Two Cities of Love

Two beautiful cities, both beginning with V, and only 75 miles apart, 1 hour and 20 minutes by train. Two cities synonymous with romance and epic love stories, each filled with magical and mysterious tales. If you are staying at the nearby Lake Garda and you are interested in culture and city sightseeing they are the perfect addition to your visit whilst holidaying in the region.

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I first fell in love with Venice when I visited on a school trip. I love the water, so to be able to explore a beautiful city literally floating on water was a dream in itself. With countless bridges, the lapping of water against stone walls and the beautiful balconies, there’s a vibe about this city that is so mysterious and magical. There is also a peacefulness that lingers over the city. Masks loom from independent shop windows and little pathways between tall houses break open into courtyards home to beautiful, pristine churches.

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“Venice never quite seems real, but rather an ornate film set suspended on the water.” – Frida Giannini

The main difference between my first trip and my second, almost ten years later, was the full on tourist trap that is has become. I would say it’s a shame, but not for the people of Venice who of course would welcome tourism as a vital source for the economy. Whilst there is the odd tourist with a shiny new selfie stick looming on bridges and in gondolas on the canals, there is also a calmness and to even take one turning off the tourist track leads you to the serenity of residential Venice. For those who want the unique Italian experience, even just for a weekend, this would be the place to go.

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“What about damp? What about flooding? Wouldn’t it make sense to have a little lawn or garden as a sort of buffer zone between the house and the water? But then it wouldn’t be Venice, said Connie’s voice in my head. Then it would be Staines.”- David Nicholls, Us

More recently I visited the gorgeous city of Verona. This ancient walled city was one that I had only briefly thought about visiting and now I am so glad that I had the opportunity. I am a huge fan of Romeo and Juliet, so to be able to visit Juliet’s balcony was a dream come true. It was truly incredible to see just how many names and padlocks were there, as well as the number of people that can fit in one courtyard! There’s so much love in the world but it seemed like it had all accumulated in this one place!

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“Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”William Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet

I was amazed at the stunning architecture of the city. Walking through the walls of the city it was amazing to see the cobbled streets and the huge Roman amphitheatre, Arena di Verona, towering over the city and its citizens and visitors, famous for its opera which fills with over 15,000 spectators per performance.

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I was pleasently surprised by Verona and plan to return to this beautiful, intriguing city soon to explore it further. Would love to hear about any particular places you have explored in Verona! I’m looking for some more places to adventure to which are off the beaten track. Feel free to tweet me @prettyandpetit

Have you visited the cities? Did you have a preferred city? Let me know in the comments below!

Becky

Pretty & Petit

 

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Dubai – A Dream Come True (Part 1)

Ten years ago I came across the city of Dubai whilst creating mood boards for a school project. At this time, many of the architectural masterpieces that reside there today were dreams of what the future of this international hub of trading, business and technology could become. Today, many of these structures have been created, from skyscrapers reaching towards the stars, the city sprawling and stretching out into the desert, and fresh land being reclaimed to form spectacular man made islands.

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My fascination with this city began with the beautiful imagery that was born out of this luxurious destination. As a gateway between Europe, Africa and Asia; it is formed of a magical, multicultural combination of Arabian and international cultures to form a destination that is wealthy, prosperous and unique.

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When an opportunity arose for entering a competition to win a 3 night trip to this dream destination I had to go for it! I wrote how I would spend three days in the city, combining my interests of exploring the more traditional side of Dubai to indulging in its modern counterpart of more recent developments, along with my pure fascination in the architectural wonders it holds. You can read my post here if it is of interest! After a few days of anxiously waiting I received the most amazing news via Twitter that I had won! It took a while for the news to sink in as it truly was a dream come true.

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Travelbag, who the competition was in conjunction with, made the booking process so easy. Our trip was handled smoothly and efficiently by all involved, particularly Ashley in the Brighton office and the lovely ladies in the Kensington office who ensured that all of our flights, hotel and transfers were confirmed. I ensured an itinerary was planned, with limited time in Dubai and so much to see, I really wanted to ensure we made the most of our time there. I booked our trip up the Burj Khalifa prior to going which was so easy to do online. It also enabled you to pre-book a time slot which meant no time was wasted by queueing. Click here to book your tickets!

Although we didn’t have enough time to do any specific excursions, they are definitely worth considering when going to Dubai. For our transfers to and from the hotel to the airport we had excellent guides who talked about the area, the various buildings en-route etc. This was amazing considering it was my first time in Dubai and there was so much to see. To see the city and learn about it when first stepping off the plane was incredible and I am so pleased we had such an excellent driver. He was part of Arabian Adventures, a company that offer a whole range of fantastic excursions, from city tours through to a desert safari, definitely worth taking a look prior to heading to Dubai to see if there is anything you would like to see in particular!

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On Thursday 12th May we had an early start off to London’s Heathrow airport. We headed over to a (quiet!) Paddington station to catch our Heathrow Express train to Terminal 3. Being located in West London the trip to Heathrow would have been fairly quick by underground (the Piccadilly line goes straight to the airports terminals) however we opted for the Heathrow Express for the accessibility (most notably the lack of stairs to drag a heavy suitcase up and down!) and comfort, the leg room is excellent and there is ample room for suitcases and other luggage. If you are looking for a cheaper option, I would highly advise the underground as there are very frequent services to all terminals. The journey to Heathrow was extremely quick and we arrived at our departing terminal within 15 minutes! The terminal was easy to navigate and after finding no queue at the check in desk we were able to promptly drop off our bags and head up to departures. After experiencing the new, efficient, full body scanner, some security gates seem more sensitive over the metal plate in my foot than others! We headed through duty free into the departure lounge. I was feeling both slightly apprehensive but also fairly excited about my impending flight. It was the furthest I have ever travelled but I was so looking forward to flying with Emirates.

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It was a smooth six hour (approx.) journey which was made comfortable through the wonderful ICE entertainment system with access to film, tv shows, radio and music along with the option to view the plane’s journey with three onboard cameras! Our plane had a smooth landing in Dubai as the sun set over the city and we headed into the largest airport terminal I have ever seen in my life! To top it off there was the largest fountain to welcome us, along with a wonderful lady from Emirates to direct us to our transfer through the airport arrivals, which helped to make everything so efficient for us.

Our journey to the hotel was unforgettable. I still remember every second now. The awe of seeing the row of skyscrapers dominating Dubai’s skyline, through to the Sheikh Zayed Road – six lanes across in some places – it was a marvel in itself! The most priceless moment however, was the journey across onto the palm, turning the corner to see the fantastic Atlantis hotel standing grand against the horizon, it was stunning, an architectural wonder.

Heading onto the palm was surreal, although I had seen pictures, these were often from the air, to be actually on the island it felt as though we hadn’t really left the mainland at all. It was only when we got to the far end of the palm to our hotel, the Sofitel Palm, that we realised how far out to sea we actually were. It was pitch black, besides the lights from the hotel. When looking back to the shore it was a beautiful sight to see all the twinkling lights in the distance. We headed down to a beautiful steak dinner at the Porterhouse restaurant as part of our half board package. This was quite beneficial as there were not too many restaurants nearby on the palm so we were secluded to our hotel. It didn’t matter, there was a wonderful range of restaurants to choose from!

Stepping out onto the balcony was a bit of a shock in the morning. The warm air engulfing me as I stood looking out over the Arabian Gulf. I could only stand out for a few minutes before heading back into the fridge of the hotel room!

By 11am the pool and beach were looking super busy. Fortunately, we were able to ask the hotel staff to find us some loungers on the beach (a free service that they provide) along with an umbrella for some shade. They also provided towels too meaning we didn’t need to bring our own. It was so nice to set up camp for the morning – sipping on an ice cold frappucino from the local shop, overlooking the view of Dubai in the distance!

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Friday was family brunch day in the Porterhouse restaurant. Not sure what to expect, we took our seats overlooking the beautiful gardens of the Sofitel. We were handed two menus and explained that they would be bringing ALL the dishes on the menu so we could choose – buffet style, what we would like to eat.

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After brunch we headed over to Deira in our gleaming white, beautifully air conditioned Lexus (oh yes, we only travel in style in Dubai!) to head to the souks. Upon arrival we were immediately approached by several men all asking if we would like to buy designer handbags, watches and jewellery – although I cannot say for certain how legitimate these items were! We politely declined and headed off to the gold souk.

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We must have been spoken to by every shop owner in the souks that day – each asking if we would like to see what they had for sale and saying hello in a multitude of different languages. It was a beautiful sight to see all the beautiful gold sparking in the windows, and the spices of spice souk all piled up producing such delicious scents. Although I have visited these types of markets in previous years I felt bit overwhelmed and so did not go into any of the shops on this occasion. Now I know what to expect I would definitely go back on my next visit to try out my bartering skills and I’m sure would get some wonderful bargains!

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After heading through the spice souk we reached the sparking Dubai Creek. The fresh breeze from the water was truly welcome at this point, a soothing break from the dry heat of the city. We came across the Abra (water taxi) who explained that we could either have a trip up and down the Creek for AED 14 (£2.63) or we could make the quick trip across for AED 1 (0.18p!) We went for that option.

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After an eventful ride on the Abra, testing my balance with getting on and off the boat! We took a walk through the back streets of Dubai exploring little alleyways and witnessing everyday life. Piles of shoes outside houses and Dubai’s local community going about their daily routine. We headed past a Sikh temple before getting back to the waters edge of the Dubai Creek. Following it along we noticed the juxtaposition of the beautiful yachts moored against the bank, to the wooden abras ferrying travellers from shore to shore. We headed back inland and stumbled across the Dubai Museum, quite accidentally! It was late afternoon by this point and wanting to get out of the heat so we headed inside.

The Dubai Museum has a wealth of treasures. You start your journey in a courtyard area, there are wooden boats and examples of bedouin life. You head inside and into the fortress, following a spiral ramp down to the galleries. The galleries explored the history of Dubai, an in depth look into the rich history of the city and its culture. It looked at the importance of the sea to the city and then the recent development of the city – the desire of the city to be home to the tallest, the widest, at the forefront of architectual design. It was an extremely insightful introduction to the city.

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On leaving the Dubai Museum we took a walk through the city, a mixture of the residential and industrial parts of the city. We followed a group of young men for a while who had a kitten walking beside them, much like a dog would, after a while one of the young men scooped it up and carried it. We eventually returned to the coastline and came across an old friend, the QE2, which had reached her final destination of Dubai before being turned into a beautiful hotel. I remembered saying goodbye whilst living in Southampton from my bedroom window, watching her sail down Southampton Water and into the Channel on to her final destination.

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Heading back to the hotel we decided on dinner at the Hong Loong restaurant, a gorgeous Chinese restaurant hidden away in a corner of the hotel – you had to get a lift to find it! We had such delicious Chinese cuisine, including Beef in Black Bean Sauce with Strawberry crushed ice for dessert accompanied by the most gorgeous Oriental Cosmopolitan I have ever tasted! I am so looking forward to recreating that at home – but I’m not sure it will match up to the same standard!

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Make sure you keep an eye out for part 2 of my Dubai adventure – coming soon!!!

Becky at Pretty & Petit

 

A View from The Shard

On a warm September evening, we travelled over to London Bridge to visit The Shard, the tallest building in Europe. Watching this gradually being constructed over the last few years, it was amazing to be able to visit this amazing building. Especially as so many of the tallest buildings in London are predominantly housing or office blocks.

The View from The Shard

               The View from The Shard

We paid for our tickets, went through some security and had our photo taken. After being provided with an audio guide we were guided over to the lift. I felt a bit apprehensive prior to going to The Shard as I am afraid of heights but once in the lift this seemed to disappear.

To get to the top you are required to get in two lifts, travelling at 6m per second. They are ultra smooth and it doesn’t feel like you are travelling anywhere at all! The first stops at floor 33 where you head to a second lift to go up to floor 68. This was definitely one of the tallest buildings I’ve ever been in. I don’t think I’ve ever been higher than 8 floors!

Stepping out on the 68th floor (and walking up the stairs to the 69th) we were absolutely mesmorised by the sight before us. Every single part of London, North, South, East and West was laid out before us in a criss-crossing pattern of multi-coloured lights and beautifully lit architecture.

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We enjoyed some champagne and took so many photos of the different views available from the floor to ceiling windows in each angle of the building. Although a sprawling city, it looked so small from that height. The railways snaked across the city like rivers and the Thames itself was adorned by bridges spanning its width as far as the eye could see. It was truly spectacular.

Champagne on the 69th floor!

Champagne on the 69th floor! (It was dark up there!)

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Looking up into the night. Towards the spire of The Shard

If you’re thinking of visiting The Shard on a trip to London it’s an absolutely amazing thing to do! Certainly you pay a price for a view like that (concessions are available for students, senior citizens etc.) and there are some wonderful packages available too. However they have an affordable boutique at the end which is good value for money so handy for souvenirs on your way home.

Some key facts about The Shard!

The Shard is approximately 309 metres high.

The Shard is the tallest building in Western Europe.

A fox was found living on the 72nd floor during construction which staff nicknamed ‘Romeo’.

The Shard is home to Shangri-La Hotel, as well as multiple bars and restaurants and office space.

It takes 3 months to clean the windows of The Shard by some very brave window cleaners!

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Becky at Pretty & Petit