It wouldn’t be a school holiday if we didn’t jump on the train and head into Liverpool and this summer turned out to be no different when we were invited to come along to the British Music Experience and check out their new summer programme.


The British Music Experience is housed in the Cunard Building, right on the docks and is a fantastic location for this interesting and diverse attraction.  The Experience tells the story of music from the last 70 years through memorabilia, costumes and instruments.

 


We were given a guided tour through the different decades which was a lot of fun and there was a quiz to keep the kids interested.  As a musical family we really enjoyed getting to discover the roots of some of our favourite bands and Meg in particular was excited to learn more about The Beatles (her current preferred choice alongside Little Mix!)


For me, the most fascinating section was definitely the early 90’s and then moving into the BritPop era as this was a huge part of my childhood.  It was a little cringe-worthy to remember the mania which used to surround bands like Boyzone and Take That but a lot of fun too and trying to explain to Meg and Eli about the bands we used to like along with our tour guide was amusing as she just looked at us like we’d never been young enough to enjoy bands like the Spice Girls!

 

 


We also attended a story-telling workshop complete with percussion instruments in which the kids had to help complete the adventure by playing along.  At 8 years old, Meg was probably slightly too old but Eli was very keen to get involved and I think for younger children it would be fab.

Just outside of the room where the storytelling workshop was held there is also a craft table set up although we didn’t stop to have a go at this.

 


Without a doubt though, the best part of the experience for us was the Gibson Interactive Studio where there was a whole host of instruments available for the kids (and the adults) to have a go at playing along with a recording studio and a dance studio.

 

 


Both Meg and Eli loved that they were able to get hands-on and have a go and we could easily have spent a couple of hours just in this section alone.  I practically had to drag them away and remind them that we needed to go and eat lunch at some point!

There is also a cafe on-site; the Star Cafe is open to visitors and members of the public (you don’t have to be going through the Experience) and serves a selection of hot and cold drinks  and food as well.  We kicked our tour around the Experience off with a croissant and juice and it went down very well.

We love Liverpool anyway but I would definitely say that a visit to the British Music Experience would be a fantastic addition to any trip down to the Docks or just when exploring the city.

*We were offered entry into the BME in return for a blog post.  All thoughts and opinions are, of course, our own.

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I sat down to write this post, knowing that I was going to share with you how our trip to Siena was my favourite part of our entire holiday in Tuscany when I realised that I’d actually taken hardly any photos.  I want to say that it’s because I was simply busy admiring the architecture and soaking up the heritage…which is probably partly true.

But I also did manage to capture a lot of video footage so as well as pointing you towards part one and part two of these holiday posts I’m also going to go ahead and share our Siena vlog which I think captures our day pretty well.

I will, of course also share here how much we enjoyed our time, with just a handful less pictures than I would have liked.

Siena is another city which has strict regulations on driving within the walls so as with San Gimignano which researched places to park at the bottom end of the city and then made our way up inside the city walls.  It was pretty straightforward; we parked at the train station and about a two minute walk away is a little shopping complex which has a network of escalators which take you right up to the top and into Siena itself.  It was a fairly long walk from the city walls into the heart of Siena and the streets are mostly cobbled but everything is well signposted so there’s never much doubt of which direction you need to head.

siena pastries

We also found the sweetest pastry shop which gave us some much needed fuel to keep on walking.

As Siena is a ‘limited traffic area’ you can only drive and park within the walls if you have a special license and you will get fined if you enter without one.  Whilst we were there we saw a tourist being pulled over.

Siena was one of the cities I knew I absolutely wanted to visit whilst we were in Tuscany.  It’s probably no surprise that the reason why is book related: I had read Daughter of Siena by Marina Fiorato a while ago and had fallen in love with the city so being given the chance I wasn’t going to pass it up.

siena street

siena street

There is so much to see and do in Siena it was almost a little overwhelming.  We knew that we wanted to see the Il Campo which is the famous square where the famous Palio race is held each year and there is a very helpful tourist office in the Piazza del Duomo where you can purchase tickets to get into some of the main attractions including the cathedral.  There are different grades of ticket depending on what you want to see and the staff are very helpful.

We opted for the cathedral, the Piccolomini library and the Museum of the Opera del Duomo which also comes with a tower climb for a panoramic view.  It was absolutely scorching on the day that we visited so although we didn’t do all of the touristy things it was about all we could handle and I’m pleased we saw some of the main sights.

siena cathedral

siena cathedral bell tower

siena cathedral roof

The cathedral is just breathtaking and has been so well preserved that it is just awe-inspiring.

The Piccolomini library is housed within the cathedral and again, it was stunning.

cathedral library roof

siena cathedral interior

panoramic siena

siena rooftops

After we had been to the cathedral we went across to the Museo della Opera and climbed up to look out across the Piazza del Duomo and the cathedral.  Compared with the panoramic climb we had done in San Gimignano this one felt much sturdier and I’m pleased to say I was less of a wimp!

We then headed to Il Campo and enjoyed some gelato whilst soaking up our surroundings.  One thing I really noticed and loved about Siena was the mass of beautiful buildings.  Pretty much every street that we walked down had some gorgeous architecture and I really fell in love.

piazza del duomo

piazza del duomo

The only downside was that it was so much busier than either Volterra or San Gimignano had been and we really noticed the difference.  We had thought about going to Florence instead of Siena but I’m glad we didn’t in the end as I imagine it would have been even worse.  Pretty much everywhere you looked there were gaggles of tour groups milling around.  Obviously we were tourists as well but it was much more noticeable than in either of the other places we had been.

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I have to apologise for not getting part two of our holiday in Tuscany posted sooner; life has just gotten a little crazy lately and I didn’t manage to sit down and get it written until now.  You can see part one here if you want to catch up.

After our jaunt around Volterra, we headed back to the holiday apartment to get changed before setting out again to explore San Gimignano.  This is something that we definitely wouldn’t have been able to do if we had Meg and Eli with us so although I missed them like crazy, it was nice to just go out knowing that it didn’t matter what time we got back again!

san gimignano

san gimignano

San Gimignano is probably one of the more famous towns in the area and is known as the ‘Town of Fine Towers’ thanks to the medieval towers which make up the skyline.  I actually first came across the town after watching Tea with Mussolini so it was fascinating to actually be able to visit.  Although only 14 or so towers remain, at one point there were around 72 of these tower houses which must have really been a sight.

San Gimignano is one of those places which doesn’t look like much when you first arrive.  We parked at the bottom of the town and it was quite a walk into the main touristy part and we passed crowds of people along the way.  Although it’s a pretty town, the cobbled streets are mainly made up of shops and restaurants, until you hit the Piazza della Duomo.

towers san gimignano

This Piazza is home to a number of the town’s main attractions including the Piazza Comunale and the Torre Grossa (the Great Tower).

When we arrived it, unfortunately, started to rain and we almost called off our plans to climb the Tower and look out across the city but by the time we had scaled the many steps to the top it had actually stopped and we were able to get some stunning views across the town and out to the surrounding countryside.  Although it’s definitely not for those who are afraid of heights, being 177 feet high, I would highly recommend paying the €5 or so to climb the Tower.  The views were just amazing.  I won’t lie…I was pretty terrified and hung around in the centre closest to the bell but even from there I could see plenty.

san gimignano bell tower steps

san gimignano

tuscan countryside

It’s a fairly easy endeavour if you go at your own pace although there is an awkward climb right at the top when you have to pass through a narrow gap after scaling a 15 rung ladder.  For me, coming down was worse than going up as I had thoughtlessly worn a dress!

After we had climbed the Tower we also wandered into the Musei Civici which features some beautiful artwork and the Palace Courtyard which is home to the tower’s original bell.  All of these were included in our entry price for the Tower.

gelateria dondoli

towers san gimignano

Having had our fill of the main ‘touristy’ things we decided to just take a wander around the streets and see what we came across, starting with some award-winning gelato from Gelateria Dondoli.  Honestly, the queues out of this tiny shop were HUGE but it was well worth the wait.  Having eaten gelato a number of times throughout our trip this was hands-down the best we had and I’d go back to San Gimignano in a heartbeat just to try some more.  Have a look at our vlog for more of the gelato on offer.

Lucky for us the sun made an appearance right after we made our purchases and we found a beautiful viewing spot again, over the Tuscan countryside where we could sit and eat.  This was probably my favourite part of the day as it was so chilled and relaxed; we knew we were going to eat shortly and could just take our time and soak up the surroundings.  There were lots of tourists about, more so than in Volterra but that didn’t matter so much as we just parked ourselves in a spot and stayed there until we were ready to move on.

san gimignano sunset

We had booked a table at a restaurant earlier in the day so we made our way there pretty slowly after that; the idea being that we would eat as the sun set and watch from the terrace.  I didn’t manage to get many photos in the restaurant worth sharing but the sun set was as spectacular as we had hoped and really made the whole trip worth it.

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It was with no great amount of joy that we took off from a very rainy Liverpool and headed to Tuscany a few weeks ago.  If I felt any trepidation about leaving the kids behind, and having to deal with the turbulence caused by the clouds, it was soon dealt with when we landed in Pisa and I breathed in the gorgeously warm air of true summer.

plane landing

Our trip to Tuscany was a pretty unusual one, and one I don’t think we are likely to repeat any time soon.  We decided to go away, just as a couple, to celebrate my 30th birthday and our 10th wedding anniversary.  It was an absolutely beautiful trip and although I wish we’d had the kids with us, it was also so nice to have some quality time together as a couple.

Not that it wasn’t without its pitfalls.  Everything had gone so well, from the flight to the hire car and then…and then.  We got lost.  On the winding roads of the Italian countryside where there is no right lane and wrong lane.  It is just every car for themselves and he who swerves at the last minute, wins.

farm tuscany

tuscany countryside

It was funny because we drove past a small holding type place and I commented to James that it looked a lot like the AirBnB we had booked to stay in.  But the trusty sat nav reckoned we had another 15 minutes or so in the car so we dutifully carried on.  An hour or so later and one poorly executed phone call to our host (who spoke limited English alongside our limited Italian) and we finally made it.  To the very place we had driven past!

Not that we hadn’t taken the time to enjoy and appreciate our surroundings, of course en route.  Just outside of Volterra, there is this unique installation which we think must have been placed there to encourage people to stop and admire the views.  Which is just what we did, whilst also scratching our heads and wondering where we were meant to be going!

It was a welcome relief to step out of the car and into our holiday apartment, and to be welcomed by a very gracious host who gave us a quick language lesson, pointed out some of the ‘must-sees’ in the area, arranged for breakfast the following morning and then left us to collapse into our bed.

volterra

volterra street

volterra roman ruins

We decided to stick close to home on our first full day in Tuscany and visited Volterra, the town closest to where we were staying.  Volterra is probably best known in the current age for its connection with the Twilight franchise and there are plenty of vampire-related tours you can take of the town but the scenes in the movie weren’t actually filmed in Volterra (fun fact!).

It’s still a very pretty town to visit with twisting cobbled streets, views over the Tuscan hills, delicious gelato, roman ruins and lots and lots of alabaster.  You can’t visit Volterra and not notice that there are shops selling alabaster on almost every single street and it has been mined for centuries in this part of Italy.  I was quite surprised (and disappointed!) to discover how heavy it was which limited what we could bring back in our cases as there were some truly stunning pieces which had been created from this gorgeously white stone.

volterra castle

volterra museo della tortura

volterra pizza

We didn’t spend all of our first day exploring here; we saw the main highlights and enjoyed our first real Italian pizza before heading back to the apartment to get changed.  One of the main things that we actually liked about Volterra, especially when thinking back over the other towns and cities we visited, was how quiet it was.  There were tourists and tour groups but not nearly as many as we had been expecting and we’d often turn a corner and find streets which were totally empty of people, which was actually very nice!

As I said, we didn’t spend all day in Volterra as we had also made reservations at a restaurant in San Gimignano; home of the tall towers so we headed back to the apartment for a quick shower and got changed before heading out again.  This was something we absolutely wouldn’t have been able to do had the kids been with us so it was a real novelty.

volterra bell tower

And I’ll tell you more about our explorations of San Gimignano in Part Two later in the week!

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Having recently just returned from a trip to Italy, I was surprised at myself when we landed in Pisa and I realised I had forgotten to even look up a few of the basic phrases we might need.  Cue a quick hop onto Google and some screenshots of the most commonly used phrases!

Actually, in the end, we were pretty lucky as our Airbnb host took the time to go through some words we might need and how to pronounce them properly but it’s actually the first time we have visited a country without knowing at least some basic words.  It comes back to something which my mum drilled into us at an early age, to at least attempt to speak the local language, even if you make a mess of it and end up speaking English in the end anyway!

It doesn’t actually surprise me that this isn’t a very common attitude though.  Recent research by Holiday Autos suggests that around 27% of Brits make no effort to learn the local lingo when travelling, assuming that everyone speaks English and of those who do make the effort, on average, they only learn six or so words.  

I find this completely fascinating because to me, there is nothing which makes me feel more on the back foot than the thought that I might not be able to communicate when abroad.  I dislike the assumption that ‘everyone’ speaks English, as this simply isn’t true.  It might be the case if you are going to a resort but if you’ve ever stayed somewhere remote or off the beaten track then you will quickly discover that simply being able to say ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ just isn’t going to cut it!


So after reading this research, I was pondering over reasons why I think it’s a good idea to make some attempt to learn the local lingo when travelling:-

1. It can save you time and stress
Knowing a few key words and phrases before you travel can help you to save time and money.  This can be anything from asking for basic directions to understanding menu options in a local restaurant.  You won’t have to worry about whether anyone speaks English wherever you go either meaning you can be more confident, and have a more enjoyable trip from the get-go.

2. It can save you money
Depending on how much of the local language you speak, you can find the best deals at restaurants or with travel arrangements, you can negotiate for a bargain at the market, you could spot if you are being sold a dodgy deal based on the fact that you are a tourist…the list is pretty endless.

3. It can give you independence
This is a real must for anyone who doesn’t want to rely on only going to resorts or sticking with tour guides.  If you want the opportunity to blend in with the locals and head off the beaten track then you will need a basic understanding of the local language.  Heading away from the main tourist spots can be a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the culture of a country which is ultimately very rewarding.

4. People will warm to you
I have made enough bumbling attempts to communicate in a foreign language to be able to tell you, hand on heart, that locals almost always warm to someone who attempts to speak their language.  I am confident that they can spot I am British a mile off and 9 times out of 10 will simply reply to me in English but starting out in the local language opens another kind of dialogue and one which often sees people offering recommendations and advice on the best places to go, longer lasting conversations and an all-round sense of having made an effort.

So next time you are planning a trip abroad, consider learning a few key phrases at the same time.  It will only help to make your holiday that much more rewarding.

*This is a sponsored post

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