POMPEII: WHERE PAST MEETS PRESENT

You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men… People bewailed their own fate… and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore… I could boast that not a groan or cry of fear escaped me in these perils, but I admit that I derived some poor consolation in my mortal lot from the belief that the whole world was dying with me and I with it.

– Pliny the Younger

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It’s a strange feeling walking around the streets of a city that was literally buried in time. Pompeii was lost in 79 AD, and it lay preserved underground until it was rediscovered hundreds of years later. Nothing had changed; time had just stopped.

Due to the 4+ metre layer of ash, the city is almost perfectly preserved. You can wander around the ancient city on the very streets that the people used to try and escape. You can explore their houses, their temples, their bakeries, and their public spaces. You can discover how they lived, right up until their last moments. You can walk in their final footsteps.

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And the really eerie thing is, they literally were their final moments. The plaster casts of people and animals as they lay dying take on a whole new meaning when you see them in their context rather than in a museum. The contorted postures reveal just how unbearable the heat and suffocation must have been. It’s a very strange thing looking at someone as they died in perhaps the most horrific way imaginable.

We can only imagine how horrific it must have been for them. They lived in a completely different world. Volcanoes only erupt like this once every thousands of years. It was certainly something the likes of which had never been seen by anyone remotely close to their generation. As terrifying as the situation would be today, it must have been a hundred times worse for them because they had no idea what was happening, Their whole world was ending.

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Looking up from the ruins you see a looming reminder of the events of 79 AD in Mount Vesuvius. Despite there being not a cloud in the sky, an eerie shadow remained over the mountain all day. There was a point where I was looking at the volcano from the remnants of the forum and I realised that I was looking at the very same entity that they had been observing, in entirely different circumstances.

Pompeii has been on my bucket-list for a long time – well before I studied it as part of my archaeology major. It’s always held a certain fascination for me, purely for the fact that it literally disappeared overnight. Everything that defined the city – buildings, arenas, forums, people – was buried along with it, frozen in time only to be discovered hundreds of years later. It’s one of very few places in the world where the past has remained untouched by subsequent developments and cultures.

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The fact that the site has become a major tourist destination is both good and bad. I think that history plays such an important part in crafting who we are as a society that people should be interested and want to learn about the cultures that preceded them. I think it’s amazing that we all share this fascination about the city that was buried alive.

However, hoards of tourists meandering through the ruins every year means that conservation is impossible. The city is falling apart. The respect for the site and for its people is, for the most part, non-existent. It’s a tough debate, but maybe there comes a time when, after we’ve discovered all there is to discover, we should rebury these sites and leave them as we found them. Maybe there comes a time when we should let the city and its inhabitants rest in peace.

MY TOP 10: FLORENCE EDITION

Florence will forever be my favourite city in the world. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve studied here twice, or maybe it’s just that amazing, but every time I come back it feels like I’m returning home. So this list was especially hard, because trying to narrow down a city as diverse and fantastic as Florence into a “Top 10” just can’t be done. This just scratches the surface of centuries worth of history, culture, art, architecture and food.

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Piazza del Duomo

Comprised of the Duomo, Campanile, and Baptistery, the Piazza del Duomo is probably the most iconic site in Florence. For centuries, this has been the centre of Florence’s religious life, and the iconic image of Brunelleschi’s dome is what distinguishes the Florentine skyline. Climbing the Duomo and/or Giotto’s Campanile will give you a fantastic view of the city and it’s immediate layout – just maybe don’t plan to do them both on the same day like we did, unless you relish that lactic acid!

Fratellini

If there’s only one place you go in Florence, make it Fratellini’s. Best. Panini. Ever. Seriously, these guys make the best sandwiches I’ve ever tasted in my life. Just go there, it will be worth it, I promise.

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Ponte Vecchio

Another iconic Florentine symbol, the Ponte Vecchio or “Old Bridge” is another must-see tourist destination. It’s the oldest bridge in Florence, and was the only bridge along the Arno that wasn’t destroyed in WWII. Historically, it has always been home to merchants trying to sell their wares; however now the expensive gold jewellery is a little out of my price range.

The Uffizi 

One of my favourite galleries in the world. For someone who studied Renaissance art, this is Mecca. Probably the most well-known pieces to marvel at are Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and La Primavera, and my personal favourite, da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi… Which I still haven’t seen in person because for the last 3 years its been under restoration. One day…

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The Oltrarno

Many people forget that there is another side to Florence. Literally, the city continues on the opposite banks of the Arno river. Historically, this was the poorer side of town, and perhaps this is why many people skip it today. However, it’s home to some must-see sites, including Palazzo Pitti and the enormous Boboli Gardens, Piazzale Michelangelo, and my personal favourite, San Miniato al Monte.

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Santa Croce

If you’re a history nerd like myself, this will fast become one of your favourite churches. This is where anyone who was anyone in Florentine society was buried. From the likes of Michelangelo to Raphael, and Galileo to Machiavelli, this Franciscan cathedral contains all your favourite Florentines in one convenient place. No really, the fact that all these historical figures are metres away is really mind-blowing. Eerily fascinating.

The Accademia

If you only go here to see Michelangelo’s David, it will be worth it. The man is freaking perfect. Seriously, I’ve never seen such perfection in my life. It’s possible to spend hours sitting in awe of this one sculpture. The rest of the gallery isn’t bad either.

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Piazza della Repubblica 

Florentine nightlife comes alive in the Piazza della Repubblica. Ferris wheels, temporary displays and workshops, Champagne tasting, and people trying to sell you weird light-up flying mechanisms… This place has it all. It’s bright, it’s bustling, and its the gateway to some amazing restaurants.

La Spada

So I’ve eaten here each time I’ve been in Florence because the food is so delicious, and this time was no different. La Spada is home to the best waiter in the world, Ivan, who will go above and beyond to make sure you have the best culinary experience ever. And we did. So we went back twice more! Best service I’ve ever had. However much Ivan is being paid, it isn’t enough! I seriously cannot recommend this place highly enough.

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San Miniato al Monte

This spot is on the list not so much for the 11th-century church, but for its panoramic views over the city. However, if you’ve made the trek, you might as well see the Romanesque church too – it’s beautiful. Hike up here at sunset, the lighting is perfect. And if you feel like braving the cold, staying after the sun goes down and the lights come out is definitely worth it. This will forever be one of my favourite spots in the world.

IN FAIR VERONA

I’ve had a love affair with Verona from about the age of 11, when I first discovered the glorious specimen that is Leonardo DiCaprio. Though I didn’t understand a word of Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation at that time, the appeal of the star-crossed lovers was enough to romanticise fair Verona.

Fast-forward three years and I was studying Shakespeare’s tragedy at school. I still question the judgement of whoever thought it was a good idea to give 14-year-olds a story about kids falling in love after an hour, getting married the next day, and killing themselves after a series of extremely frustrating twists of fate. Not to mention our school’s attempted censorship of the sex scene in Zeffirelli’s 1968 adaptation starring Olivia Hussey and the Zac Efron lookalike.

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If I had to pick one word to describe Verona it would be magical. The city still carries it’s Shakespearian charm, and tributes to Romeo and Juliet are everywhere. The old city walls bear a plaque famously quoting that “There is no world without Verona walls, but purgatory, torture, hell itself”. And busts of Shakespeare. Everywhere.

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Although I’m about as far away from the lovelorn tourist as you can get, you absolutely cannot go to Verona and not go to Juliet’s house, Casa di Giulietta. Let me preface this by saying that Juliet probably didn’t live here; yes, the Shakespearian tragedy is fictional. However, the house did belong to the Cappelletti family, whom the story is likely to have been based upon. Despite the extremely distant connections, tourists flock here to post their letters to Juliet on the walls in the courtyard, and to stand on her balcony and await their Romeo. So we did. When in Verona, right?

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But Verona isn’t just a pilgrimage site for romantics. Any history nerd will feel right at home, with remnants dating back to the Roman Empire. The Veronese Arena is at the centre of the city, and still hosts entertainment for its citizens. Sure, it’s not the bloodbaths of ancient Rome, but if you don’t mind more sedated events like live music… If not, you can tour around the arena by day like we did, all the way from being spectator in the top tier to walking through the archway to begin a glorious and bloody fight to the death.

And just a side note on why Verona will forever by one of my favourite cities: vegetarian heaven. I’ve never seen so much vegetarian and vegan food in my life! As a vegetarian in Italy, I’m usually limited to pastas and pizzas (not complaining), but it to have vegan food that was based solely on vegetables and legumes… Freaking amazing. And you know how everything tastes better in Italy? Vegan food does too.

MY TOP 5: VENICE EDITION

Venice has always held a magical allure for me, and my second visit to the city was just as incredible as the first. There is no place like it. It’s the place where east meets west, and where the land meets the sea. It’s an amazing little piece of Byzantium in Italy. I hate choosing favourites, and my list was endless, but I’ve managed to narrow a busy itinerary down to my five top picks.

(These are all fairly touristy, and to get a real feel for the city you actually need to get lost in it’s maze of alleyways, but this will inevitably happen anyway!)

Piazza San Marco

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No visit to Venice would be complete without a visit to the tourist destination of Piazza San Marco. The square itself is the ideal place to sit and eat and people-watch. San Marco would have to be my favourite Italian church, possibly because it’s unlike any other Italian basilica I’ve ever seen. Inside it is a golden mosaic masterpiece, more Byzantine than Italian. Next door is Palazzo Ducale, the palace of the Doge. If you enjoy art, or if you simply want to step into the shoes of the uppermost echelon of Venetian society, the Palazzo is not to be missed.

Ponte Rialto

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The Rialto bridge is a Venetian icon. It’s the main causeway connecting the two islands that comprise the city, and has arguably the best vantage point from which to view the Canale Grande in it’s romantic glory. Although the boutique shops along the bridge are a tad pricey, wandering the streets around it you will find some incredible examples of Venetian craftsmanship – from iconic Murino glass, to eccentric Venetian masks.

Ice Skating

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When people ask me why I travel to Europe in winter, I usually cite the reduced prices and smaller number of tourists. But perhaps the best part of Europe in winter are the outdoor ice skating rinks! There’s something magical about ice skating in winter. Maybe it’s because we have nothing like it in Australia. At any rate, when we stumbled across the rink in Campo San Polo, we knew we had to go for it. Despite being double the age of everyone else there, this was definitely one of my highlights in Venice.

Gondolas

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What epitomises Venice better than the gondola? The romanticism of the city surely lies in the icon of the long boat, commandeered by a serenading gondolier. It’s something you have to do at least once in your life. Seeing the city from the canals gives you a completely different perspective, and watching the gondoliers expertly navigate the narrow causeways is captivating. It’s a side of Venice that you’re unable to see from the land.

The Ghetto

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Venice is home to the first ever Ghetto. It dates to 1516, when the Doge of Venice so graciously allowed the Jews to continue living in Venice, so long as they were quarantined in their own tiny enclave. Wandering through the ghetto, which is still home to some of the Venetian Jewish population, it is the only place that actually feels lived-in. In a city that feels extremely touristy, it’s a welcome escape.

THE ADVENTURE BEGINS

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I’m currently sitting in Dubai International Airport waiting to board my third and final flight to Venice. I’m tired, jet-lagged, dehydrated, and hungry. My back is aching from trying to sleep in an economy class seat on a full Boeing 777. But I’m so excited!

After months of planning and anticipation, it’s finally here. European Adventure 2015.

From Italy to the UK to France and beyond, I’ll be photographing, videoing and blogging my adventures. I created this blog to have a space to share my thoughts and stories, but it’s become much more than that.

I hope to inspire you to go out and have your own adventures, to explore your universe. Travel truly is the only thing we can buy that actually makes us richer.

But the mindset of exploration and adventure that comes with travel can be adopted in everyday life. You don’t need to be travelling to experience wanderlust. It’s everywhere. You just need to be open to it.

So, with that, I’ll do what I set out to do: I’ll share photos, moments, adventures and stories. But more than that, I hope to share my wanderlust, and I hope that you’ll be inspired to go out and write your own story.

Join me on my adventure. Then create yours.