Monday, 12 February 2018

Three days in Venice

Venice - the city of waterways, masks and canal bridges has always intrigued me. It sounded like a place from another time, even another world... and it definitely feels that way when you're there.

Since it was high on my travel list and my bucket list for 2018, I was glad when I got the chance to spend three days there at the end of January. Here are my top ten highlights.

1. St Mark's Square and Basilica (Piazzo San Marco)
An obvious choice for any first time visit to Venice, but the basilica of St Mark's really does take your breath away. Those horses! When we first arrived late on the Monday night the square was shrouded in mist which gave it such an eerie, mystical quality.





2. Glass blowing demonstration in Murano
Our three islands boat trip was a definite highlight, and our first stop was the island of Murano. Famous for its glass making (the industry moved here from Venice when a law was introduced permitting open fires. As a result, Murano is now sometimes referred to as 'fire island'.)

We were lucky enough to visit a glass making factory and museum to see a live demonstration, where 'Maestro' whipped up a beautiful vase tinged with red (the most expensive colour in Murano glass) and a prancing horse. Both seemed utterly perfect, and were created freehand using pliers in a matter of minutes. It was amazing to watch.



Afterwards you get the chance to visit the factory shop, where you can take some Murano glass home. Beware - the prices are far higher here than the other shops right next door and throughout the island. We learned the hard way! Still. there are some beautiful pieces on offer. Since we had limited luggage space we chose some jewellery. I picked a clear, sparkling half moon pendant to remind me of my trip.

3. The rainbow island of Burano
Our second stop on the boat tour was Burano. It might have been the most beautiful little town I've ever seen. The houses, shops and trattorias were all painted in the brightest blues, pinks, greens and oranges - colours reflecting into the water of the canals which snaked through the streets.





We wandered through the town and took a lot of photos (it is the most 'instragrammable' place) and enjoyed the peace and quiet. January is a good time to go - I can imagine it would heaving with tourists in the summer months. Perhaps the top highlight of my entire trip, Burano is well worth a visit even for a short stay in Venice.

4. Harry's Bar (and not Harry's Bar)
We'd heard from friends that Harry's Bar by St Mark's Bay waterfront was an institution worth visiting. Opened in 1931 by Giuseppe Cipriani, famed birthplace of the Bellini, the bar was a favourite for the rich and famous. Once frequented by Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote and Orson Welles, and more recently the likes of Woody Allen and Nicole Kidman.

This was enough to get us in the door (after a bottle of wine with dinner to convince us it was a great idea). It's definitely a luxurious experience. Although the interior of the bar itself is fairly underwhelming, the service by tuxedo-clad waiters who bring you delicious nibbles on platters to accompany your drinks is quite something. Said drinks were very expensive - 18 euros for a brandy was heart-attack material for a pair of Glasgow girls. After making friends with an American English couple at the neighbouring table, we stumbled across a lively little bar a hop, skip and canal bridge over which was doing prosecco by the glass for two euros. A much better arrangement!

5. Aperitivo by the Rialto
Admittedly a very touristy experience, I thoroughly enjoyed our 4pm aperol spritzes (at discounted rates) by the canal, right next the Rialto bridge. Nothing quite beats watching the hustle and bustle around the famous Venitian landmark as we sipped our drinks, nibbled on our aperitivo snacks and then swiftly ordered another round! The ideal way to unwind after a day of sightseeing, before heading out for dinner later in the evening.



6. Dinner at Vino Vino
Following a recommendation from our hotel receptionist (who also informed us we wouldn't find good pizza in Venice - turns out this is because there aren't any pizza ovens in the city. See previous law regarding open fires) we headed to Vino Vino, a firm favourite with tourists and resident Venetians alike.



I had pasta carbonara (authentically Italian, cooked only with pancetta, parmigiana and egg) and my mum the lasagna. Both were exquisite - washed down with a bottle of regional red wine which accompanied our meal perfectly.

7. Canal side lunch
Continuing with the food theme - our lunch the next day was equally good. We walked for an hour or so to find the perfect place (I was determined to eat at a canal side location) and finally stumbled across a little trattoria with tables by the window.


We dined on bruschetta while we watched the endless gondolas lazily drifting past, and enjoyed our last glass of wine to celebrate the end of our holiday. Very good, and very inexpensive too (if you don't mind searching for a while!)

8. Lorenzo Quinn's hands sculpture
On our way to see the Ca' d'Oro (an impressive structure on the grand canal which now houses a museum) we stumbled across some giant hands rising out of the water.



Support by Lorenzo Quinn is a monumental installation at the Ca'Sagredo Hotel (which is, incidentally, also worth a visit - we stopped here for a very fancy coffee, unrivaled views of the Grand Canal, and the sculpture in all its glory). The sculpture is meant to be a warning of the threat to cities like Venice due to rising sea levels, It serves as a reminder of our role as humans to help make a positive impact on history and our environment.


9. The Museum of Music (Museo della Musica)
One of the best things about Venice is the way you can stumble across some real gems without even trying. On our last day we found this great little museum (which was also free - a rarity in Venice) and home to an expansive collection of old and beautiful musical instruments.



10. Shopping in Venice
Last on my list may seem like an obvious one - but I had to include shopping. Anyone who's been to Italy before will already be familiar with the juxtaposition of high and low end stores, quality goods and tacky souvenirs creating a harmonious retail experience.




I picked up some real finds - the leather goods are of course, second to none and I couldn't leave Venice without Murano glass souvenirs (and a glittery Venetian mask or two!).

If I had the money, perusing the rows of beautiful designer stores, Italian houses in particular (Dolce and Gabanna was like a palace) would be the dream! Until that day comes (which I'm confident it will) I was satisfied with taking in some of the wonderful window displays as we strolled round the streets.

So, was there anything I didn't manage to do?

I feel like I definitely managed to do and see quite a lot in three days here. However I would definitely return - I'd love to come back during the famous annual carnival, and to see an opera.

Venice was even more enchanting than I expected, and confirmed by love of all things Italian. I can't wait to return to my favourite part of the world again next month.




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Thursday, 20 April 2017

Podcasts aren't dead

I recently came across this article about podcasts on the BBC News website. It claims that despite being hailed as the future of radio broadcasting, they still remain a "niche pursuit" and aren't catching on in the mainstream. I agree somewhat but I don't think we should be writing them off completely. Here are some reasons why...

The future: Storytelling in a digital age

People respond to short, digestible and downloadable content that they can consume on the go. The podcast has revolutionised radio in the same way that Netflix and Amazon have revolutionised TV.  Podcasts allow consumers to pick and choose the content they want, when they want it.

The popularity of the TV serial drama has proven the age-old hypothesis that we love a cliff-hanger – from Dickens to Dallas, we will tune in again and again to find out the long drawn out conclusion. The only difference is now we don’t have to wait.

This, combined with our growing distrust in the mainstream media, has lead more and more of us to find alternative sources of news and knowledge.

For the blogger and YouTube generation, we prefer to find our own source of the truth – preferably told in an entertaining way, through the medium of a story or relatable character. With this in mind, the way organisations promote to and engage with their audiences is changing too. 

The new activism?

The podcast is one of new ways for people to feel politically and culturally engaged. Pod Save America is a popular “resistance” podcast run by three Former Obama staffers, keen to organise opposition to Donald Trump. The idea that just about anyone can launch and promote their own podcast (similar to blogging) means that we are all welcome to join the conversation. It feels less exclusive than mainstream media.

As listeners we don’t feel preached to – it’s more relaxed, casual. Like vloggers can begin to feel like our online friends, the podcasters we tune into weekly have the same effect. We trust them and we want to hear their thoughts. This is where marketers and advertisers can take advantage of new, ready-made captive audiences.

New approach to marketing

New York-based Gimlet Media has just launched the second series of Open For Business, its show for eBay, which debuted last summer and became the top-ranked business podcast on the iTunes download chart. It has also produced Tinder’s podcast, DTR (Define the Relationship), which made the overall iTunes podcast top ten in several countries, reaching number 12 in the UK. Nazanin Rafsanjani, the company’s creative director, says:

"For eBay, it was about offering help to people running small businesses and "making them feel less alone – tackling the topics they’re wrestling with on a daily basis". Meanwhile, Tinder wanted to tell stories that resonated with a young female audience, to try to counter notions that the dating app is an unfriendly place for women." (Source: http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/gimlet-media-pinpoints-power-podcasts/1428270)

This seems like a fairly new approach which isn't driven by the usual marketing agenda. Perhaps it is for this reason that it will achieve more resonance with audiences.

Podcast audience in the UK

Rajar's latest report shows that around 4.7 million adults in the UK download and listen to podcasts - roughly 9% of the population. Although these are small numbers, it's an increase on the figures from 2015 (around 6.5%). 

Helen (Zaltman, of Answer Me This) believes it’s an exciting time to be involved in podcasting:

“It’s a really great medium, it’s so democratic. It’s very cheap to make, so much cheaper than radio and TV. There’s no one between you and the audience — there are no filters. (Source: https://onlinejournalismblog.com/2016/03/26/podcasting-and-money-in-the-uk/)

So although the uptake still not be of the same scale as TV or radio, the impact is certainly great. The fact that they are still (albeit slowly) rising in popularity proves they aren't dead. I think we should watch this space - recent chats I have had with people around my age have revealed a fair few more podcast fans than I expected. If they really are a niche pursuit for professionals in their 20s or 30s, maybe this could be the key to their success?

After all, wasn't it this same generation of millennials which drove the YouTube and Netflix boom, eventually culminating in mainstream popularity? 
It might be a slow-burn, but I think word of mouth and recommendations from friends (as was the case in the early days of blogging and vlogging) could result in a rise in the podcasting culture.

Popular content in 2017



My favourite podcasts

Stuff You Should Know - Extremely likable Josh and Chuck discuss every subject under the sun, from the history of the Trail of Tears to empathy, from bonsai to foreign accent syndrome. Great if you love learning random facts and very entertaining.

  







Guys We F***ed - Hear from Corinne and Krystyna as they chat through all issues of feminism and femininity. Dubbed 'the anti slut shaming podcast', they often have guests, take questions from listeners and offer advice.










WTF with Marc Marron - Comedian Marc Marron interviews a host of well known personalities (alongside a hearty and welcome dose of his own). Feels much more like listening into a chat between friends than a formal interview.








If I Were You - Jake and Amir (of YouTube Collegehumor fame) answer listener dilemmas and offer very questionable advice. And try as hard as they can to stay on topic, with entertaining results.







Anna Farris is Unqualified - Actress and wife of movie star Chris Pratt chats to celebrities and asks them big questions - about their dating deal breakers, for example. An enviable selection of guests including Sharon Stone and Eric Stonestreet of late.





I'm interested to find out from as many people as I can: do you or have you ever downloaded a podcast? If so, how often? What is it about them that appeals to you? Please let me know in the comments!


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Monday, 27 March 2017

Unicorn Cupcakes! Baking for Red Nose Day

These unicorn cupcakes were so easy and so much fun to make. We were having a 'bake-off' event in our office and I was determined to put in some effort and come up with something decent! I'm not the best baker in the world but I decided that fairy cakes would be do-able. And why not fairy tale theme them? Unicorns are still very much in vogue at the moment so I decided to go for it. Here are the finished results...










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Thursday, 16 March 2017

Wine Tasting and Italian Carnevale

If you've read my previous blog on my weekend trip to Rome, you'll know I had an excellent first few days in the Eternal City thanks to The Roman Guy.

What made the weekend for me, though, was our Sunday day trip to the town of Frascati, just twenty minutes outside Rome. This charming little place played host to us for the day as we took part in The Old Frascati Wine Tour, followed by an afternoon of Italian Carnevale fun!



We were greeted at Frascati train station by our wonderful guide Dominique, who took us on a tour of the town. We visited the local bakery where Nonna Rosanna is still baking at 90 years old! She told us she owes her vitality to the air in the hills, a good Roman diet (and a cigarette every day!) Here, we sampled melt-in-the mouth porchetta (slow roasted pork) in freshly baked bread. We washed it down with a glass of local wine - it was to be the first of many! Dominique assured us that 'breakfast wine' was totally a thing here. The 'jug wine' we tried at a local shop was 14% and very rustic!  
Next, we were taken by car to the beautiful vineyard, one of the oldest family run wineries in Frascati - set in a sunken valley which is gets the perfect amount of sunlight and moisture from the morning mist in the hills. We were shown around and learned about the wine making process - even getting a chance to visit the deep wine cave which dates back to Ancient Rome.







Soon, it was time to sample some of these wares! We headed upstairs in the 14th century farmhouse where we tried each of the wines: red and white, accompanied by fresh bread and olive oil. Interestingly, I enjoyed the taste of the red wine which had been chilled! It was a new experience for me but I could definitely imagine sipping it on a balmy Summer's evening.





We finished our vineyard tour outside, soaking up the afternoon sunshine and sampling the sweet dessert wine, which was served with cookies. Then, we returned back into the centre of Frascati for a glorious lunch of pasta, olives, bread and meats. All washed down with the delicious wine! 

Fully fed, we ventured to the town square where we were delighted to find the Carnevale in full swing! 










Frascati has definitely stolen my heart and I can't wait to return one day. It's amazing that such a tranquil place exists so close to the hustle of Rome! The Old Frascati Wine Tour is a must-do if you're visiting - an authentic Italian experience which I'm still dreaming about even now... 
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