Travel

How to budget for your trip: A Beginner's Guide

One of the biggest challenges when you want to travel is money; both saving enough money and ensuring you keep your money safe whilst you travel. It's definitely something that has weighed on me and worried me on almost all of our adventures.  Over time though I've picked up a few different tips to help me budget better & keep our money safe when we're away.

Setting a budget

Setting a dollar figure for your budget is ultimately a personal choice - what’s affordable for me may be out of budget for you and vice versa. So I won’t be talking figures, only about how to work out a figure that makes sense to you. The reality is without funds you can't travel, and I have come to the conclusion over the years that you should aim to primarily travel on your own funds rather than using credit cards or loans. Of course this isn't always possible (it hasn't been for us) but working out your budget early on can help make sure you do save the money you need to travel.

Before starting to plan your budget make sure to take into account the conversion rates. This is the secret killer of budgeting because you can spend all this time working out how much you need to save in your local currency only to realise that it’s worth half the value of the currency of where you are going.

Planning your budget can be broken down into five simple steps:

  1. Firstly work out your flights: This is always the biggest expense for me so it's always the first thing I save for.

  2. Next up work out a maximum you would be willing to spend per night on accommodation and multiply that by the amount of nights you’ll be away.

  3. Now do the same for your daily budget, working out a maximum spend and multiplying by amount of days you’ll be away. Make sure you include food, drink, local transport, entertainment and shopping in your daily spending. Lonely Planet is a good resource to work out what different daily amounts will get you and what different basic items cost.

  4. Inter - country (or city) travel is next and it’s always a bit tricky if you’ve never been to a place before. Again Lonely Planet is a good resource for finding the names of public transport companies and hire car services, and also gives tips about what the best options are (in terms of the time of year and cost associated). Most websites will then give you an idea of how much a ticket  will cost to buy, or how much a car will cost to rent.

  5. Lastly remember to budget for travel insurance - it’s non negotiable. 


Money while you travel

Having money and feeling secure about your funds is very important when you travel - often you're dealing with a huge chunk of money that you wouldn't normally have. I actually have to thank my husband for the tips below - he handles all the money when we travel and he’s got a really good system.

  • Have some of the destination currency on you before you leave: Nothing is worse than landing in a country and just wanting a coffee or a sandwich and not having some cash to buy said items.

  • If you have a layover make sure you have cash in the currency of the country the airport is in.

  • Take cash out in blocks, only enough for a few days at a time - initially we did this unintentionally because we didn’t have ATM’s in every city for our local bank but it did make us feel better because we didn’t have a huge wad of cash in our bags

  • Just put your daily budget in your wallet - at the end of the day anything left over carries to the next day.

So why cash? If you rely on card you can’t guarantee that everywhere will have the capacity to process EFTPOS payments. It also prevents you from overspending because you can see how much cash you have left. Lastly if you’re taking cash out in blocks and then storing some of it safely in your hotel if you then lose your wallet you still have cash you can use.

Photo courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo


How to confidently travel solo

In the last year or so I’ve done a lot of travel by myself - mostly because of work. Now as a card carrying introvert the idea of being alone doesn’t really bother me - in fact I find it very peaceful. However I was still initially nervous about being in public by myself and doing things that are traditionally group activities like going out to dinner or sightseeing. I feel like this is what most people are nervous about - that you’ll look weird, or you’ll feel lonely.

Once I started travelling I realised that I really enjoyed being by myself and travelling alone. I also worked out how to get past my nerves. I thought I would share my tips for being confident and having fun when you travel solo.

Choose your schedule

When you travel alone you are the only person who has a say on your schedule and it is so important to take advantage of this. I love when I travel solo because it means I can decide on a whim to go for a walk on the waterfront, have a post work day cocktail or relax in the bath.

Although it is a lot of fun to travel with your lover or friends there is something so liberating about not needing to discuss your plans with anyone. It also means you can follow your passions without worrying about whether it’s boring or frustrating anyone.

For example I really enjoy going on walks with my camera - I always feel a bit guilty taking so much time to take photographs and play around with composition when I’m travelling with others - so I like that I can spend 10 minutes setting up and taking photographs without delaying anyone except myself.

Be Confident

I know it’s very nerve wracking to go to dinner all by yourself. Every time I do it I wonder if anyone is staring at me or calling me a loser in their head. I try to take an attitude that people:

a) don’t think I’m weird for dining alone and;

b) may even think I’m kind of cool for being brave enough to be sitting alone in a restaurant.

So when I walk into a restaurant or bar I pretend that everyone is so amazed by how self possessed I am. It sounds kind of weird but it really works - pretending to feel unbothered by the opinions of others tricks my brain into actually feeling like that - which is a lot more fun than awkwardly slinking into a restaurant and sitting in the back where no one can see me, rushing through my meal so I can retreat to my hotel room.

If you’re wondering what to do whilst you eat or drink you can:

  1. Read a book

  2. People watch: I love to sit at the bar so I can watch what the wait staff are doing as well as the customers (plus sitting at the bar in a restaurant makes me feel very cool)

  3. Listen to podcasts: this is my personal favourite because you don’t need to need to try and balance eating and holding a book plus you can still people watch.

Entertain Yourself

When you travel alone you have a rare opportunity to focus. I find when I’m travelling solo I get so much done - in particular on the plane - because I just have so much time on my hands. The downside of course is that with all this peaceful time on your hands if you don’t bring things to sufficiently entertain yourself you will get bored very very quickly.

So I like to take a few different options for entertainment - I’ve already mentioned podcasts but other suggestions include:

  • Audio books: I’m a total Audible convert

  • Colouring books: Particularly useful for the plane

  • Laptop: I love to settle in on the plane and get a ton of work done.


A guide to bar hopping in Adelaide

When I was a young thing living in Adelaide the bar scene was pretty standard. Lots of loud nightclubs where you would wait for half an hour to get served and a few cocktail bars that were completely out of my price range. In the years since we moved away Adelaide has slowly undergone a transformation - cute, quirky bars have started popping up all over the place.

So when Mike and I decided to celebrate our anniversary when we were visiting Adelaide over Christmas of course we decided to spend the evening in the city and see for ourselves all these amazing bars people had told us so much about.

I'm shining the spotlight on some of my favourites today but in general if you head down Peel Street, Leigh Street, Bank Street or Gresham Street (and they are all within walking distance of each other) you are bound to find one (or many) new favourites.

Bar Guide: Adelaide, South Australia // Miss Sweet Nothings

La Buvette

As a confirmed Francophile if I lived in Adelaide this bar is where you would find me most evenings after work. La Buvette is modelled after a traditional French bar serving apertifs, French inspired snacks and lots of incredible wine.

The staff are incredibly friendly and knowledgeable about what they sell - they even offered to let me try the wine I wanted to purchase to ensure I liked it - and the decor is beautiful; from the bright blue entrance to the empty wine bottles lining the walls. All this added up to a very relaxing atmosphere and a great start to our evening.

Bar Guide: Adelaide, South Australia // Miss Sweet Nothings

Mississippi Moon

As you would expect from the name Mississippi Moon is a Southern style bar with a tagline of “Moonshine, bourbon and sin”. It comes with an impressive cocktail list - I personally tried the Huckleberry Gin and think it is the perfect summer cocktail - as well as three beers on tap (not your normal fare either) and many bottled beers.

As with La Buvette the service was top notch - they brought our drinks to the table and offered us fresh peanuts to nibble on as we sipped. The bar has lots of different seating options from little cafe style tables to some stools looking out the front window as well as lots of room for standing and mingling.

P.S. I love this photo with a cameo by my husband (they're discussing which beer he should order - another place that's happy to let you taste before you purchase)

Bar Guide: Adelaide, South Australia // Miss Sweet Nothings

Bibliotecha Bar and Book Exchange

Now we visited this particular bar towards the end of the night so my memories are a bit blurry however even in my slightly wine addled state I couldn’t help but be charmed by the walls of books (which I immediately started poking through). I love the idea of coming here on a cold winter’s night, curling up with a glass of wine and a book I’d pulled off the shelf.

I wish I could give an accurate review of the drinks and staff however due to the above mentioned wine addled state all I can say with certainty is the staff were friendly, funny and knowledgeable and they make a lovely gin and tonic. What a shame - I guess this means I have to go back to give a better review.

Clever Little Tailor

Now I can’t say this definitively but I am pretty confident in saying that Clever Little Tailor was the little bar that started it all when it opened in 2013 - paving the way for all the bars that have come since. These days it has an international reputation and is packed out almost every night - definitely come early or be prepared to move the second some chairs or bar space becomes available.

They do incredible cocktails and will happily mix something up for you if you ask but you can also buy wine by the bottle - which is pretty perfect when you have a group of people all keen for a drink (as well as meaning less trips back to the bar).

P.S. Apologies for the lack of photo - Clever Little Tailor has the combination of incredibly busy and lots of low lighting that makes photographing it super difficult (especially after a few wines)


A quick guide of where to eat (and drink) in Circular Quay

For the last few months I have been lucky enough to travel to Sydney for work - it's definitely nothing I ever expected to do and it's been a lot of fun. Sydney was never really on my list of places to visit in Australia and I didn't think I would enjoy it as much as I ultimately have.

And of course I had to go out and see what there is to eat and drink in Sydney so I could report back to you! I was lucky enough to stay in Circular Quay which is incredible (as you can see from the photos) but typically very expensive. So my mission was simple: find some affordable places to eat and drink that everyone can enjoy.

Travel Guide: Sydney // Miss Sweet Nothings

Meat & Wine Co

I actually discovered Meat & Wine Co because it's attached to the hotel I was staying at and I am so glad I did. It's such a lovely place to stop for pre (or post) dinner drinks. You can of course have dinner there as well and as a small town girl one of the most big city experiences was sitting at the bar, drinking wine surrounded by business people in suits. 

Perfect for: Pre or post dinner drinks or a fancy dinner

Bar Luca

It's not often I say this but the burgers at Bar Luca changed my life. They are simultaneously the best and messiest burger experience of my life. The vibe in Bar Luca is really fantastic as well - very casual and lively. I will say if you want to eat their definitely book ahead - it's incredibly popular and trust me when I say nothing is more disappointing then walking in and realising there is literally no room anywhere.

Perfect for: Casual dinner and drinks (but only if you don’t mind your dining companion seeing you covered in secret sauce).

Travel Guide: Sydney // Miss Sweet Nothings

Cafe Nice

Cafe Nice is a lovely French restaurant tucked away behind the main strip of Circular Quay. It's a southern French inspired menu (hence the name) and it made me miss my beloved Paris. The food is wonderful and the service was very friendly - neither too overbearing nor too absent. Though - like in most restaurants in Europe I will say there is a longish gap between the courses - Europeans feel that a meal should be enjoyed slowly without being rushed. 

Perfect for: Date night (either by yourself or with someone else special)

Portabello Cafe

If you have breakfast in one place in Sydney - this is the place. It is literally situated on the water of the Quay with a ridiculous view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. The food is really quite affordable - and also really delicious given the million dollar views. Also the coffee is excellent (though I would expect nothing less from a cafe run by Italians). 

Perfect for: The most amazing view with breakfast you may ever have

Buckley's

I actually don't recommend this place for dinner - the food is really nothing to write home about - but it is a great place for drinks. They always have really good drink specials going and good happy hour deals. They have indoor and outdoor options but of course I recommend the outdoors for the view. 

Perfect for: Happy hour drinks


Tips for travelling in Europe

I thought I would start this post with a disclaimer: These are my tips for people travelling in Europe based on my experience as an Australian.

I feel like this disclaimer is necessary because I have seen posts about tips for travelling in Australia and have found them hilarious - do other countries really not buy rounds when you're out having a drink? 

So - to any Europeans out there -there’s a chance I’ve gotten the details wrong in places, and I hope you find it as funny as I do when people write guides about Australia.

Smoking laws are different

I think the biggest one for me was that many restaurants still allow smoking indoors in certain areas - and smoking in public places such as train stations (and the Colosseum) is completely normal. It’s something to consider if you are sensitive to smoke or just don't like marinating in it over dinner. Of particular note is Greece - which doesn't seem (at least to me) to observe any rules regarding where you can and can't smoke.

Take the train

The European train system is incredibly good - we've almost exclusively used it on both our trips and love it. You can book ahead online - which I do recommend if you don't speak the language - and it is always very affordable.

Plus travelling via train through Europe is visually stunning  I'm pretty certain Mike and I spent the whole time doing heart eye emojis as we pressed our faces against the windows when we passed through Switzerland.

Dinner is much later

Normally around 7-8. This was one we struggled with, Mike and I are morning people so we would normally get up around 7, have breakfast and then head out for the day. So by 6 we were starving and would have to head out for dinner. I love participating the routines of a country and it made us feel a lot less like tourists when we pushed ourselves and waited until later to head out for dinner. It also gave us a very flimsy excuse to eat afternoon tea.

Food service is relaxed

Food forms a large part of the culture of Europe - it's something to be enjoyed; preferably with loved ones and with no rush. This is reflected in the food service, which is a lot slower than it is in Australia. This isn't bad service; it's just a different attitude to how long a meal should take. It can initially take a bit of getting used to but by the end I really enjoyed the slower pace - it feels more like how meals should be.

Enjoy the culture

European countries are so small (comparative to Australia) but so intensely different and that is all part of the fun! Drink Feldshlossen in Switzerland, eat all the gelato in Italy, ask for raki after dinner in Greece and for the love of god eat any bread you can get your hands on in France. Keep your eyes peeled for moments unique to the country you are in.

Walk everywhere

Some of my best ever memories are from our epic treks around various cities. Check out the cute little gardens that people have on their front steps in Amsterdam, wander down all the random alleyways in Venice, walk through the streets of Paris, pet all the cats in Rome (seriously do). These cities have had millennia to become as magical as they are today - and most of that magic is missed if you drive or take a train around the city.


Reasons to travel in winter

So far Mike and I have spent two months in Europe in winter and I can honestly say that we love it. So I decided I would put together a short list of reasons of why we love to travel in the winter and why you should consider it too!

Off peak prices

I have managed to score some incredibly good prices - particularly for hotels - because we were travelling in the off peak season. On top of this we have received room upgrades - both where they told us they were doing it and others where we got a really nice room without them explicitly telling us it was an upgrade. In both cases we weren’t charged anything extra. We have also gotten more affordable tickets to museums, planes and trains just because we were travelling in the off peak.

Christmas cheer

I love Christmas in Australia but there is something so magical about Christmas in Europe. It's a lot more relaxed, potentially because Europeans have had thousands of years of celebrating Christmas (and before that - the solstice) behind them. Plus it's nice to see the traditions of Christmas in their natural habitat instead of entirely out of place like it is in Australia. Christmas markets, mulled wine and even fresh Christmas trees make a lot more sense when it’s ten degrees then the thirty degrees in Australia.

Smaller crowds

I would love to say no crowds at all but...well Florence and Rome were still pretty busy in winter so don't get too excited. However the day we visited the Athenian agora we were the only ones there and it was just so peaceful.

Even when you can't get no crowds you do get less crowds and in places like Venice that can make all the difference. You get to experience what the locals experience which makes for a far more pleasant trip.

A different vibe

I can't really say this with certainty (having never traveled in summer) but I feel like people are more relaxed in winter. It's the holidays for them too and I feel like they have more time to share what makes their home amazing. We met so many lovely, friendly, passionate people on our travels - and having worked in the service industry since forever I know that when it is busy you do not have time to stop and chat and give that personal love.

The weather

I adore the winter in Europe - it's so crisp and glorious - even when it's minus 3 and you are wearing all your clothes at once. I have no doubt if I lived in Europe and had to deal with winter all the time I would feel different but I live in Australia so snow will always be a novelty to me.


Travel Guide: Crete

One thing we tried out on this trip was a mini trip within the trip - after two days in Athens we flew to Crete with carry on only (leaving our larger luggage in the capable hands of the Plaka Hotel) for two days. I was SO nervous about this part of the trip - and naturally all that worry was for nothing because it went completely smoothly - the only scary bit was landing in Crete because one of the engines blew something as we were coming in.

Since we were in Crete for only two days - and one of those days it snowed of all things - this will be a short entry. I will say that two days was not long enough on any of the Greek Islands - and we will definitely be returning one day.

Travel Guide: Crete // Miss Sweet Nothings

Where to go

Palace of Knossos

Mike and I actually only really went to Crete for one reason - to see the Palace at Knossos. Or, to be more accurate, I really wanted to see the Palace and I somehow convinced Mike we should do it. In reality (and I only found this out once we were there and walking around) Mike had no idea about the culture of the Minoans - which almost literally blew my mind given we are both giant history nerds.

If - like my husband - you haven't heard about the Minoan culture please go and read up on it as it is fascinating. Equally as interesting is the history of the discovery of the Palace itself in the last century and its "reconstruction" by the archaeologists of the time. 

Oh, and we saw peacocks which was pretty crazy.

Travel Guide: Crete // Miss Sweet Nothings

Archaelogical Museum of Heraklion

After seeing the Palace Mike and I went to the museum in Heraklion - it really was incredible to see how intricate this culture was, and how much of a mystery it is - even now. Seeing the Phaistos Disc was a highlight - but I think personally the two biggest highlights was seeing Mike's wonder at this civilisation he knew nothing about before he came there and the sweet little kitten who wanted to come into the museum to get out of the cold (cats were a bit of a theme on this trip apparently).


Travel Guide: Athens

Mike and I went to Greece with really no expectations - a lot of our friends who had been admitted they didn't like it - so we really went in thinking if nothing else, we could just hang out in our hotel room and relax.

We found Athens to be fun and lively and the Greek people are some of the nicest, kindest and sweetest people we have ever met. I have such fond memories of our time in Athens and I encourage everyone to visit if you can.

Travel Guide: Athens // Miss Sweet Nothings

What to visit?

Acropolis

The day we went up to the Acropolis it was rainy and freezing cold but it was still so incredible to make the trek up to the top. My favourite part was the Erechtheion, in high school my classics teacher spoke highly of the beauty of the columns (which are Greek maidens) because it is able to support the roof without making the women's neck look stocky. I was able to admire the originals up close in the Acropolis Museum and I can absolutely understand why he found them so captivating. 

The rain did put us off a little because some areas felt a little dangerous with how slippery it was, so I would love to go back when it's sunny.

Travel Guide: Athens // Miss Sweet Nothings

Athenian Agora

The Agora was the centre of all life in Athens - much like the Forum in Rome. Unlike the Forum though the Agora has been allowed to return to nature - which in many ways just makes it more beautiful; all the trees and bushes slowly enveloping the birth place of democracy and philosophy. We went to the agora on the same day as the Acropolis and because it was cold and wet we had the place almost to ourselves. It was so peaceful - and I feel so lucky to have experienced it the way we did. Although there are downsides to travelling over winter - there is also something to be said for having the Athenian Agora to yourself!

Acropolis Museum

This museum is frankly pure genius. As well as telling the tale of Athenian history it also houses the originals of all of the frescos and many of the statues of the Acropolis. Not content with that - they have replicated the main temple of the Acropolis to scale inside the museum, to ensure you get the full impact of the frescos as they appear on top of the mountain. The floor on the bottom level is see through to allow you to see the archaeological dig that is occurring under the museum.

National Archaeological Museum

Honestly, by the time we made it here we were a bit over museums so I didn't feel like I really enjoyed it the way I enjoyed the Acropolis Museum. By far the most incredible thng to see was the Antikythera mechanism. It's considered the "first computer" and for a history nerd like me it has always been a source of fascination. It didn't occur to me that it would be housed in the museum - but I was so excited once I realised it was. It's so much smaller than I imagined, but also 20 times more intricate. Truly, it is an incredible thing to see.

Travel Guide: Athens // Miss Sweet Nothings

 Where to eat

First let me say, food in Athens is amazing. . Now I'm not talking fancy food here - everywhere we ate made simple and incredibly hearty food. On top of this the Greek hospitality came out in spades. Everywhere we went people were so friendly and keen to help you have a good time. Free bread (normally with tapenade) and water (unheard of in Italy) was the norm. Plus on multiple occasions they would bring out an after dinner shot (I know it's called raki on Crete - and we took to calling it raki in Athens and they knew what we meant). It ranged in flavour/strength from paint stripper to warm cinnamon spice and it was such a fun way to end the night.

A word of warning - although Greece follows the same smoking regulations as the rest of the EU they take a pretty...liberal approach to them. Essentially if you aren't a smoker and you don't want to marinate in cigarette smoke I do encourage you to sit outside (weather permitting of course).

Efcharis

This was definitely our favourite restaurant in Athens - the portions were hearty and so insanely delicious - and to top it off - crazy affordable. They also have a fantastic drinks range - I recommend Mythos beer or sangria. I think my favourite thing about Efcharis was the atmosphere. Like most Athenian restaurants they had a spruiker out the front encouraging people to come in - and we really enjoyed watching him work his magic.

They also had live music playing, on our last night in Greece we went there and sat inside. Traditional Greek music was playing and the table behind us, bolstered by liquid courage, got up and started to dance. In the restaurant. During peak service. It was one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me - and it really captures in my head the verve and vibrancy that we experienced in Greece.

Where to stay

Travel Guide: Athens // Miss Sweet Nothings

Plaka Hotel

I definitey recommend the Plaka hotel - it's right in the middle of the tourist part of the city but it's also very affordable (always a plus side). The beds are comfy, the bathroom clean and pleasant, breakfast is included and the staff insanely nice and helpful. If this isn't enough to sway you to stay here, the only other thing I can add is the above photo was taken from the rooftop bar of our hotel. And if having an evening wine whilst looking out over the Acropolis isn't enough to convince you - I doubt anything would.


Travel Guide: Rome

We spent 5 days in Rome - the longest in any city on this trip. It also was the last stop in Italy. Leaving Rome and (and Italy in general) was really hard - we had gotten so used to a certain pace of life in Italy and fallen completely in love with it.

In Rome, more than any place, there is this tremendous sense of history co-existing with the modern world. For example where the Circus Maximus once stood they now hold concerts! You can still see the outline of the race tracks that were once there and it just feels so wonderful to know that it is still used as a place of entertainment - as it has been for literally thousands of years.

What to do?

Roman Forum

This is the biggest tip I can give you for Rome. If you're going to go to the ancient sites (the Colosseum etc.) buy your tickets at the Roman Forum - there is never as much of a line as there is for the Colosseum and you can buy a ticket for the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill all at once.

The Roman Forum is incredible - we were there on probably the coldest day of the year  (it was -3 at lunch time) but it was sunny and just spectacular. So little remains really - so try as you might you can't quite get your head around the scale of it. I would be looking at a column that's wider than a tree and realise that there were once twenty identical columns lining the avenue I was standing on. It would have been grand on a scale you can't imagine.

Travel Guide: Rome // Miss Sweet Nothings

Palatine Hill

One of the things that always surprises me about travel is the things people and travel guides never mention. For example, did you know above the Roman Forum is a beautiful manicured garden that was built in the 17th century. I had no idea it was there, and it was lovely. I even saw a rabbit!

St Peter's Square

I have a motto for travel "Always have a reason to go back" - so when we didn't make it inside St Peter's or the Vatican museums I just shrugged and said "Oh well, gives us a reason to come back". We did go to St Peter's Square though on our first day and it was nothing like I expected. I pictured walls or guards or something to delineate Vatican City from Rome itself but there was nothing, you just walk in and you're in another country. It's so surreal.

Travel Guide: Rome // Miss Sweet Nothings

 Capitoline Museums

There are so many museums in Rome you're really spoilt for choice but I don't think you can really go past the Musei Capitoline - established in 1471 it is the oldest museum in the world. What makes it so interesting is the way it is structured - it tends to stay away from the European tradition of rows and rows of statues (which, let's be honest, can get tedious). Instead you get an interactive history of the hill the museum stands on, and this isn't just any hill - it's integral to the history of Rome. There's even the remains of an ancient temple built into the museum itself. 

Piazza Navona

The Piazza Navona is home to the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi - a fountain depicting the 4 main rivers of the world; the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Plate. My favourite memories of the Piazza are of getting our morning cappuccino (at the bar of course) or enjoying lunch in one of the restaurants. We would look out over the square and enjoying watching the tourists, buskers and one day - a circus troupe! I know travel guides say to stay away from the big squares for food but we liked it - it was simple and yummy and it was good fun to be in among the action.

Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary

We stumbled on this place completely by chance. We were on our way to some gardens and we stopped to admire some ruins that had been excavated below street level - when we saw a cat. And another one. And another one. Suddenly we realised that there were cats everywhere. Some of them were even coming up for a cuddle - we gave them a pat and went on our way.

That night I had a poke around the internet and discovered it was actually a cat sanctuary! In the middle of Ancient Roman ruins! In fact, it's where Julius Caesar was murdered (and legend has it that he was the one who introduced cats to Rome in the first place). The next day we went back to have a proper look and met the people who run the sanctuary. Mike and I fell head over heels in love with a sweet little kitten called Arya - we had to leave before we adopted her! I definitely suggest visiting if you love animals - it's so heart warming to see how well loved these strays are.

Travel Guide: Rome // Miss Sweet Nothings

Villa Borghese

Mike and I went for a long walk in these gardens on new Years Day - although it was the middle of winter it was still really pretty. Plus if you exit near the Spanish steps you get the most incredible panoramic view of Rome.

Travel Guide: Rome // Miss Sweet Nothings

Where to eat?

Honestly, I don't have anywhere specific for Rome - I know, it seems so insane - but we just kind of wandered into places that looked nice/where they heckled us. We ate in a tiny by the slice pizzeria on the way to the Vatican, a place called De Niro after Mr Robert De Niro (with a freakishly giant pizza oven), a proper red and white checked table-clothed pizzeria, multiple gelatarias (yes, in the middle of winter) and so many of the tourist restaurants in the big piazzas. We just had fun being tourists in Rome really - and to be fair, if you're going to go with tourist food Italy is probably one of the better places to do it.

further inspiration

Deb of Smitten Kitchen (whose taste in food I trust completely) has a few suggestions from her trip a year or so ago that I sort of wish I had looked at before we went - ah well - next time.

Mimi Ikonn shared a Rome vlog

Travel Guide: Florence

My memories of Florence are comprised of three things: the incredible Tuscan sun, delicious food and lazy wandering. Florence at Christmas can be quite busy with tourists (remember Vatican City is in Italy, so there are lots of people who visit for religious reasons) which kind of put me off a little, but I would absolutely return before heading off into Tuscany.

What to do?

Galileo Museum

Give the Uffizi museum a miss if Florence isn’t your only stop in Italy, it's always packed and there isn't a lot to see that you can't find elsewhere in Italy. Instead I would recommend you visit the Galileo Museum. It was incredible to see the machines and devices used for scientific experiments from the 15th century up until today. This is what they used to figure out how the world works; things like the laws of gravity which we just take for granted today. Also there is an astrolab that has to be seen to be believed - it was possibly one of the most beautiful things I will ever see.

Where to eat?

Florence had some of the best food of Italy - although I didn't really enjoy the touristy side of it, I would return in a heartbeat for the food.

Vini e Vecchi Sapori

This is a place that you must book ahead - Mike and I wandered in during their lunch hour and booked for that night so it isn't too complicated and it is absolutely worth it. There aren't many tables so if you're a couple you may find yourself sitting at the same table as another couple but it's strangely cozy, and really only as weird as you make it. We were seated with a Scandinavian couple and we mostly kept to ourselves except when we were trying to decipher the dessert menu - none of us spoke Italian so it was pretty funny. The waiter came at sat at the table with us to take our order, and was so friendly and helpful.

Oh, and the food is incredible, I had lamb cutlets that I still dream about. I can say, hand on heart, it was my favourite meal of our trip - and it's going up against a lot of incredible food. I think the cozy friendly feel of the restaurant as well as it's determination to focus on quality seasonal food and wine really helps put it at the top of the list. Mike and I wended our way home pretty tipsy after that meal, and it is one of my fondest memories.

Mangiafoco Cafe

Mike and I went here twice, on our first and last night in Florence. I really loved the relaxed atmosphere - it's far more of a wine bar than a restaurant but the food is really good, and it's nice to sit down and enjoy some cheese and wine. It's the sort of place I would go to every Friday night if I lived in Florence.

Spumantino Verrazzano

This was one of those serendipitous moments on our trip, on the same night we were heading to Vine e Vecchi we decided to have some pre drinks. We were on our way to a margherita bar we had heard about when we wandered past this wine bar and on a whim changed our minds.

It turned out to be halfway between a wine bar and cellar door for the winery Verrazzano - a winery that has been around in one form or another since Roman times.  We sampled a few of their different wines, I fell heads over heels in love with Chianti that night and we picked up a bottle for us. and a bottle for Mike's parents.

Travel Guide: Florence // Miss Sweet Nothings

Where to stay?

Hotel Berchielli

Mike and I stayed at Hotel Berchielli and it is an incredibly nice hotel on the river but - and this is a big but - were we not travelling in the off peak season I doubt that we would be able to afford it . 

What I'm trying to say is that it is a beautiful hotel with fantastic service but it was available to us through luck and chance, and so I couldn't exactly recommend it because I know under different circumstances it would be out of our budget.

further inspiration

Mimi & Alex Ikonn made a follow me around Florence video