Italy Daydreaming: Lake Como

With the return of the nicer weather, you can’t help but wish you were somewhere hot, sipping a cocktail and relaxing in a beautiful location. One place has been on my mind since ‘summer’ has arrived – Italy, and more precisely, Lake Como.

Me and my best friend headed to Milan last June, braving the heat. Whilst we found the city amazing, filled with spectacular buildings, yummy gelato and plenty of shops, the highlight of the break had to be a day-trip we took to Lake Como.

It took just over an hour to get there from one of Milan’s main stations, costing under 20€ for a return ticket. Once there, you’re pretty much right on Lake Como itself; walk just 5-10 minutes and you’ll be greeted with a vast space of glistening blue, bordered with luscious green hills and extravagant houses (if they’re good enough for George Clooney, they’re good enough for me).

Saying this, it really wasn’t hard to see why many celebrities have homes there, or choose it as a luxury holiday destination. Whilst Milan is lovely, the fresh air coming from the lake cooled us nicely. We had escaped the dense atmosphere of the city, and ventured into what seemed like, paradise.

There are a few places to attempt to ‘swim’ in the lake, although I can’t say we went any further than dipping our feet in. A group of kids fooling around near the wall and pushing each other off, seemed to care very little though. Others were also entering through the kind of make-shift ‘beach’ the lake had – which was really just an array of uncomfortable stones and rocks. For us, it was more just something to look at and admire. We left the swimming to the locals.

Besides from the lake, the pretty town of Como also has quite a bit to do. Nowhere near as much as Milan, but you can still easily spend a day there. We stopped off for lunch first – a café overlooking the lake, of which there are plenty of. Next we got a few scoops of gelato (it’s a rule in Italy that you must have gelato at least once a day), and then walked lazily around the small shops in the backstreets. Not much was actually open, due to it being the middle of the day, but it was actually nice to feel like you were wondering the streets alone. The silence, and the views, were bliss.

So, if you’re heading to Milan (or anywhere else in northern Italy), I’d thoroughly recommend a day trip to Como. Our guidebook said the rest of the Italian lakes were also just as appealing, but for us, Como was the easiest to reach, and definitely satisfied our ‘breeze needs’.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

My Bucket List

‘Bucket lists’ are often a great way to decide where to venture next on your travels. Everyone has a few places that, given the opportunity, they would happily be on the next plane to. However, budget and lifestyle restrictions sadly mean that many do not get to tick off all their items…no harm in dreaming though.

  1. First on my bucket list is Peru. A close friend of mine went there recently, and just seeing photos and hearing about her experiences made me want to go even more. I’m fascinated by the ancient culture surrounding Machu Picchu, and would love to complete the traditional Inca Trail to the site. The country is also much more than Machu Picchu, however. I’m keen to check out the capital city of Lima, and explore some more of its rainforest areas.
  1. Russia has a complex history, which has often put many travellers off of visiting. In recent years, whilst some issues do still remain, people are beginning to want to explore this somewhat mysterious country – and I must admit that the ‘unknown’ air of the nation has appealed to me. For one, the architecture of the buildings is unlike anything else in the world – amazing to see first-hand. I recently read a book about an Englishman who travelled through Russia, during the time of the Soviet Union. He described the fear and reluctance to talk politics, which the locals had. When he went on a tour of Moscow, the guide would constantly point out ways in which the regime had benefitted the city. It would be interesting to see how much Russia has changed in such a short space of time.
  1. Famed for its spectacular beaches, Sri Lanka probably creeps its way onto most people’s bucket lists. It’s also hard to ignore the fascinating ruins the small country boasts, and the diverse wildlife – turtles and elephants, need I say more? The warm weather, supposedly friendly people, and unique food, would be a far cry from the often mundane life I lead here. Lately, the capital Colombo has been transformed, becoming more and more popular amongst tourists. Once known for its traffic and urban sprawl, people are now stopping in the city to explore the new galleries, museums, local food and Sri Lankan character. Combine this with the white sand and palm trees on the coast, and you have a very appealing country…well for me anyway.
  1. Stepping away from the warmth, sea and sand, last on my list is Canada. Whilst I wouldn’t say no to a trip to Toronto or Quebec, I’m more interested in the wilder side of Canada. The mountains, crystal clear lakes, miles of deep green trees, and knowledge that around any corner could be a fearsome bear or wolf, has always excited me. Although I’m not usually a lover of the cold, I think I’d happily put on an extra layer (or two) and take it, for that picturesque, serene, view.

So that’s my bucket list…for the moment. I tried to keep it short and think about places I really want to go to – you know, ‘if I give you a plane ticket right now, where would you go?’ type places. Of course, over the years I’m sure to add to this list, and hopefully tick off a few too. Let me know what’s top on your bucket list right now – I’d love to hear!

4 Days in Budapest – Part Two

After the relaxing atmosphere of the baths, it was time to do something a bit more energetic.

First up was the House of Terror (www.terrorhaza.hu), a must see for any Budapest tourist, history buff or not. Clearly labelled on most traveller maps, and opposite a tram/metro stop, the museum is easily accessible in the heart of the city. You get discounted entry if you’re a young person in the EU, which was ideal for us. Tickets and an audio guide came to 2,500 Ft (1,000 ticket, 1,500 guide), however I would not recommend the audio guide unless you’re really into the subject and want an extremely in-depth understanding of the events. Whilst it was beneficial and informative in some rooms, other rooms we tended to ‘switch off’ – the voice was very monotonic and slow.

You start on level two and work your way down to the basement of the museum, taking you on a historical journey of Hungary during Nazi, and then Soviet, occupations. Each room is extremely different from the last, and you never have that ‘stuffy museum’ feel. However the most eye-opening display is definitely saved for the end. The museum itself is the old headquarters for the secret police; many arrests, tortures, and confinements took place there. The basement is where the cells were, and these have been recreated with horrifying effects. The solitary confinement cell is literally big enough to stand in, and our guide told us that the small slit in the door had a bright light positioned in front of front of it, 24/7, so the inmate was unable to even sleep.

After a couple of educational yet somewhat uncomfortable hours, we decided to head to the market for some retail therapy. Central Market is the most popular and largest indoor market in Budapest, particularly known for its fresh produce and meat. As soon as you enter you are hit with amazing, tantalizing smells. Cheese, meat, fruit, vegetables, and lots and lots of Hungarian paprika fill the colourful stalls. Thanks to Budapest’s recent tourism boom, other delicacies have also become available in the market, if their cuisine doesn’t take your fancy (I have to admit, I’m not yet sold).

As well as the mountains of food on offer, typical tourist bric-a-brac and collectables are also for sale. I purchased a post card, for my collection, and a lovely pair handmade vintage-looking earrings. My friends also fell under the jewellery spell, purchasing rings, earrings and necklaces. Upstairs are the more ‘tacky’ items – shot glasses, funny t-shirts, novelty mugs, that kind of thing. Although there were some cool looking sign things, with old-fashioned cartoony images of Budapest on them, which a couple of my friends got for their bedrooms.

Once the market was complete we ventured where no traveller ever likes to admit they visit, but always does – McDonald’s. A few days exploring the city (and one too many drinks the night before for my friends) meant that we were exhausted and just wanted a cheeseburger and a (reasonably) comfy chair until our flight home later that evening.

Whilst I didn’t experience as much of Budapest as I would have hoped to, my friends did manage to collect a few tips that they’re eager to pass on.

  • Take advantage of the freebies. Being students, our favourite word is ‘free’, and Budapest has its fair share of activities available for the savvy traveller. They went on a free walking tour, which they found very interesting, and a free bar crawl. Obviously tips are expected at the end of each event, but they’re a lot less than you would give for a paid tour, which offers exactly the same thing.
  • Have a chimney cake! These odd shaped sweet treats are a traditional Hungary food, and come in flavours such as vanilla, cinnamon and chocolate. I can’t eat them due to dietary restrictions, but have been assured they are both tasty and filling!
  • Public transport is not always necessary. Although we used the metro and trams quite a bit, if you’ve got time (and are not ill) walking is definitely more worthwhile. The unique architecture means that you’re never short of sites when venturing round the city, and obviously you’ll be saving a bit of money too. Nearly everything is accessible by foot, if you’re willing.
  • One more, slightly quirky tip – blue capped bottles are fizzy water, pink capped bottles are still water, and green capped bottles are softly carbonated…this will come in handy, trust me!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my short summary of our time in Budapest – if you’ve been, let me know what you thought of any of the attractions mentioned, and anything else you’d recommend doing in the city – I plan to return one day!