If, like me, you work full-time whilst planning every next adventure, then you know it’s important to maximise your annual leave.  It seems every year that there are not enough days to go exploring but with today’s current climate it is never worth the risk of taking holiday unpaid.

 

I first started thinking about maximising my annual leave when I moved to London, 3 years ago. It’s no secret that this city is expensive! So taking unpaid leave or buying additional holiday days was out of the question. So I started thinking about how I could make the most of my annual leave with what I had available. I’m aware that this might be a lot harder in the U.S. where you tend to have less annual leave than we do in the U.K., plus if there are different holidays, it could make it very U.K. specific! But alas, this is what we have to do. I’ve done a little research and found a few ways that you can fully maximise your annual leave next year for optimum traveling time!

 

Annoyingly, this year and last we had SUCH good bank holidays around Christmas time, which are smack back in the middle of the week next year, but we can make this work, people.

 

Also, disclaimer – this will probably only work if you don’t have a maximum of time you can take off work at any given point, and if you don’t work weekends. This is all I have experience of, so I’ve tried my best! Let me know if you’ve deducted any clever ways to maximising your annual leave!

 

Take 8 Days Off for a 16 day Holiday

Easter falls around late March early April next year, so you can double your holiday time by taking off the Monday 26th-29th and Tuesday 3rd-6th. Perfect for a little mid-season jaunt, don’t you think? This is great as well for the budget conscious, as flying out on the 23rd March anywhere is a lot cheaper than flying out on the 30th!

Take 3 Days off for 10 day holiday

If Christmas holidays are your thing, and you have a little wiggle room this year, then take off the 27-29th December for a return on the 2nd January, so you can have a truly refreshing Christmas!

Take 14 Days off for a 24 day holiday

Planning a once in a lifetime holiday? Those trips take up a LOT of annual leave, so you know that every single day of leave counts! 14 days sounds a lot, but if you’re getting a 24 day holiday in return, that’s nearly a month! For this deal, take off the 8th-25th May with Tuesday 29th being your first day back. I always knew there were 2 bank holidays in May for a reason…

Take 4 Days off for a 12 Day Holiday

For Christmas 2018, taking off Christmas Eve, then the 27th, 28th and 31st December will give you a nice nearly 2 week time to relax, or jet abroad for some winter sun. What a way to start off 2019, right?

How to maximise your annual leave in 2018

I’ve talked a lot about my wonderlust and itchy feet.  It’s been a year since I jetted off for the seamlessly endless two weeks to Northern Italy. It seems at the moment I can’t stop thinking about those perfect, cobbled streets, powerful, welcoming sun & carbs for days.

I’m not going to lie, travelling for two weeks covering many different areas was not that simple. It was complex, meticulously planned but most of all it was extremely rewarding. So this is why I wanted to post my 2 week Italy itinerary; I found others’ so helpful when planning the trip, and it seems that no two plans are ever identical!

Me and my partner travelled from Milan, to Varenna, to Verona to Venice, Florence and then flew from Pisa home. So buckle up, this is going to be a lengthy post…

Oh, and it hasn’t stopped me planning future road trips… 😉

Day One: From London, with Love (to Varenna via Milan!)

We flew into Milan from Gatwick, as was nearest to our first stop on Lake Como. If you’re looking for cheap flights to Italy, you can’t get much better than Milan for the north.

We had a few hours wait for our train up to Varenna, so decided to venture out into the hot Milanese sunshine, where we were greeted unexpectedly by the Pride Parade. What better way to start your adventure than surrounded by rainbow flags, pumping music & the happiest Italians about!

Milan Centrale Train Station with Pride FlagsMilano Pride 2016

Milan to Varenna

After frolicking around with the Pride Parade, we took our train up to Varenna. We decided to stay about midway on the lake in this sleepy village, to avoid the tourist trap of Como itself. This turned out to be the best decision we made, and Varenna remains firmly one of my favourite places that I’ve visited to date. It’s one of a trio of towns that you can ferry between, the others being Bellagio and Menaggio. Bellagio is very upper class and tourist-y, whilst Menaggio is extremely quiet. We visited all three towns, but Varenna was definitely our favourite, and serenely beautiful.

I had some kind of sense that we would be extremely sleepy after travelling around all day, so I booked a restaurant in advance of our trip to avoid having to decide where to eat on our first night. When we arrived to our AirBnB, we got showered, changed, relaxed for a bit, and then headed out to wander along the cobbles and find our food.

Balcony in Varenna, ComoVarenna_2 Varenna_3 Varenna_4 Varenna_5

If you do happen to stay in Varenna, I highly recommend the Ristorante la Vista, which is situated on top of a hill, with the terrace overlooking the lake. It truly was the most spectacular start to our holiday, and the food was absolutely delicious. We both went for the tasting menu, and while it wasn’t the cheapest, if you’re used to London prices, it was ridiculously good value for money!

Ristorante la Vista, Varenna

 

Day Two: Exploring & Celeb-Spotting

Having fully rested, we left early on day two to get the ferry across to the neighbouring towns. Bellagio was full of ritzy glamour, if you love celeb-spotting, definitely take the trip here, you may even catch a glimpse of George Clooney’s Como villa on your way!

Bellagio streetVarenna_1 Varenna_2 Varenna_3

After this, we headed over to Menaggio, but were a bit underwhelmed. We knew it was always going to be the quieter of the trio, but it really was quiet!

Having explored these towns, we headed back on the ferry to Varenna and picked up some dinner at a local café diner. It wasn’t quite up to Ristorante la Vista standards, but it kept us going and was still delicious!

Day Three: Learning from the master

Our final day in Varenna, we took a cookery class at the Ristorante Il Caminetto. Out of our entire trip, this was probably our favourite activity. With a group of around 10, Chef Moreno demonstrates a 3-4 course meal, with help from us all, of course! To watch such a talented chef create masterful dishes with so much love and care was an incredible experience for my foodie heart. Plus they give you a carafe of wine on arrival… so…

Cookery class in Varenna_2Cookery class in Varenna_1Cookery class in Varenna_3

Cookery class in Varenna Ossobucco

Day Four: Travels to Fair Verona

We hopped on our train back to Milan after a lazy breakfast in the sun. We had a connecting train in Verona, which took around 2 hours. When we arrived, we met our AirBnB hosts and got showered, ready to wander back into town. Verona is a really pretty city, with lots to explore. We got dinner at Osteria Giulietta e Romeo, which sounds cheesy, but it has really wonderful Veronese food.

Verona_3Verona_2

After this, we wandered within the city walls as the sun set, and then decided to walk off our dinner by climbing up the steep steps to Piazzale Castel San Pietro. In hindsight, this made us feel seriously sick after food… BUT it was worth it. If you’re headed to Verona in June/July time, try this climb at sunset to see spectacular views, and it’s a little cooler, making the climb much more pleasant.

Day Five: Rubbing Breasts. Yes. Really.

Time to hit the shops! Verona has a fantastic shopping scene, with designer shops galore, plus high street hits. We spent the morning shopping before it got busy, then grazed around, gelato in hand (of course). If we were going to plan ahead again, we would’ve stopped over in Verona when an Opera was playing, as this is meant to be incredible! We missed it by a day, so we had a bit of bad luck, there.

Verona_1

We did stop by Casa di Giulietta, where the statue of Juliet is meant to give good luck if you rub the right breast… I mean… let’s stop right there. This place would be an idyllic courtyard, if it weren’t for the hundreds of tourists desparate to get selfies next to this statue. The wall in the alley is adorned with love letter graffiti, which strikes me as wholly unromantic… but, when in Verona, you may as well pay a visit! We did not pay to get into the house, it looked even more crowded than the courtyard! But it ticked it off the list for us, at the very least.

After dinner at La Cantina del 15, which has a beautiful garden setting, we got a gelato by recommendation from our AirBnB host at Gelateria La Romana Verona, who promised it would be the best gelato in Verona. In the searing heat, I went for a lemon flavour, and it did not disappoint! Although we had to eat these very quickly in the heat, they were refreshing and delicious.

Day Six: Arriving in Venice

We set off early for our train to Venice. Top tip, if you are travelling by train, it’s a good idea to get your trains early in the morning! The early start might be a bit painful on holiday, but it’s worth it as you can make the most of your day, instead of missing half a day on travel! When you arrive in Venice, get your waterbus ticket there, as it will save you a lot of bother in the future! You tap your card before boarding the waterbus.

We met our AirBnB host, Mario, who was a Venetian local (you’ll soon find out this is a rare thing in Venice!), living in a house 1 minute from the waterbus stop. I’d truly recommend staying with AirBnB hosts when travelling around, as you learn so much from the people you stay with about their country and culture, plus it’s always lovely meeting people from all walks of life!

We spent the first night exploring, as the canals and winding streets are so enticing to get lost in.

Venice_2

Before I mention anything about eating in Venice, let me just say that eating quick and easy is hard. Venice is an extremely expensive city, even by London standards, and had I not researched thoroughly (TripAdvisor is my best friend) beforehand, we wouldn’t have enjoyed the food that much. A few tips:

  • Be wary of pizza in Venice
    • This sounds ridiculous, it’s Italy, right? They DO pizza. True, but Venice is not the place. There is a restriction on wood-fired pizza ovens, so delicious pizza is hard to come by. Go for seafood instead, you can find some incredible squid ink pasta.
  • Eat like the locals
    • Cicchetti is similar to Spanish tapas, and the locals in neighbourhoods such as Cannaregio love to eat this with a glass of wine in the evening.
  • Do your research
    • I’m serious! I mentioned this before, but TripAdvisor is your friend. Book ahead if you can, as one night we tried to eat at a restaurant with fantastic reviews, and it was fully booked for both sittings! We ended up wandering the streets (phone signal is gold dust here!), and unfortunately had dinner at the worst restaurant on our entire trip. Tourist-trapping and extremely overpriced!
  • Venice Restaurant Recommendations:

Day Seven: Beating the Venice Crowds

We woke early to beat the crowds and headed up the Campanile di San Marco just before 9:30am. The views from the top stretch all across Venice, and it does take your breath away how serene St Mark’s Square seems before it is full with tourists on day trips. This was definitely one of my favourite things to do during our stay here.

Venice_1

You’ll notice that the day trips get in at around 10-10:30am, so if you can get out before then, you will have quiet streets and lapping water to enjoy for yourselves!

I’d highly recommend taking a waterbus to Burano, so you can see all the picturesque houses in bright colours lining the canals, the locals setting up for the day and selling their goods in market stalls. It is a really beautiful place to explore. I’d recommend getting the waterbus here instead of an ‘all-in-one’ tour, as I’ve heard stories of people getting ripped off beyond belief on these tours!

Burano_1

That evening, we were typical Venice tourists (hey, you’ve got to allow it sometimes), and went on a gondala ride. The gondoliers are fantastic, with a vast knowledge  of the history of Venice. Ours was brilliant, and it was a fun way to end the evening, especially when the tide is high and the gondolier had to tip our whole boat up to fit us under a bridge! Venice at night, is something to behold.

Gondalas in Venice

Day Eight: Venice Beach, no, not that one.

Leave it to me to find the only beach in Venice…

Venice_3

After travelling by train for over a week with just hand luggage, rest and relaxation was duly needed! So we hopped on a waterbus early doors to the Lido island of Venice. This is essentially one long beach. We spent our last day in Venice relaxing on sun loungers and dipping into the sea. Maybe it was not as adventurous a day as it could’ve been, but we are amateur travellers!

Day Nine: Firenze-Bound. Buongiorno Florence!

Leaving early (of course), we took a train to Florence. Just as a side note, if you are travelling from the UK, be prepared for some fancy ass trains on their speed services, at half the price of our scummy old ones! But that’s a discussion for another day…

Our train station was close to our final AirBnB, so after dumping our things in our room, we headed into town to explore.

 

Another side note… if you are travelling in July, Florence is HOT HOT HOT. It’s inner city, so there is little breeze to be had! We were pushing 35 degrees when exploring, which can make for some sticky weather. Just sayin’.

Florence_1

On our first night, we had drinks at a rooftop bar on top of a hotel, La Terrazza Continentale, then we ate at a fantastic place called Trattoria La Casalinga. Every dish looked like it had been prepared with love, and the steak here was incredible.

Day Ten: A Michelin Experience

When looking back at my iPhone steps tracker, Day Ten was by far the most walking we did, as we just wanted to explore! We started off in the morning, and climbed the famous Duomo in the city centre. No easy task, but boy those views were magnificent.

Florence_1 Florence_2

Needless to say we were hungry when we came down, so we stopped off for a quick panini at Il Bufalo Trippone which is right by the Duomo. This place does fantastically well-priced sandwiches, wine and soft drinks, perfect for a quick refuel! We headed to the Mercato Centrale market which was a fun way of sampling an Italian marketplace!

That night, as a special treat, my wonderful boyfriend had booked us into La Bottega del Buon Caffe for a 6 course tasting menu. This was my first Michelin star restaurant experience and I will definitely never forget it! If you get a chance, do go. I worried that it would be stuffy and pretentious but it was purely divine gourmet food with a relaxed atmosphere.

Florence_3 Florence_4 Florence_5 Florence_6 Florence_7

 

Day Eleven: The Best Gelato In The World

We took a great trip out to the Chianti region, where we were able to explore historic towns such as San Gimignano, which sits on top of a hill in Siena. It is also home to the official best gelato in the world, Gelataria Dondoli. I can attest… it was perfect.

San Gimiguorno

When we arrived at the vineyard in Chianti, we were treated to a fabulous wine tasting session with nibbles to go along with it. And who am I to refuse that?!

On our way home we stopped by the Piazzale Michelangelo, where we could watch the sun set over the beautiful city.

Day Twelve: The Main Attraction

It was so difficult to decide which museums to visit in Florence, but we decided on Accademia Gallery. I’ve always loved pre-Renaissance sculpture, but seeing Michelangelo’s David in person was obviously the main attraction. I liked the intimacy of this museum, as it was so much smaller than the somewhat daunting Uffizi!

Florence_8

On our last day, we wandered some more and lapped up the beauty of this city. It was a whirlwind trip, but so rewarding!

 

Day Thirteen: Propping Up Pisa

Our final day saw us catch the train to Pisa, and explore this little city (ie. Get the standard ‘propping up the leaning tower’ picture…), and then head to the airport for our flight home.

Florence_9

 

Italy to me is a real gem, and the fusion of ancient and contemporary magnificence is everywhere you turn. I always want to re-visit, but some real highlights of this trip for me were:

  • The cookery class at Il Caminetto. I cannot stress this enough! If you are in Varenna, or even in Lake Como, make the trip to Chef Moreno’s fabulous restaurant.
  • Climb the Duomo in Florence. A little touristy, I admit. But the climb is nothing to be sniffed at, and the views are nothing short of astounding.
  • La Bottega del Buon Caffe was my first Michelin star experience, and it was such an exciting thing to do, especially if you are a foodie. The atmosphere is so chilled out, the staff are incredibly friendly and the food is spectacular. If you can, definitely head here!

 

Italy Travel Guide 2 Week 14 Day Itinerary

This week alone, I have added 4 new countries to my travel wish list. That’s a whole lot of travelling (and money) that I can’t afford at this time in my life.

‘How about Canada? Or Copenhagen? I’d love to go to Singapore! AND SRI LANKA!’ I fire these new countries at my better half most days. He nods and smiles and pretends to listen and share my enthusiasm. But he knows as well as I do that this list, whilst ever growing, will never be fulfilled.

To put into context, I have just landed my dream job that places my feet firmly in London. My partner is based in the City, so we are limited in what we can do at what times.

I blame social media, namely Facebook & Instagram, for this expansive list. Whether it’s friends from my hometown off on exciting escapades because heaven knows the cost of living outside London means those dream holidays are so much more attainable these days. Or it could be the enviable Instagram feed of the super rich that sees them jetting off to the Maldives on a weekly basis. It’s a morbid fascination that I’m addicted to and this is probably why my Pinterest feed is less home decor these days and more ‘places to visit’.

I read somewhere that we are one of the first generations to truly feel like we don’t have to be contained by the white picket fence and that being ok. This isn’t a new concept, Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation embraced the idea of living without borders. But this was done with a feeling of disdain from society, a rebellion against the man. Nowadays, you are more likely to be judged if you ARE tied to a time and place.

In a super boring way, I think this feeling of discontent with ‘traditional’ society comes from the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. People realised that the jobs they had been tied to and had kept them from doing things they love in the name of security found the rug pulled out from under their feet. More people than ever now freelance and work for themselves because they realised the security they sought was never iron clad.

So I guess my growing Pinterest board and taste for travel is my own way of trying to ‘plan for the future’. If anything were to happen I am happy to up and leave for the world, but for now, I want the best of both worlds, that picket fence and the wandering soul.

But then, maybe that’s what we all want, really.

New York City skyline