Siena, Italy

Well, Siena’s rather pretty!! We only had a couple of hours here as we were travelling to Rome but we got a great vibe and can’t wait to return! We were really lucky with our timing as the whole city was decorated beautifully for the Palio di Siena, a horse-race held twice a year (July and August) with 10 horses racing from the city’s 17 contrade/districts. Each contrade has a unique colourful flag and they’re hung with pride out of the buildings in the city. We were in Siena a few days before the August race and all of the main square, Piazza del Campo, is encircled with a grandstand. There’s lots of restaurants underneath which were open – the heat was ridiculous there so we sat in for a drink in a cafe that had misting machines over the tables – look out for them – my favourite invention EVER!! Siena’s Palio features in James Bond – Quantum of Solace. There’s a great article on the event here.

Arriving in Siena

Arriving in Siena

Siena's contrade

Siena’s contrade

I think this should be my team!

I think this should be my team!

We started our morning at Caffe Fiorella Torrefazione for cappuccinos standing at the bar. How very Italiano of us!! As we meandered around the cobblestoned streets, sidestepping the crowds and visiting little shops. We came across a little deli called Pizzicheria De Miccoli which is an attraction in itself. It’s brimming with charcuterie, cheeses and paninis out the door! The exterior is insta-worthy for sure. It’s worth a trip in for a takeaway panini for a picnic later in the day…unless you’re vegetarian.

Morning!

Morning!

Piazza del Camp

Piazza del Camp

I'll take it all!

I’ll take it all!

Siena has one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve ever seen. There’s so much pink!! It’s stunning. The queues start early and there’s no shade so I’d recommend going as early as possible if you want to get inside.

Siena's beautiful Cathedral

Siena’s beautiful Cathedral

Up close

Up close

Getting ready...

Getting ready…

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Florence, Italy

Well, I may have a new favourite city. Gosh Florence/Firenze is beautiful! We stayed for a few nights, in a little place called La Scaletta next to the Ponte Vecchio bridge (THE sunset catching spot of Florence). Honestly, we probably wouldn’t have picked this place to stay if we’d bothered to spend ANY time planning our honeymoon but it’s a really quaint spot with a fantastic location. The rooftop view is simply amazing and it was within walking distance of everything we wanted to see.

From the very first second you set eyes upon Florence it’s just art, architecture, colour – SO much to see. Although it’s a compact city, you’ll need to be prepared for walking. Luckily, there are leather sandal shops on every corner!

Olive groves en route to Florence

Ah Florence!!!

Florence’s rooftops

Sunset from the Ponte Vecchio

Hands down Florence’s number one can’t miss (because even if you tried you couldn’t) sight is the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. THAT DOME. I must have 1000 pictures of just that. Haha, worth it.

There was a classical concert on our first night in Florence and as we’d just had Canon in D (Johann Pachelbel) as our ‘walking up the aisle song’ (wedding entrance song?) we thought it was a little sign that we should go. It was just over an hour and there was this little girl in front of us (I think probably about 3 years old and learning the violin) who was really into like the first 15 minutes and then kept nodding off – head bobbing to the left and right for the entire concert. So cute. The concert was in the Santo Stefano al Ponte church/auditorium – which was STUNNING. So glad we went.

That dome!

Florence’s Cathedral

Perfection

Last one!

Michelangelo’s David. Go see him! He’s in the Accademia Gallery. Don’t queue. Why do people queue?! You can either pre-purchase your tickets online or you can buy them at 105-107 Via Ricasoli – right across the road from where the queue starts. I think there was a 4 euro difference in ticket price between queuing (for hours, honestly) and just going to the counter on the left hand side of the entrance to the Accademia Libreria. We bought them on a Sunday morning about 9am (as they were all sold out online) and walked straight across the street past the queue. Quick security check and you’re in. There are also guides and touts around the place selling tickets for there are then entry.

David

Kinda want one for each of my necklaces…

So apparently the cafe at the Gucci Museo is worth a visit…we wouldn’t know as it was closed. Sob.

As we were in Italy we thought it was our duty to sample every gelato offering around. Generally in Italia you pay first and then bring your receipt over to the gelato counter and they’ll tear it and serve you. Vivoli was my favourite spot. It was quiet here after dinner one night so we sat in a cosy corner nattering away. We also tried La Strega Nocciola on Via Ricasoli (right behind Eataly) one afternoon. This is a tiny place with the loveliest chap behind the counter. You can try whatever you want here before committing (you can do that everywhere in Australia really but it doesn’t seem to be the done thing in Italy. I guess they’re afraid of wasting gelato!). Grom – John ordered lemon gelato here. I tried it and my cheeks are still wincing. Crikey. Venchi – not sure what’s with the queues coming out of these outlets. It’s like the McDonalds of gelato. Meh.

We adore Eataly and pretty much every time we see one we’ll go in. One afternoon we got some picnic supplies and bought tickets for the Giardino di Boboli/the Boboli Gardens. We had to queue for tickets, maybe for about 20 minutes (7 euro per person) but it was the perfect place for a city picnic – it wasn’t too easy to find a spot to picnic initially…you know when you’re just looking for somewhere that’s just perfection? We found the spot eventually – under the shade of a tree, overlooking the Fountain of Neptune with the city in the background.

There are specialty paper shops called Il Papiro all over Italy, and there was one right next to our hotel where we came across them hand decorating their paper – a technique called peacock feathering! It would be beautiful for wrapping paper. If you fancied spending 20 euro to wrap like an A5 sized book. Ahhem 🙂

Our picture perfect picnic spot

Boboli Gardens

Sculpture in the Boboli Gardens

Those colours

Street market stalls

Street graffiti

Haha

There’s art EVERYWHERE in Florence!

Geneva, Switzerland

So we FINALLY got some time off work for our fantastic wedding, which we had in Chateau La Durantie, France. I’ll do a post just on that but I’ll do a few posts now on our honeymoon. We took 5 weeks off work, went home to Ireland and then after our wedding we started a bit of a European road-trip 🙂

Firstly, we drove from Lanouaille in France to Geneva, Switzerland. It was a lovely drive, through little French villages at first and then just motorway – the service stations in France are fantastic, they’re very frequent, well signposted and have the BEST hot chocolate for €1.30 from these little machines. So good.

We just spent an evening in Geneva. We stayed at Les Armures in the old town which was the perfect location. The Geneva Festival happened to be on so we stumbled on to a great fireworks display – a lovely little honeymoon starter! All the waterside was filled with amusement rides and bars – it seemed like all the city was out milling around. So our first honeymoon meal was…pizza. Obvs. It was so good to just sit down and relax with some vino after the racing around we did getting organised for the wedding. We absolutely savoured the meal!! (We ate at La Cantinella: Rue de la Tour-de-Boël 2, 1204 Genève)

We really just wandered around Geneva the following morning, checked out the Victorinox Swizz Army Store – basically 2 floors of Swiss Army knives in different finishes. We could have spent a few evening wandering around Geneva and looking at watches for €30K but decided to move on to our next spot – Montreux.

Geneva’s streets

Honeymoon pizza!

Canons outside Les Armures

Walking Lake Geneva

A moonlit walk

Happy Honeymooning!

South American Street Art

To be perfectly honest, I cannot pass a colourful wall and not pull the (currently beaten up) camera out. Same goes for when I see hearts – on stickers, in chalk or paint – I’m constantly asking John to stop in the street just so we can check out a crack in the ground that looks like a heart, haha old romantic.  That damn Drew Barrymore and her ‘Find it in Everything’ book about hearts everywhere – it’s so true!

Ok, so Chile

Hands down, South America’s number one artsy destination – the entire city of Valparaiso is covered in colourful street art. It’s stunning – an outdoor art festival every single day. Lucky residents.

Here we are!

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Kids

Hummingbird

Game

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God, so true

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That's pretty much how it looks!

Woman Man Valpo view Dexter Watering can

Waaaay down in Torres del Paine in Patagonia, this fantastic postbox is probably the cutest piece of art in the land!

The loveliest postbox in the land

Up in Ecuador, Quito’s residents have some serious artistic talent. The colourful kiddies are from Otavalo, which coincidentally houses the universe’s most colourful market!

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Courtyard

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Word

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Colombia didn’t have much in the way of graffiti type art…see the voluptuous example from Cartagena for Colombia’s take on art. That Botero has a thing for the ladies… You do also see the odd hummingbird throughout Colombia.

Colombia

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Bolivia‘s street art scene seemed to centre on women…

This is pretty much how the locals look

Local Grafitti

Street Art

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…Oh, and some dinosaur prints. Hahaha!!

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Not exactly street art, but Peru’s handmade decorations (from Cusco) are awesome. I wouldn’t say no to spending another Christmas in this special place. Art was a little more old-school up north in Kuelap

Tree

Llama

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Argentina’s definitely a little more colourful…

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Eye

Che

Now there's a mosaic!

Well it wouldn't be La Boca without this...

There's tango everywhere here

We didn’t find too much in Brazil

Colourful graffiti in Paraíso

Graffiti in Ipanema

Except maybe the most epic piece of art you’ll ever come across wandering down the street:

Amazing sandcastle on Copacabana Beach

Setting up a life in Australia

Well, here we are again, back in Australia mate. This was definitely not something we considered when we were shipping all of our stuff back to Ireland. We had expected to set up a little closer to home after our stint in South America but alas Australia called…again. It’s definitely easier the second time around but I thought I’d note a few things in case our experiences could help anybody else out there 🙂

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Bank Account

This is obviously one of the first things you’ll need here. We actually set up an account before we even left Ireland back in 2011. The process was simple. There are a few big hitters in terms of banks in Australia and we went with National Australia Bank/NAB, mainly because they offer fee-free banking. We didn’t need a Sydney address to get our cards either. Really helpful. The other main banks here are Commonwealth Bank of Australia/CommBank/CBA and Westpac.

Finding a Home

Sydney is known as the City of Villages and picking a place to live is exceptionally difficult! I came across this City Hobo site, which has an (awesome!) index of all of Sydney’s ‘burbs, and includes an ‘if this suburb was a shoe it would be…’ section. Hilarious…and bloody true! Paddington = Jimmy Choo; Newtown = Converse/Campers; Woolloomooloo (just wanted to type that to be honest) = Puma.

Honestly, finding somewhere to live was an absolute nightmare first time around. We went to loads of estate agencies and it’s seriously like they can’t get you out of their offices fast enough. It’s quite a stressful experience coming to a new country and staying in a hostel waiting to find your ‘home’; they definitely don’t make it easy for you… We actually ended up in our first apartment in Sydney by accident. We went to see an apartment and saw a sign outside the building advertising another open viewing so we went along and ended up being the only people viewing it. Obviously the agency had done just put the sign up outside and hadn’t done a thing online! Thankfully though…one week later it was ours. So we didn’t move until we left Sydney 3 years later… This time around things couldn’t have worked out better. I spotted a place on Domain (a pretty good site but it’s very easy to get sidetracked and start looking at million dollar listings) on a Tuesday, we went to the open-house on Wednesday, applied on Thursday about 1.30pm and got it about 4.30pm – unbelievable! The word delighted doesn’t even come close. We move in this Saturday – soooooo excited 🙂 RealEstate is another great website for finding accommodation. If you’re looking for a share-house then gumtree is the way to go.

Finding a Job

Before looking for a job you’ll need to apply for a Tax File Number/TFN…otherwise you’ll pay waaay higher tax than necessary. Seek is probably the most used job search engine – they also have a pretty useful app. LinkedIn is excellent if you’re looking for a professional role. Indeed and ApplyDirect are also worth checking out. Recruitment agencies definitely have Sydney employers tied up in a bow here – many roles honestly don’t even get openly advertised (I work in HR so I know this is true!) so it’s absolutely worth signing up with agencies. Generally, I find that specialised agencies are better to deal with as they know the roles and businesses they’re dealing with inside out so they’re more likely to do more for you…It’s also important to find a recruiter that you’re comfortable with – they’re working for you as well as the employer.

Some recruitment agencies I’ve had experience with in Sydney are:

General – Chandler Macleod, people2people, Hays, Robert WaltersMichael Page

Administration – OfficeTeam

Construction – Constructive Recruitment

Human Resources/Learning & Development – Tandem Partners, The Next Step

Financial Services – Robert Half

Next: You gotta get out there and do things! Time Out Sydney and What’s On Sydney are pretty good for diary dates 🙂