A view from the top: St Peter’s Basilica – Vatican City

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.

view from the top of St Peter's Basilica

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.

People standing at the highest point of the climb at the top of the dome (St Peter's Basilica)
People standing at the highest point of the climb at the top of the dome

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.

View inside the Basilica from the interior balcony - St Peter's Basilica, Vatican City.
View inside the Basilica from the interior balcony

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.

Verdict – When in Rome… make this a priority.


If you liked this then you might enjoy the view from Campanile di San Marco in Venice or any of my other View from the Top posts.

12 things I love about America

things i love about america

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.

M&M World Las Vegas
M&M World Las Vegas

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.

4. Orlando

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.

Castle at the Magic Kingdom

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.

The giant slot machine at Ballys Las Vegas
Next to the giant slot machine at Ballys

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!!!

You can sit on the Friends sofa at Warner Bros Studio Tour Hollywood

7. This

Marshmallow madness - no more picking cereal out of your marshmallows
Marshmallow madness – no more picking cereal out of your marshmallows

8. Breakfast cereal

Hell yeah Fruit Loops, Lucky Charms and Apple Jacks where I don’t have to pay £8 for a box!

Lucky Charms breakfast cereal
The breakfast of kings

9. Shopping

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…

Cinderella dress from Hot Topic

11. Disney

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.

Meeting Beauty and the Beast at Epcot
Somewhere between a beauty and a beast…

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!

Happy 4th July y’all! Check out my USA Pinterest board

 

8 things to do in and around Queenstown New Zealand

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.

Skyline gondola Queenstown

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!

Luge track in Queenstown New Zealand

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.

Burger and fries at the legendary Fergburger

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.

Horse riding in Glenorchy New Zealand

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!

Shotover jet boat ride in Queenstown, New Zealand

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!

Bungy jumping on the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown, New Zealand

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.

Quirky Wanaka New Zealand - Puzzling World!

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.

Milford Sound - is it worth it?
Milford Sound – image not my own unfortunately. Image via Unsplash.

Have you been to Queenstown? What was your favourite thing to do? Comment below. And for more inspiration, follow my New Zealand Pinterest Board.

Pin it!

8 things to do in and around Queenstown New Zealand

Alphabet Dating: L is for Levison Wood

Alphabet Dating – L is for Levison Wood

An evening with Levison Wood

ABCDEFGHIJL… something’s missing?!

Our ‘K’ date should have occurred in February but we went to Costa Rica (which unfortunately begins with a ‘C’ so doesn’t count – I’m not gonna start pulling that Kardashian shit on you) and then March happened along with our ‘L’ date sooooo….. here it is – L is for Levison Wood!

We went to see Mr Wood on his UK tour, giving talks about his various exciting escapades. For those who don’t know who Levison Wood is, he is a British Explorer famous for walking everywhere. But when I say walking, don’t be expecting some gentle National Trust type stroll through the English countryside, oh no, his first television show called Walking the Nile showed him walking the length of the Nile from Rwanda to Egypt, through some quite harsh and dangerous climates.

An evening with Levison Wood

Levison’s second television adventure Walking the Himalayas saw him walking the length of the world’s highest mountain range. While his ‘thing’ is walking everywhere, there was one point on his journey where due to some political unrest of some sort in Nepal, he and some people who were accompanying him on that particular part of the journey ended up having to take a short taxi ride to a nearby village. Ironically, the one time Levison decides to get into a vehicle, it shoots over a cliff and hurtles 150m down a mountain, nearly killing everyone in the car.

Thankfully no one died, although this isn’t the first time tragedy has struck one of Levison’s adventures. During Walking the Nile, he was accompanied at one point of the journey by some journalists. Tragically, an American journalist named Matthew Power died from heatstroke while accompanying Levison in a remote part of Uganda. Reminding us just how dangerous these expeditions can be.

Levison Wood’s most recent adventure saw him Walking the Americas. Starting in Mexico where he met his friend, a Mexican fashion photographer named Alberto, who walked the entire journey with him. And ending triumphantly in Colombia. Me, hubby and my two work friends who also love Lev actually got to meet Alberto on the night. He was incredibly funny and charismatic. I asked him where his favourite place was and he said Nicaragua but Costa Rica was his second favourite. He told me that Nicaragua was alot cheaper than Costa Rica too!

me: * adds Nicaragua to the ever-growing bucket list *

Meeting Alberto from Walking the Americas

We didn’t get to meet Levison himself but we enjoyed listening to him tell his stories, from backpacking along the Silk Road in his youth, to the time he lost his wallet at a theme park and it was returned by post to him from someone in the Army. He wrote back to thank them and then to ask advice on how to get into the army. Because that was how he was going to fulfil his childhood ambition to become an Explorer!

He inspired me by saying that you should take opportunities when you can, because even unpaid jobs can lead to bigger things. For him, this was an unpaid job he took after leaving the army where he delivered a couple of ambulances from London to Malawi for a charity project, which, to cut a long story short, ended up with him landing his first television gig!

At the end of the talk there was a little Q&A session which if you’re curious – his scariest moment was the car crash in Nepal. He was also pretty scared of a situation involving walking into a field where there were landmines in Africa. He wouldn’t tell us where his next adventure was but I know wherever it is, he is there right now as I am writing this. And there is another expedition in the planning for next year which will see Alberto accompany him again. As for Alberto, the thing he missed the most about his everyday life while he was walking the Americas was in actual fact his toilet!!!

See, I told you he was funny 🙂

Now hubby and I are playing a guessing game of where we think Lev might travel to next but I guess we will just have to wait and see!

Walking the... Nile, Himalayas, Americas - what's next?

A girl's guide to volunteering in Costa Rica

A girl’s guide to… volunteering in Costa Rica

Volunteering in Costa Rica

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.

Volunteering in Costa Rica - spending a week at an animal rescue centre was a very rewarding experience.
One of the many murals decorating the walls at the centre

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.

An orphaned howler monkey being cared for at a wildlife rescue centre in Costa Rica
Feluco

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.

Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center - rescue, rehabilitate and release Costa Rican wildlife.

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.

A baby three-toed sloth being rehabilitated at a wildlife rescue centre in Costa Rica
One of the baby sloths from the hospital with her teddy bear <3

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.

Feeding the resident pigs on a Costa Rican volunteering holiday!
Feeding my piggy pals

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.

Food preparation at a wildlife rescue centre
Food preparation for the animals – one of the rota tasks

A typical day may go something like this…

AM

  • 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.

A scarlet macaw in Costa Rica
A cheeky scarlet macaw – the parrots were always entertaining the volunteers!

12 noon – Lunch in the common area.

Free time.

1.30pm – Meeting in the common area.

PM

  • 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.
Squirrel at a rescue centre in Costa Rica
One of these inquisitive squirrels decided to climb on me and run round my legs!

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!

Vet feeding a pair of kinkajou. These animals are nocturnal but required veterinary attention during the day, giving us a rare glimpse of them during daylight hours.
Normally nocturnal, the kinkajou woke up to receive their electrolytes from the vet

6pm – Dinner.

Free time.

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.

Volunteering in Costa Rica - caring for howler monkeys among other animals.
Chew with your mouth closed! – Me in with the Howler Monkeys

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!

Pura Vida!


If you would like to help the CRARC you can donate money, supplies or your time by following this link.

Famous for its wildlife, Costa Rica is a great place to spending some time volunteering with animals. This is my personal account of when I spent time at the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center. Pin for later!