Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Travel - Pisa photo diary

Many tourists visit Pisa for just one thing – the Leaning Tower. Pisa is a shore excursion destination on a cruise or is paired with Lucca and crammed into a day trip from Florence. The tower really is an impressive sight but is only one of four beautiful structures in the stunning Campo dei Miracoli/Field of Miracles. The equally and impressive Duomo, Baptistry and Camposanto are also located on the same site and the city has a lot to offer if you venture away from the main landmarks. 

Pisa is bustling with tourists but it also has a large student population and is home to a prestigious university. I enjoyed the lively feel of the city which offers a vibrant cafe scene along with plenty of pizza and aperol spritz. Pisa was the perfect location for a trip with some of my oldest friends back at the start of April and was easily accessible from my local regional airport - Bristol. Flights cost around £65 for a return. Pisa is an ideal base for exploring Tuscany with Florence and Lucca close by and easily accessible by rail. We ventured out to explore both locations during our four day trip. Florence was around 7€ each way and Lucca was around 3€, bargain!

Things to Do in Pisa

Camposanto Monumentale - Pisa can be crowded with tourists, especially during the high season but a trip to this cemetery lets you change the pace of your trip and enjoy some quiet reflection whilst taking in the beauty of the frescoes and tombs. The Camposanto was built in the 12th century but was heavily damaged during WWII. It has been sympathetically rebuilt with 84 tombs still intact and the frescoes are looking bold and vivid after a lengthy restoration process. 

Pisa Duomo/Cathedral  This is one of the most lavishly decorated churches I have ever visited and is a fine example of a church from the Romanesque period. The cathedral was designed by architect Buscheto in 1604 and has some interesting Byzantine and Islamic influenced. Pisa was once a Maritime Republic and ships would have departed to North Africa and the Middle East and travellers and sailors would have brought these influences back to Pisa. Some noteworthy things to look out for are the mosaic of St. John the Evangelist which dates back to 1302, the pulpit and art by Beccafumi and Andrea del Sarto in the chancel.

Baptistry – Also within the same vicinity as the tower and cathedral is the Baptistry. My favourite view of Pisa was from one of the windows at the top of the stairs. You get an amazing outlook of the cathedral with the tower pocking out behind it. I paid 7€  for entry to the Baptistry and Camposanto, this ticket also let me enter the cathedral at any time I liked rather then queuing for a free, fixed time entry ticket to the cathedral. 

Borgo Stretto Borgo Stretto is a popular pedestrian zone with shops, restaurants and a market. You can find a plaque at Caffè Settimelli highlighting Galileo Galilei’s birthplace.

Ponte Di Mezzo – For a great view of Arno river and buildings looking over it head to Ponte Di Mezzo. You will get the best light early morning or late in the afternoon.

Santa Maria della Spina – This small church sits next to the Arno river and has an elaborate gothic facade. It looks really out of place next to the river and is worth a look if your taking photos at the nearby Ponte Di mezzo. 

*Top Tip - It takes around 25 minutes to walk from the central station to the Square of Miracles if you arrive by train. However, it takes only 5 minutes from Pisa San Rossore regional station*

Normally I would have lots of recommendations for places to eat and drink but to be honest all the pizza, pasta and wine we had in Pisa was wonderful and much cheaper than you might find in Florence and Venice. You can't really go wrong. My only tips are to eat away from the Leaning Tower as restaurants and cafes near the landmarks add costly cover charges per person. My other tip is to pop into La Bottega del Parco for a coffee (only 1.50!) the owner is an absolute star, so friendly and welcoming. It stood out from the majority of outlets aimed at tourists and has a lovely selection of bread, meat and cheese which you can eat in or have wrapped up to take out on a picnic. 

I stayed in a small town house which my friend found via Owners Direct. It was a 20 minute walk to the train station and an extra 5 minutes to the tower. The house was ideal for us, located in a quiet neighbourhood away from the crowds of tourists. It was also an absolute steal for about £40 a night between the 6 of us. The owner Virginia was very accommodating and popped in to give us recommendations and check that everything was ok. 

If you’re thinking of visiting Pisa I urge you to go ahead and book it. It is the perfect place for a two night weekend break or as a base for exploring the rest of Tuscany as part of a longer trip. I'll be sharing some of the highlights of my days in Lucca and Florence in separate blog posts. Caio for now! 


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Sunday, 7 May 2017

Spring Adventures with Coco in Cardiff

Introducing our Shih Tzu Coco to the family has honestly been the best move Martyn and I have ever made. Forget buying the house, getting a puppy has been so rewarding. Shih Tzu means little lion, but there’s nothing fierce about Coco (unless he's hungry) The Shih Tzu was bred purely to be a lap  dog and companion rather than a hunter. Coco is affectionate and the perfect furry friend but he's very stubborn and is going to need some training. 

To introduce Coco to the world and get him used to the sights and sounds of a busy city Martyn and I took him for a day out in Bute park in Cardiff city centre where there are lots of people, other dogs going for a walk and bikes rushing past. We had the perfect spring weather to wander around the park and let Coco explore the herbaceous border with its beautiful flowers. Coco got so much attention and we were stopped every few yards by people wanting to pick him up and pet him. 

this is a picture of a small shah tzu puppy on a lead

For our spring adventure I wore my new floral playsuit from, they have a great selection of playsuits and jumpsuits at the moment and it's perfect for running around after the dog and a spot of afternoon tea. Most of my pins on my denim jacket are gifts from Martyn and music related - a couple of Smiths pins and a Brand New one.

Floral Playsuit - c/o boohoo 
Jacket - New Look

This is a picture of a collection of enamel pins

this is a picture of a enamel pin with smiths lyrics

this is a picture of the herbaceous border in bute park

Bute Park is 130 acres of landscaped gardens and parkland that once formed the grounds of Cardiff Castle. The park is named after the 3rd Marquess of Bute, whose family owned the castle and made their fortune developing the ports in Cardiff to export coal. It's a pretty vast park and I spent a lot of time here as a student as my halls of residence backed on to the park. It was the perfect spot got revision and a post exam picnic. 

There aren't many places you can sit down and eat in the city when you have a dog but Pettigrew Tea Rooms is a great spot with a puppy friendly outdoor terrace. Pettigrew vintage-style tea room is located in the historic West Lodge building on Castle Street. You can relax and indulge in the pleasure of taking tea in sophisticated surroundings inside the lodge, or like we did, sit outside on the terrace area with views over the river Taff.

this is a picture of a male shah tzu puppy

this is a picture of a scone and a cup of tea

Whilst Martyn and I polished off huge scones and a scruptious selection of sandwiches and cakes washed down with assam tea Coco behaved beautifully. He sat next to me the whole time and let me eat in peace, I don't think he's discovered the joy of human food yet and doesn't beg for for at the table. 

This is a picture of cardiff castle

This is a picture of purple flowers in full bloom

I think our first adventure with Coco was very successful and we all thoroughly enjoyed our day out organised by I'm trying to find more dog friendly places to visit in South Wales, if you've got any recommendations please let me know. Shih Tzu dogs only need two 20 minute walks each day so we won't be taking him for a hike up Pen y Fan but it would be nice to discover some new parks or lakes where we can enjoy a family walk. 

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