Roma, il mio amore – two cheap days in Rome

DSC_0356 copyRome is saturated with history. Around every corner is some testimony to architectural capability is varying states of decay. You would never be able to see everything in one weekend, and nor did I particularly want to. In the July heat I would rather pick and chose a few sites to enjoy than slog through basilica after basilica.

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I flew into Ciampino airport on Saturday night. This is the smaller of Rome’s two airports, and the one commonly used by budget airlines. From the airport, a very comfortable shuttle bus will take you directly to the central station for only €5.
I stayed in the Hostel des Artists. This is a cheap, clean, and comfortable hostel offering 3-bed rooms. The staff were very welcoming and happy to suggest places to eat.

I slept a restless night in the heat but forced myself bleary – eyed from my bed at 6.45 am. It was the first Sunday of the month and that meant entry to the Colosseum was free. It also meant the queues would be extreme. My roommate warned me the night before that on an ordinary day I had to be ready to queue. The beauty of the hostel is that much of central Rome is in walking distance and since this was set to be a budget weekend I decided not to opt for public transport. If you’re happy to spend time soaking up the sun and the atmosphere like me, take comfy shoes – none of the beautiful wedge heels the Roman women clip clop around in.

The early morning air is slightly cooler and fresher than the day-time heat and the half – hour walk to the Colosseum is a lovely way to see some of the city. I reached it by 7.50, 40 minutes before opening time, and already the queue was long. By the time it opened, people were disappearing around its flanks. The Colosseum is quite a sight, though I found it more impressive from the outside than in.
It’s hard for me to start a day without coffee so by the time I found myself outside again, I knew I would need to go in search. I recently spent time in Thessaloniki, where I got used to paying €1 for (admittedly not fantastic) coffee. So there was no way I was paying €4.50 for a cappuccino. I had almost given up my hunt when I found Eat Italy, a small cafe around the corner from my hostel. A good cappuccino cost only  €1.30 and it offers a range of vegan and gluten- and lactose- free goodies.
In the afternoon I headed to the Trevi fountain, getting lost on the way. This became something of a recurring theme of my weekend. The fountain is definitely worth a visit. In crowded, stuffy Rome it is like a oasis. In the square I found one of the many counters full of stunning pizzas. Take your pick and they will cut as much as you want, charging by weight. I opted for artichoke heart and prosciutto. It was rich, savory, and earthy and divine

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After lunch I headed to the Parco della Borghese. It was a relief to relax in the shade of the green leaves and I lay for a long while on a bench. Finally I headed back to the hostel, buying food for dinner from the corner shop. I collapsed, exhausted into bed that night and was so greatful for the fan whir lulling me to sleep.

Day two, I allowed myself a much needed lie in, then packed and checked out. The hostel requires checkout by 10 am but there is space for luggage storage if you are not leaving the city for a while.

Over coffee I thought about visiting the catacombs or the Vatican but both were beyond walking distance. Instead I headed for a picnic in the park. On the way I went into the Bacillica Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri. The park around the Borghese villa is huge and meandering and I got more lost here than in the city. I wanted to made my way slowly toward the gallery of modern art on the northern side of the park. On a Monday the park seemed so empty compared to the day before and as I made my way past other galleries and attractions I became increasingly aware of this lack of people. I finally arrived at the gallery to have my suspicions confirmed: closed on Mondays. Still, the walk was nice and the building is impressive even from the outside.

Mid-afternoon seemed to require ice cream. There are some stunning gelaterias around the city and a few with queues out of the door. I headed for one of these smaller ones but even this had a formidable array, especially for someone as indecisive and I am. At €5 it was not cheap but damn it was worth it.

I meandered back through the Roman forum, the ruins shining in the afternoon sun. That night I would be flying so I soaked up what I could of the city. In Café U. Giuliana, near the hostel I had wine and spaghetti Bolognese. What was meant to be a fancy send off – my celebratory meal – was admittedly rather average. The waiter was cool and seemed to prefer not to deal with English speakers and the food was something I could have made at home. But this would not sour my mood.

I took the shuttle bus to Ciampino airport, where I had planned to spend the night before my 6.45 am flight. Unfortunately, the airport closes at midnight. Therefore, the most expensive part of my holiday was the getting a taxi to the nearby Hotel Villa Guilia (€25 taxi, €38 for a single room, €15 shuttle from the hotel back to the airport). Still, the room was comfortable and the staff were very helpful, and happy to organise a lift to the airport at 5 am.

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And thus I was gone as quickly as I arrived.





Paperless Post

A few days ago I was contacted about the site Paperless Post and asked to review it. I hadn’t heard of the site before but as soon as I saw the webpage I knew it was my kind of thing. The site allows you to create online cards and invitations, which you can send via email.


There are a bunch of free templates which you can customise with colours and images but you can pay for “coins” to upgrade to premium options. I started playing around to see what I could make for free. The site is really easy to use and has a huge number of options for customisation. For this one I uploaded my own image for the background and altered the font style, colour, and size. There are also lots of logo images you can chose from, adapting the colour and size to fit your design. Some are really lovely, although a number remind me of clip-art; the images are largely cartoons or line drawings of random objects. They mostly relate to events that you might use a card for, so depending on what your theme was, you might like to use one. I preferred to ignore them for now.

Personally however, I think it comes into its own with the paid-for options. There are a huge number of exquisite designs with plenty of options for customisation. I had a go at creating my ideal wedding invitation (I know – a bit keen since I don’t have a boyfriend at the moment…) . The final design is beautiful. It cost 9 coins per person to sent. The coins vary in price depending on how many you buy from 20p per coin for 20 coins (sorry if you’re working in dollars!), to just 6p for 5000 coins. Having a bit of a google for averages, I guessed I’d invite 200 people. This brought my total for invitations to £180. It turns out that the average couple in the US spend $443 (£348.4) on invitations alone so cost-wise this is well worth it. Plus, save paper!

The invitations also have a host of other options, allowing you to link to a website, directions, a wish-list, and leave messages or respond to extra questions (which meal option for example). Since the popularity of wedding sites is increasing, this is an ideal way to save the time and effort and compile everything into one place.

The site does lovely cards as well. There is an option to get them printed but for individual cards, this is fairly pricey. This wouldn’t replace birthday cards for me as I enjoy picking out the glittery and laser-cut cards too much. However, I am one of the few of my friends that persists on sending Christmas cards each year and this site is perfect. I also have distant family that send a family newsletter around each Christmas to let us know that they are all still alive and kicking and I think this site would make it more fun. In fact, any situation where you are sending off a large number of cards or invitations, this option is practical and eco-friendly, and very likely cheaper too. I did send a card to my lovely mum who has been really wonderful to me lately when I’ve needed an extra bit of TLC.

Overall, I adore this site and I’m really glad I got the chance to review it. It is wonderful to see paperless options available since most cards end up in the bin or the recycling in the end. This site is a happy medium. It is more practical and cheaper than formal invitations, yet no less special. In a time where most informal events are just through Facebook, it allows you to bring a bit of creativity and beauty to someone’s day.

Follow links for invitations or cards. Check out the site then come back and let me know what you think!

Love Food, an anti-food-waste cookbook

UK households waste 6.7 million tonnes of food each year…1/3rd of everything we buy! This amounts to £420 per household, per year. When factoring in all of the resources going into the production and transport of this food, this wastage is massively costly to the environment as well as to us.

Once we’re conscious of this, it’s easy to make a little extra effort to use up food before it goes bad or not to buy more than we’ll use. To offer a little inspiration, I have put together a food waste cookbook with recipes using some of the most wasted ingredients. Check out the whole thing here or wait out for more recipes to come!

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Tanzania with Raleigh International

Over the autumn of last year I went to Tanzania for three months with the charity Raleigh International. This is a taster of life out there. If you have any questions about what we got up to, the work we did, or the ICS programme, leave me a comment!