Suit envy in Rome

roman_holiday_main(Good looking gentlemen, in suits, on Vespas aren’t just featured in movies – they’re real. http://infoids.ru/)

Click clack vroom…  another white Vespa slid its way around the cobbled corner of a backstreet in Rome. A woman with dark hair in a pale dress is sat on the back clutching to the driver.

The driver, dressed in a dark grey three-piece suit, was one of many in a relentless stream of superbly outfitted metropolitan gentleman. Stood in my sweat-drenched t-shirt and withered trainers, they plagued my days in Rome with what I refer to as ‘suit envy’. As I admired the fashionable pair, I noticed row upon row of boutique suit dealers around us, each promoting their own cruel statement of tailoring magnificence.

Rome after 7pm is one of my favourite places to be. Night scythes away the crowds of tourists, and like a giant exhalation, the streets and walkways breathe a sigh of relief. Overhead lamps flicker on to pick out the blues and blacks of a hundred blazers along a parade of endless restaurants. Those in suits who hadn’t yet decided where to eat clapped the solid soles of their leather shoes against the cobbled pavement. To me, the contact sounded as if the stones were applauding the stylish choice of outfit.

At night, Rome becomes a window-shopping experience, knowing that you can’t afford the suit, the menu or the Vespa. Reconciling with this fact, I hope one day to return and experience Rome the stylish way and resolve my suit envy. With that in mind, I sat and watched with my gelato knowing that I didn’t have to worry about dropping ice cream on a newly tailored suit.

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Prague in 36 hours

When a friend or family member tells me they spent a weekend in another country on a leisure trip, I can’t help wondering how that’s possible and why they bothered going for such a short amount of time. How much can one really get to know another city in the space of 36 hours? On my 21st birthday, however, my mum surprised me with a weekend trip to Prague. From then on, I have believed that great holidays can occur in the space of 36 hours. The weekend was an excellent way to spend my first weekend as an “adult”, and pretty cheap too! For those who are still unconvinced, let me show you how I managed a holiday in Prague, in 36 hours.

exterior-of-arcadia-residence(The exterior of Arcadia Apartments – TripAdvisor’s number one accommodation. http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/)

ACCOMMODATION

My mum and I stayed in Arcadia Apartments situated just outside of the old-town square of Prague’s city centre. Rated as TripAdvisor’s number one accommodation in Prague, we were not disappointed. Our self-catered apartment was located in a block that rose above a small arcade of shops with an undisturbed view of cathedrals in the city square. We paid a minimal £138 for two nights in a spacious room, a taxi to and from the airport and a 20-minute tour of the local area, given by the apartments’ owner, Pascale. It was undoubtedly the best service I have experienced as a traveller and one I’d highly recommend for anyone on a tight budget and tight schedule. Continue reading

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Vietnam

Taking in the natural beauty of Bali and the Gili Islands, soaking up the historical heritage of temples and forests and experiencing the cultural diversity that Indonesia had to offer, had been an experience which was completely juxtapositional to my prior travelling endeavours.

There are many differences in travelling in South East Asia, as opposed to travelling in the West, but one in particular struck me the most – the incredibly gentle nature of the Indonesian people. That isn’t to say that people in the West aren’t kind and generous, but the relaxed and laid-back attitude I had experienced in Indonesia felt like something different, something more genuine.

These attitudes were also present in my next stop, Vietnam. Landing in Ho Chi Minh City, my first impressions were that, compared to Denpasar, the city was more subdued. The roads were still over-populated with scooters carrying more than I thought possible, but rather than the weaving lack of rules of Indonesia, the Vietnamese transport seemed to adhere to rules more readily.

(Mario Weigt)

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Hidden Africa: Magnificent Malawi

If you were to tell a friend or a colleague that you were going on holiday to Malawi, it wouldn’t be uncommon to be met with a response such as “Where’s that?” or “Never heard of it.” This, although a real shame, is where the beauty lies for the opportunistic traveller. Because of its anonymity, Malawi is often overlooked by people when planning a trip to mainland Africa, but this landlocked gem has just as much to offer as its larger neighbours and is without the crowds.

Sandwiched in between Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique, the peaceful Republic of Malawi has all of the staples that we westerners have come to expect from a trip to the continent; expansive national parks, wonderful wildlife and majestic mountains. It even has beaches along the shores of stunning Lake Milawi: my sources inform me that Nkhata Bay is so idyllic you’d think you had somehow been transported to the Caribbean. The lake is also known for its abundance of diverse and even rare fish; go snorkelling for a glimpse of the pearly-blue striped cichlids. If adventure and adrenaline are more your cup of tea, Mount Mulanje is a breathtaking way to spend a day, in both the energy it takes to scale it and the vistas you are rewarded with upon completion.

With no less than 9 national parks squeezed into this sliver of land, Malawi is the perfect place to take a safari without the crowds. Up and coming Majete Wildlife Reserve in the southern tip has recently completed a comprehensive restoration project and is now set to become a “Big 5” hotspot following a successful lion translocation project in 2012. So visit before the world catches on and you can have these gorgeous animals all to yourself, not another Jeep in sight.

Tea is one of the country’s primary exports, and a stay at a plantation is both a beautiful and fascinating experience.  The expansive Satemwa estate in the Highlands was the first plantation to be FairTrade certified and they offer beautiful accommodation among the green fields.  Dine on kilombero and fresh tilapia on the terrace as the sun sets without having to worry about bumping into another foreigner for days. So for African bliss, skip the crowds, ditch the big names and head straight for Malawi.

 

Photo from Flickr user: elskewietske.

Photo from Flickr user: elskewietske.

Tips and General Information

The majority of Malawians speak English fluently, and those who don’t are all the more keen to get in some practice so don’t worry about language barriers. In general, people are warm and generous, it’s not known as “The Warm Heart of Africa” for no reason! The best time to visit is late summer (August – September) for warm but not stifling weather. Flights are fairly reasonable, ranging from £440 off season with stopovers in either South Africa or Tanzania. The exchange rate between the pound and the Malawian Kwacha is fairly good at the moment but do of course check before you travel.

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Scuba diving antics: The Great Barrier Reef versus The Cook Islands

The Great Barrier Reef (Photo: Vivienne, Flickr)

The Great Barrier Reef (Photo: Vivienne, Flickr)

In a few months’ time I would be in Cairns, the scuba capital of the Southern Hemisphere and gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, but I didn’t want to waste any time there figuring out how to clear my mask or hover precisely two inches above the coral. With this in mind, I saw the Cook Islands as a practice course, with small reefs and the odd minnow dotted here and there.

Our little chug-chug boat lurched out over some of the roughest waves the Cook Islands had seen that year and I could have sworn I was going to be sick. This was how I started my first open water PADI training day. I had felt like an idiot back in the hotel pool, squirming my way into a wetsuit and waddling around in a heavy air tank, while people in bikinis lathered on more sunscreen and kids cannon-balled around me. When we reached the dive site and the engine stopped, the little boat bobbed up and down and I would have given anything to be back doing laps in the pool. My stomach churned round like a tumble dryer, while the first couple of divers strapped themselves into air tanks. The two of them were Real Divers – qualified and experienced but behind their masks they looked like two startled kittens about to be thrown in the bath. I, on the other hand, needed to get into the water, or I was going to be sick everywhere.

The waves threw me around as I swam to the dive-marker at the front of the boat and I could feel nausea pulsing behind my nose. ‘It’s happened before,’ our instructor had said in her merry New Zealand accent back on the boat, ‘people have been sick underwater. You just have to blow the chunks out through your regulator. I wouldn’t recommend it though.’   Continue reading

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