Did you know Vatican City is the smallest country in the world? Pretty cool, huh? It’s not just a city in the middle of Italy, it is an actual independent city-state, where it issues its own stamps and passports and everything. So when in Rome… you can’t really pass up an opportunity to go see it for yourself! My favourite part of Vatican City was climbing the dome of St Peter’s Basilica to get some spectacular views over St Peter’s Square and Rome.
Because the Vatican City is a religious site, the dress code must be respected – no shorts, bare shoulders or short skirts. For us visiting in November, this wasn’t a problem as it was pretty chilly. We also found the queues in November perfectly fine, it took us around half an hour to get through security checks. Again, this might be somewhat more lengthy during summer.
There are two ways to climb the dome – climb all the way by foot (551 steps) or go part way in the lift and climb the rest (320 steps). There is a slight price difference, obviously climbing by foot is slightly cheaper.
Pros – The view! The climb is quite an experience but it’s worth it when you reach the top, even just for bragging rights and a quick instagram snap.
Cons – 551 steps is A LONG WAY! My dad didn’t even bother coming up the dome with us as he hates heights but to be honest, I think he might have found the climb too much of a challenge. In addition to the number of steps there are also parts that are very narrow, especially where you’re climbing inside the curve of the dome.
Surprises – After the initial climb (or where I believe the lift may take you to) you reach the interior balcony where you are still inside the dome and can look down on the people visiting inside St Peter’s. At first we were a bit like, is this it?! But then we realised you can climb a little further to get those spectacular views from outside and over the square. Oh and there’s a cafe and shop on a terrace part way up too.
Happy July 4th to all my readers across the pond. This post is dedicated to you.
Things I love about America
1. TV shows
You gave us Friends, Pretty Little Liars, The Walking Dead, The Big Bang Theory, Catfish, Sex and the City, The Simpsons – have I said enough?
2. Junk Food
I’m quite literally like a kid in a candy store (or sweet shop as we say in England). America has about 52864 flavours of M&Ms and Pop Tarts, we have about 3 of each and if we want anything else then we practically have to take out a bank load to afford them.
Ok, there might be a few exaggerations above, but still, you get my point.
3. The Celebrations
You guys go all out. Or at least thats what the movies lead us to believe. Halloween looks like so much fun with everyone dressed up and I’m a total sucker for the cosy Christmases and holiday spirit you guys bring.
Disney, Universal, the amazing villas… the sheer excitement of it all. Orlando – you turned me into a theme park snob with your awesomeness! Plus we got engaged here, so it will always have a special place in my heart.
5. Las Vegas
Basically Orlando for adults. Vegas gave me the same kind of buzz too. Big, bold, brash – but I love it! We even have goals to renew our wedding vows there one day.
6. Warner Bros Studio Tour Hollywood
I love, love, loved this place! I got to see the streets where they filmed Pretty Little Liars, tons of props from the Batman and Harry Potter movies, I saw the working set of The Big Bang Theory, got to hold an Oscar (they are heavy!) AND sit on THE Friends sofa in Central Perk!!!
8. Breakfast cereal
Hell yeah Fruit Loops, Lucky Charms and Apple Jacks where I don’t have to pay £8 for a box!
I did, like most people, indulge in a bit of shopping when I visited New York. But I’m telling you, you can get everything in America. Every nice thing I find on Pinterest is from the USA and when I was into jewellery making a few years ago, all the stuff I wanted came from the States. Which leads me to…
10. Hot Topic
I went there for the first time in Los Angeles and loved it, especially the Disney aisle. I bought myself a Cinderella inspired dress which I wore to a Christmas party. I got so many compliments on it. Which brings me on to…
I grew up on a diet of Disney. I remember my parents taking me and my brother to the cinema to see The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King – I even had The Lion King soundtrack! Those movies are timeless.
12. Pop culture
Movies, music, movies, music. In fact, this July 4th we’ll be having an American themed fancy dress day in my office and I’ve decided to go as one of the most famous American pop culture icons of all time – The King of Pop!
Most people who know me will know that I’m an aspiring Crazy Cat Lady – hey even my Secret Santa gift at the office Christmas party was a crazy cat lady mug! So when I heard about the quirky cat sanctuary of Rome, I knew I had to pay a visit.
Just 5 minutes walk away from the Pantheon is the Torre Argentina Roman Cat Sanctuary, home to around 150 cats who live in the ancient ruins. The ruins themselves are amongst the oldest in Rome (400-300BC) and are thought to be the place in which Julius Caesar was assassinated. As for the cats, they are free to wander the ruins and are very well cared for by a team of volunteers.
Visitors are welcome to visit from noon every day but you can’t just wander around the ruins, you can view from the street above or if you walk down the steps on the corner of Via Florida and Via di Torre Argentina you can visit the little gift shop they have down there.
As well as the gift shop, there is also an indoor section of the sanctuary. This is mostly for cats that need to be indoors for health reasons, but of course other cats wander in and out of the shop part because cats pretty much do what they want don’t they?
The friendly volunteer who was minding the sanctuary on the day I visited showed me and my mum into the part of the indoor bit of the sanctuary that was locked (presumably to stop cats who didn’t need to be in there getting in there). I petted a random cat who was perched on a scratching post and then he/she climbed onto me and made me have cuddles!!! It was so cute. But sadly, all good things must come to an end but the cat was having none of it.
Eventually I did break free but I did feel guilty for cutting short our cuddles. However I did buy a calendar from the shop as the money goes straight back in to feeding and caring for the cats.
Torre Argentina is a wonderful place for a short visit and I would definitely recommend it to all animal lovers! For more information take a look at the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary website.
8 things to do in and around Queenstown New Zealand
Queenstown is a must-do on anyone’s South Island itinerary, after all its not the adventure capital of New Zealand for nothing! Of course, there are TONS of things to do there, but here are 8 of my recommendations…
1. Ride the gondola
Although Queenstown is famed for its fun and adventure, lets not forget that this is New Zealand, meaning that it is also quite pretty. The best way to take advantage of all that scenic beauty is to ride the gondola, which is STEEP (it’s actually the steepest cable car lift in the Southern hemisphere!) but so worth it when you reach the top and take in those gorgeous views.
2. Have fun on the luge
Once you’ve ridden the gondola up to Bob’s Peak, you may as well enjoy some of the activities on offer up there. My recommendation is the luge – so much fun! You take a chair lift up even higher and then pick one of the two luge tracks to travel back down. There’s a more gentle, scenic track which everyone must do on their first ride and then there’s also a faster paced, steeper track. We ended up riding the luge 5 times!
3. Try a famous Fergburger
If you read my post about 3 fast food burgers you must try in New Zealand then you will already know about Fergburger. Although to be fair, you probably already know about Fergburger because literally anyone who has been to Queenstown has raved about this place. It’s not really “fast food” as you’ll probably be queuing about 45 minutes for it but it’s still worth trying at least once. Or twice in my case.
4. Go horseriding
45 minutes drive from Queenstown is the town of Glenorchy, home to Dart Stables where we admired yet more of New Zealand’s beauty but on horse back. We did the beginners trek named Hobbit’s Hack and saw where some of Lord of the Rings was filmed. I can’t claim to be a LOTR fan but I did enjoy the scenery.
5. Spin and splash on the Shotover Jet
The Shotover Jet is quite simply, a jet boat ride on the Shotover River. Running since 1965, they are the only company permitted to operate within the Shotover River’s canyons. High speeds and 360 spins are guaranteed – you might even see rainbows in the mist!
6. Bungy jump
So I have a small confession to make… I didn’t actually do a bungy jump because I don’t have that part of my brain that makes me want to pay $195 to tie a rubber band to my legs and throw myself off a bridge. However, my husband is a bit of a secret adrenalin junkie and did the AJ Hackett Kawarau Bridge jump in Queenstown – the world’s first commercial bungy jump.
He loved it and wouldn’t let me write this list without including it!
7. Visit wonderful Wanaka
We only spent one day in Wanaka which really wasn’t enough. It was pretty and peaceful and we enjoyed a lovely lunch by the lake. It’s also home to two fabulously quirky attractions – Puzzling World and Cinema Paradiso. If you want to know a bit more about Wanaka then take a look at my post Quirky things to do in wonderful Wanaka.
8. Take a day trip to Milford Sound
I admit this might be an odd choice given that my trip to Milford Sound was my worst day travelling but I know other people who have been there and had a great time. I can’t say more than that. Go read my post Milford Sound – is it worth it? and decide for yourself on this one.
Have you been to Queenstown? What was your favourite thing to do? Comment below. And for more inspiration, follow my New Zealand Pinterest Board.
I’ve always had a fascination for the animal kingdom, so being rich in nature and wildlife, Costa Rica has been on my travel wishlist for a while. Costa Rica covers just a tiny proportion of our planet yet is host to 5% of the world’s biodiversity, something that the nation is particularly proud of. And you don’t have to venture too far to see some of its native creatures. Just relaxing by the pool at our hotel in Manuel Antonio we managed to spot lizards, capuchin monkeys and various birdlife, including toucans!
As someone developing a keen interest in all things zoological, I decided that I would like to combine my sightseeing holiday with volunteer work, so spent a week at the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center, around 20-30 minutes from Juan Santamaria International Airport.
We were picked up by a driver at the airport, along with 3 other jetlagged Brits. We arrived at the centre late afternoon and were shown to our 12 bed dorm. There are around 5 dorms in total and most were almost full, accommodating over 50 volunteers in total – alot more than I was expecting!
We met the owner Bernal and his howler monkey, Feluco. Feluco is an orphan whose mother was killed by a dog. Because he lost his mother at such a young age, his immune system is very weak. He also has a cleft pallet which gives him breathing problems. Feluco would stand no chance of survival out in the wild but luckily he is very well looked after at the centre. We learnt more about the other animals and the centre itself, but I will tell you more about the story of the rescue centre in another post.
The next morning we were given a tour of the centre which at the time of our visit is home to an assortment of birds including parrots, owls, a peacock, a curassow and some chickens and ducks. There are also pigs, goats, 3 types of monkey (howler, spider and capuchin), two and three toed sloths, a tortoise, porcupine, marmoset, opossum, hedgehog, squirrels, two kinkajous, an olingo and a couple of pet dogs. There was also a toucan but as it was going to be released back into the wild, only the resident biologist was allowed anywhere near it.
As volunteers, the only animals besides the toucan that we were not responsible for were the spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys and some of the baby creatures inside the animal hospital.
For your first two days volunteering, you must shadow someone and not enter the enclosures, with the exception of the goats and pigs. I must admit being a little wary of Oscar the male goat, but the mama and two baby goats were sweet. I did enjoy going into the pig pen and we were encouraged to go visit the pigs to stop them from getting lonely.
A typical day
7am – Breakfast in the common area.
8am – Meeting in the common area – this is to go over any points of discussion and extra duties (one day every single person got involved in shifting a spider monkey cage, for example). Each volunteer is put into one of five teams and then each team has set tasks for the day on a morning and afternoon rota. The rota is repeated every 5 days so everyone has a chance to be involved with different animals and different aspects of the work.
A typical day may go something like this…
Clean enclosures and supply fresh food and water for: the goats, the sloths beside the goat enclosure (aka The Goat Sloths), the owls, peacock, curassow and parrots.
Collect grass for the goats.
Tidy the garden.
The morning shift would usually last until 11am.
12 noon – Lunch in the common area.
1.30pm – Meeting in the common area.
Clean enclosures and supply fresh water for the porcupine, hedgehog, squirrels, opossum and teen sloths.
Feed the squirrels.
Give the porcupine, hedgehog and opossum their snacks at 4pm.
Give the teen sloths their branches at 5pm.
Feed the porcupine, hedgehog, opossum and teen sloths at 7pm.
The afternoon shift would usually last until 4pm. Of course, every day was different as if your team were responsible for some of the nocturnal animals that day, you had a few jobs to do after 4pm, but who’s complaining when you have a kinkajou climbing on your head at the 7pm feed! You aren’t supposed to touch the animals but an excitable kinkajou did decide my head looked like a fun place to climb!
6pm – Dinner.
10pm – Lights out.
There was a swimming pool and some hammocks for chilling during down time. The living conditions were basic and I didn’t mind the cold showers and sharing a dorm, however the sleeping wasn’t easy due to the various, and quite loud, noises of the local wildlife and vehicles on the nearby road. My body also ached for somewhere comfortable to sit – yeah yeah I’m an old granny alright!
The people at the rescue centre, both staff and volunteers, were really friendly and the work felt very rewarding. As someone who volunteers at a cat rescue centre close to home, it was a great learning experience to be so close to the native animals of a different country, and I could tell that the other volunteers felt the same.
I would like to thank Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center for being the wildlife warriors that they are and for allowing me to play a small part in their story.
And I would urge anyone who wants to make a difference, no matter how small, to get out there and do it!
If you would like to help the CRARC you can donate money, supplies or your time by following this link.