Why take a stroll in the city when the countryside is closer

EU-GB-London_20150627_257 lachie checking out the view from Dunstable DownsWhen you travel to London it can be easy to feel that you have to spend your time within the city, however if the weather is great then why not venture out a bit further.

The Dunstable Downs can be reached from the centre of London in about an hour (lets face it that’s less than it can take to get to some of the Parks within the city).  Take a train to Luton from St Pancreas Station and then its an easy bus or taxi ride to the end of the downs.  Alternatively make a day of it and add the 7km walk from Luton to the trip and then get a cab back to the station at the end of the day.

When you get there these chalk downs are perfect for a summers day walk.  Watch the para-gliders soar, visit the Medieval Rabbit Warren, stroll through the Saxon burial area of Five Knolls but above all watch for the wildlife.

London from the river

Image of the Queen Elizabeth Tower from the Thames River Bus

Image of the Queen Elizabeth Tower from the Thames River Bus

One of the great ways to see London is from the river. Its not necessary to take an expensive tourist trip just have your guide book at the ready but most of the piers are at points of interest that are announced as the river bus approaches so people know to get off – use this as your tour guide.

A trip from Embankment to Greenwich takes you past many of the cities sights starting with the Houses of Parliament and the Queen Elizabeth Tower – home to Big Ben which is the bell in the clock tower.

Best Pizza in Town

Naples_20150514_243 Brandi

Italy has the best pizza in the world and the best of pizza in Italy comes from Naples and the best in Naples (according to many) is Brandi’s in Salita S. Anna di Palazzo.

Brandi’s has been making pizza since it opened in 1780 (and boy is she now tired) and I have to say I had a really great lunch there. There was a singer in the restaurant singing Italian- esque songs that really made for a magical atmosphere.

I recommend keeping it simple and ordering for the Marinara – which is Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil.

Herculaneum – Pompeii’s sister in disaster

Underneath the modern town of Ercolano near Naples and its much more widely known counterpart, Pompeii, lies the Roman town of Herculaneum. Like Pompeii, Herculaneum was also buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79, but unlike her sister city, buried under tons of falling rock and ash, this roman town was buried under 17m of mud in an instant when it found itself in the path of the volcanoes pyroclastic flow. This lead to a level of preservation unseen anywhere else.

Herculaneum_20150516_015 Old Seafront

If you are unsure what 17 meters looks like the image in the image on the left we are looking along the old harbour front on the left and the green in the moat would have been the beach and the Mediterranean the big “wall” on the right of the image is the layer laid down by the AD79 eruption.

Accounts of the events point to this being primarily laid down by the first of the six pyroclastic flows that occurred during the eruption. This boiling mass of gasses and rocks was so hot that when it hit the hundreds who were hiding in what are now assumed to be the boathouses along the beach were killed instantly and moments later the flow buried the town.

How to best plan for a day in Pompeii

Pompeii is such a treasure and still has so much to teach us about the way people lived during the 1st Century. As such, it is an active hive of new study and preservation work to ensure that what has already been discovered remains safe for future generations to visit and enjoy. Therefore, on any given day some of the streets, houses and other buildings are closed to the public – in some instances for months at a time. In order to best plan your trip and avoid disappointment my tip is arrive in the area the night before you want to visit Pompeii and stay locally.

That way you can visit the gate the evening before your visit and get the map. While there ask the guys at the ticket desk to mark the key areas/buildings that will not be open to the public the next day. That way you can then plan your visit over dinner and avoid planning visits to areas that will be inaccessible. Be warned you will get a frosty reception if you try this before about 4pm as they will still be busy still selling tickets to the people entering Pompeii that day!

My top tips for areas of Pompeii to see early to avoid the crowds

When visiting Pompeii get there early and make sure that you “hit the hot spots” first. These are the main sights that all the big tour groups will go to when they arrive, and in this way way you can enjoy a near private visit to these amazing locations. My top tips for places to tick off first are:

1. The forum
2. Terme Stabiane (the Main Baths – but if traveling with kids be aware the men’s baths have some explicit paintings)
3. Terme del Forum (the Forum Baths)
4 House of the Faun
5. The Theatre Complex (not the Ampitheatre – as that is in a significantly quieter point of the site)
6. Villa of the Mysteries

4 Tips to get the most from a trip to Pompeii

Pompeii is a huge draw for tourists from around the world but many of them are on a day trip from Rome or one of the many cruise ships that pass through the Bay of Naples and along the Amalfi Coast. Whilst these tours give one a great chance to see the amazing city of Pompeii they guarantee that you will see it with several thousands of your new best friends. By lunch time on the day I visited I think there were more people in Pompeii than would have been there at that time of day in AD 78 before the eruption! However a bit of careful planning will enable you to visit the city on your own terms.

My top 4 tips are:
1. Stay in the Area so that you can get up and go to the site early and stay till after sunset if the mood strikes you.
2. The evening before you plan to visit, go to the entrance get and pick up the guide book and map. They seem to restock supplies later in day so if you arrive early they may not have anything available in your language.
3. Over dinner, plan your assault on the ruins using the books and the map. Plan a three hour trip – start with the biggest attractions and leave the basic wandering around till after 10:30 as the big tours will only visit the key locations.
4. Be at the doors when they open to maximise your time in the city without the crowds.