The White Hart. The haggis part was perfectly seasoned, with heaps of nuanced flavours and textures (even James liked the tiny bit he tried!), the potato and turnip mashes were silky and buttery, and the gravy was so meaty, rich and savoury, it was the perfect way to round things off. Mmmm...

The next day, we headed up to Edinburgh Castle, the city's most famous tourist attraction and home to a UNESCO sign (pictured at the end - yay). Under the overcast skies, it looked very forbidding indeed - I would not want to be part of any army trying to lay seige to this place!
We actually ended up coming back for more shots a few days later when the sky was clear, check out the contrast:
Marginally friendlier in the sun perhaps?
While waiting for the gates to open, we took advantage of the views from the carpark.
Arthur's Seat is the hill in the background there
And again, the exact same shot from a different day with better weather
The free tour and exhibits within the castle grounds were really well done, heaps of information and everything has been perfectly preserved and maintained. You really get a sense of what it would have been like, hundreds of years ago...
It was cold!
For lunch, I got some surprisingly amazing fish and chips for only 10 quid (including a house wine!) at a random pub. After that, we made our way up Calton Hill for some more amazing views of the city.
And there was even a UNESCO logo hiding in a sign! Score.
The punny Scottish sense of humour was evident in some signs we spotted around town...
The little laneways riddled through Old Town (as opposed to the sprightly New Town, which dates from the 18th century), were also a favourite of mine.
Mmm, fleshmarket...
Heck, everything was just so ridiculously photogenic!
We also ended up going to the ridiculously touristy and yet still quite enjoyable Edinburgh Whiskey Experience. During the tasting, I remembered why I don't drink whiskey and I forced (well, without much difficulty) James to finish my dram. We learned about the differences in regional varieties, the whiskey making process in a Disneyland-esque ride, and also got to admire the world's largest whiskey collection:
On our last morning we had a few hours to kill so ended up having a quick walkthrough of the Scottish Museum - to be honest it would've been great to spend a full day or two there, but we simply ran out of time. The highlight was definitely the David Livingstone exhibition where I found this fantastic quote:
We'd both love to come back to Edinburgh again sometime, especially during a festival!
Yay, we found a UNESCO sign!
[Flickr sets: best of and all photos

Saturday, 24 November 2012


The refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie forms an integral part of this architectural complex, begun in Milan in 1463 and reworked at the end of the 15th century by Bramante. On the north wall is The Last Supper, the unrivalled masterpiece painted between 1495 and 1497 by Leonardo da Vinci, whose work was to herald a new era in the history of art -
Milan may be the fashion capital of Italy, but seeing as my interest in fashion is probably inversely proportionate to my love of food, we didn't plan to spend much time here. To be honest, we decided to end our Italian trip here mainly because its airport provided cheap flights to Edinburgh, our next destination. Of course, the fact that it had a UNESCO site was also a drawcard.

Unfortunately, when we turned up at the church where The Last Supper is housed, the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, we found out that we should've booked months in advance in order to even lay eyes on the famous painting. Oops. Oh well. We got our photo with the UNESCO logo so it still counts! And the church still looked cool from the outside.

As a bonus, we ended up going to a Leonardo da Vinci exhibition next door, where pages from some of his original notebooks were displayed.

The only other thing of note in Milan? A vaguely amusing sign in a car park. Goodbye and tanks indeed, Italy!

[Flickr set here]

Crespi d'Adda

Crespi d'Adda in Capriate San Gervasio in Lombardy is an outstanding example of the 19th- and early 20th-century 'company towns' built in Europe and North America by enlightened industrialists to meet the workers' needs. The site is still remarkably intact and is partly used for industrial purposes, although changing economic and social conditions now threaten its survival -
Crespi d'Adda is an odd sort of place. Even though real people seem to actually live here, it was so quiet that it felt like we had stumbled on a ghost town. In fact, I think it would make a perfect setting for a Doctor Who episode.
Again, I doubt you'd have a reason to stop here unless you were specifically trying to tick off UNESCO sites, but it was still less disappointing than the Padua Botanical Garden!
[Flickr set here]

Friday, 23 November 2012


The historic city of Verona was founded in the 1st century B.C. It particularly flourished under the rule of the Scaliger family in the 13th and 14th centuries and as part of the Republic of Venice from the 15th to 18th centuries. Verona has preserved a remarkable number of monuments from antiquity, the medieval and Renaissance periods, and represents an outstanding example of a military stronghold -
Despite my intense dislike of Romeo and Juliet, Verona turned out to be one of our favourite places in Italy. Mostly known as the setting of this famous play, it's hard to fault the town for capitalising on this fact. Let's get the fake, touristy gimmicks out of the way first.
'Juliet's balcony'
Because apparently it's good luck to cop a feel of her statue
Yes, that really is a wall of chewing gum. Gross.
Apparently, the city of Verona is clamping down on tourists' disgusting practice of leaving the wads of gum on the wall, which is good to hear. Anyway, on to the real attractions of the city!

We found a lovely place to stay via Airbnb which was full of vintage charm AND had free bicycles for our use. This time, they even had working brakes! Even if you don't have bikes, Verona's easily navigable by foot.
One of the highlights of the city is the Verona Arena, an amphitheater which was, get this, built in Jesus' lifetime (30 AD). It's still used today for hosting things like plays and... One Direction concerts. Although popular with tourists, it's like a slightly smaller but much less crowded Colosseum. You get some great views of the city from the top, too.
Another great vantage point is the Castel San Pietro, just across the river from the old town area and above the Roman Theatre.
It's hard to describe exactly why we liked Verona so much. Even though by now we had been totally immersed in historic Italian cities for two weeks, everything seemed somehow even more charming and delightful here. I tried to capture some of Verona's almost magical atmosphere in these photos, but trust me, everything was even more beautiful in real life.
And things only got more atmospheric at night...
Castelvecchio Bridge
Looking across the Adige River
Porta Borsari, built in the 1st century AD
As if all that wasn't enough to win us over, the Christmas markets were also on!
The food in Verona wasn't half bad either - we had dinner in a restaurant specialising in prosciutto (one of my favourite things of all time), then grabbed dessert at the market afterward.
This was as delicious as it looked
Is this making you hungry yet?
Of course, it helped that Verona had a UNESCO sign displayed so we could take a photo with it!
[Flickr set here