5 Things I Learnt From Reducing My Plastic Use

30 June 2018

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Our planet's need for us, its inhabitants, to reduce our plastic use is something that's been on my radar for a while but (being totally honest) it isn't something I'd actively looked into until April of this year. I was staying at my boyfriend's house and it struck me how different the recycling facilities where we live are - his family compost coffee grounds, get their milk delivered in glass bottles and recycle everything from teabags to potato peelings and we... well, we've got a black bin and a green bin! It made me wonder why our area of the UK isn't as well-equipped to deal with our waste as his, and after emailing my local council about the issue I started researching other ways I could help and do my bit.

The following month, I received an email from BRITA asking if I'd like to take part in a challenge where I ditched single-use plastic for a week/weekend. I'm so glad they did as it was an eye-opening experience, and I thought I'd share my #SwapForGood findings with you (in classic Meg Says style, so get ready for some verbs!)

The initial step is to evaluate: how much single-use plastic do you consume in a week? I kept an eye on how much I was getting through and was really surprised at just how prevalent plastic is. It's everywhere which can feel quite overwhelming, but a good tip is to remember that every little helps - starting to make changes and educate yourself is far better than staying the same. I found that a lot of the single-use plastic I use is actually down to convenience rather than necessity (for example, buying coffee in takeaway cups) and I was excited to see where I could improve and how to change my ways for the better.

When it comes to food shopping, I usually order online. Living in the countryside (an hour's round trip from the nearest store) and being chronically ill means that it's the easiest option for me, but I have noticed the large amount of unnecessary packaging that comes along with it - even bananas, a food that literally comes pre-packaged by nature, are in an unrecyclable bag. I went to the shop in the search of single-use plastic free food, and my findings were interesting! The first thing that struck me was that it isn't the easiest thing to do a single-use plastic free food shop in a supermarket but there are ways around it, like picking loose fruit and vegetables (without putting them in one of those little plastic bags) over pre-packaged and opting for food in brown paper bags where possible. 

After walking round on my own and seeing which foods were harder (meat, fish, snacks) and which were easier (fruit, veg, fresh bread) I asked an employee for advice, and they were really helpful! She told me that if you're purchasing food from the deli counter you can bring your own Tupperware containers to fill up, and also informed me that a lot of teabags contain plastic. I had no idea and it made me think of the food bin in my boyfriend's kitchen - even though the teabags in there get recycled, the polypropylene in them can lead to plastic pollution. As a result, I bought biodegradable Teapigs Everyday Brew.

I know my journey with consuming less plastic will be a lifelong one where I'll constantly be learning new things, but after my first foray into more environmentally friendly shopping I'd say: go local where possible (we buy our eggs and lots of our vegetables from farmers), ask your supermarket whether they have any re-filling schemes (e.g. olive oil on tap), always take your own hessian bag and buy in bulk to save packaging as well as money.

Now that I know the basics of a single-use plastic free food shop I'm all good when I'm working from home - I've got my Teapigs cuppa that tastes even better because I've used filtered water, more on that later - and I need to be more eco-conscious when I'm out and about. I didn't go to London for events as planned over the weekend as I had a to-do list as long as my arm, but if I had I can tell you how it would've gone plastic-wise: a meal deal at the train station and maybe a coffee on the way to Will's. That's a sandwich wrapper, crisp packet, water bottle and takeaway cup - all are single-use and get 'thrown away', which makes me feel really uneasy now that I'm learning about plastic pollution.

From now on I won't be purchasing any food or drink on the go packaged in single-use plastic wherever possible and instead, I'll be planning ahead by taking my own reusable bottle and packing lunch or snacks too. My BRITA Fill & Go Vital Bottle fits perfectly in my handbag (video demonstration here) and has a high-tech filtration system which means cleaner, fresher water that saves a. you money and b. the planet. My London-dwelling best friend only buys bottled water as he doesn't like the taste of tap, so I'll be introducing him to this innovative bottle ASAP. It comes in cute colours too - anyone surprised mine's pink?

The most important thing I've learnt from taking part in BRITA's challenge is that things need to change. It gave me the push I needed to actually do some research, and the reality is that the way we're currently producing and consuming plastic is damaging and unsustainable. It doesn't seem like a 'big deal' to buy some water, but the process of producing it creates greenhouse gases which contribute towards climate change and the actual bottle itself will remain on Earth for hundreds if not thousands of years. 

The BRITA Style Jug is a more sustainable and cost-effective alternative to bottled water, and as we've already covered my love for a good cup of tea in this post I need to tell you about my new discovery - this makes a GREAT cup of tea! Tap water in the UK comes on a scale from soft, moderately soft, slightly hard, moderately hard, hard and very hard, and I live in a 'very hard' area - this means our kettle is full of limescale and my brews, as a result, often have scales on top. My mate Josh calls it 'tea scum' and if that doesn't tell you that it's not the most pleasant thing then I don't know what does, so I'm delighted be able to fill my kettle with beautiful filtered water from my BRITA jug and eliminate that issue. As well as being more budget-friendly and ideal for cooking thanks to the way it reduces impurities that affect your water's taste, it also releases the full flavour of tea and coffee. 

I've got a lot more to learn, and that excites me - I think it's common amongst online creators to worry that you don't know enough about a subject or that you'll be criticised for not being 'perfect', but that shouldn't put us off sharing our experiences. It's also easy to think 'I'm only one person, it won't make any difference', but the truth is that it can and it will. When you buy an item you're contributing towards a demand for more of that item to be produced, and this week has taught me that consuming comes with a responsibility and the smallest changes can create positive ripple effects. We got this!

Learn more about BRITA and their work with the Marine Conservation Society here, and do let me know if you've tried any of their products for yourself. I'd also highly recommend checking out my friend Zanna, as she's a great example of someone who discusses the effects of plastic on our world in a really honest and welcoming way.

This post is sponsored by BRITA. All opinions and words are 100% my own and honest. Affiliate links have not been used. For more information, please see my disclaimer here

Photos by Megan Duffield Photography

How To Spend: One Day In Rome

28 June 2018

Two days in Rome: one down (spent in the Travestere district, guide here) and one to go.

With a limited amount of time in one of the most ancient and beautiful cities on the planet, Will and I knew we wanted to tick a few of the 'bigguns' off our list. First up was the Colosseum, and our host Angelo at the B&B we stayed (called Il Boom, full review here) explained that it'd take 45 minutes to walk there or 15 via bus. If your day in Rome is looking like an early morning to late evening affair like ours was, it's probably best to go for the public transport option. Head to any local tobacco shop to purchase a day travel-card - these are valid for 24 hours, cost just €7 each and cover buses, trams and the metro. You can find lots of helpful information on Rome transport here.

We bought our Colosseum tickets online from Coop Culture and would highly recommend this as it's literally the difference between waiting in extremely long queues or nipping into the pre-booked lane. These tickets are valid for two consecutive days and also offer entrance to the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. Various discounted rates are available, for example our tickets were €7,50 rather than €12 as we're EU residents under 25 years old - just make sure you take your passport or driving license etc with you as the person who checks your ticket will ask for ID. 

Whilst booking our tickets on Coop Culture we also booked a guided tour which was an absolute bargain at only €5 extra - click here to order. It only lasted for 45 minutes (you're guaranteed to walk around for this length of time anyway) and was incredibly engaging and informative. If you've studied the history of the Flavian Amphitheatre in detail then you might enjoy soaking it all in by yourself, but if there are gaps in your knowledge then it's really beneficial as you really do learn so much in a short space of time.

As for getting to the Colosseum, we were told to get the number 75 bus which is meant to come every 20 minutes - it didn't however, and we actually ended up missing our slot for the guided tour because we waited for almost an hour with no sign of the 75! Rome's bus routes are amongst some of the most complex in Europe and timetables can be confusing, so an app like Citymapper is well worth downloading. It makes your life a lot easier if you don't speak Italian, and when a 75 eventually came it took us directly to the Colosseum. 

In all honesty, arriving is rather confusing - there are crowds everywhere and it's not entirely clear where you're meant to go, but your best bet is to tell someone selling tickets outside that you've pre-booked yours and need to pick them up. They'll point you in the right direction, there's a short queue for the kiosk then you show your reference and ID to get them printed which takes all of five minutes. We explained that we missed our slot because of the buses and were told that we could just jump on the next tour, wahey!

There are plenty of places to grab a bite to eat, and we went for the snack bar next to the Metro entrance - it's a little pricey, but they do a good range (pizzas, salads, sandwiches etc) and for table service literally right next to the Colosseum, you can't complain.

For such a popular and famous tourist destination the organisation of the Colosseum could definitely do with a rethink - we had no idea where we meant to go for our tour (no staff member we asked seemed to know either!) and it seemed like a few helpful signs would've cleared up a whole lot of confusion. The one person who gave us a proper answer sent us to a Japanese meeting point, we spent ages rushing around trying to find the English one and when we eventually got there we still weren't 100% sure if it was the right place. There was then a delay of at least 30 minutes whilst the audio equipment was handed out in the most inefficient way ever (being from the UK aka The Land Of The Queue the whole thing seemed mega longwinded) but as previously mentioned, once we actually got going the tour was faultless and one of our highlights of the entire trip. 

After our fabulous guided tour and a spot of roaming around (love a Dad pun) by ourselves for an hour, we left in search of lunch. As it's so busy, the crowds of humans turn into crowds of sheep and everyone seems to walk the same way in the same direction. We followed the hoards before wondering "where are we actually going?" and instead, we took a route off the beaten track (the beaten track being the Piazza del Colosseo) through a brick arc. No less than five minutes later we found a charming little ristorante called Iari The Vino which couldn't have been more perfect. We shared a jug of beer (which came with chilled glasses, much to Will's delight), a Four Seasons pizza and the mixed salad. The pizza was the best we had in Italy and came with chilli flakes (much to my delight!) and I'd love to taste more of their menu. The service and atmosphere was very sweet and it was a pleasure to find such a cosy spot in a busy capital city centre.

The Palatine Hill, our next destination, is one of the Seven Hills and was the home of aristocrats and emperors during Ancient Rome. I knew next to little about it so was pleased to find that it's a real 'learn as you go' place - there are placards everywhere so it's easy to pick up snippets of history as you walk around, and we spotted lots of groups with tour guides that you can book here. We spent an hour there before the heavens opened, and without an umbrella or any cash to buy one we thought we'd get the 75 bus home.

Back in the haven that is Il Boom, we showered and had a glass of red wine on the rooftop terrace (this became quite the mini tradition during our trip!) before deciding on a dinner location. I asked for recommendations on Instagram and got an overwhelming amount of people saying "you must go to Piazza Navona!", so we put on our gladrags and figured out which tram we needed to get.

I'm going to echo my lovely Instagram followers here - you must go to Piazza Navona! Built in the first century AD, it's the most beautiful square (especially in the evening when the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi is all lit up) which has a plethora of lovely places to eat and drink. The amount of choice is actually rather overwhelming and the smell of wood-fired pizza, creamy carbonara and general homemade Italian goodness floats out of every eatery which makes walking around the wide cobbled streets a pretty mouthwatering experience.

Wanting to enjoy sitting in pretty Piazza Navona (and with the luxury of restaurants serving food much later than they do in England) we nipped into a restaurant on the right hand side of the square for a cocktail. I had a variation of my usual Negroni, a Negroni Sbagliato, which I have no idea how to pronounce but will definitely order again - they replace the gin with Prosecco which makes for a lighter drink and it was de-lish!

A quick look on Trip Advisor at Il Boom gave us the invaluable information that Cantina e Cucina is one of the best restaurants in Rome, and after being told on the phone that they didn't take bookings we decided to walk there and suss out the situation. Upon arrival there was a queue that snaked all the way around the back of the building (the most positive of signs that the food is gonna be amazing) and we were told it'd be around twenty minutes for a table. The weather was gorgeous and we didn't mind waiting - even less so when an extremely cheerful man came out, popped a bottle of sparkling wine and gave everyone a glass! He must've returned to refill the entire queue's cups at least three times. It was such a personal gesture and made the difference between potentially walking away to find somewhere without a wait and being more than happy to.

Once inside, you're immediately hit with the most welcoming of vibes - the servers (ours was called Gianluca) are endlessly helpful and smiley, and the ancient decor has been given a modern twist. It's rather 'busy' in the sense that there's not much free space (even on the ceiling which is filled with hanging plants and bottles) which gives it a snug tavern-style feel. The tables are closely spaced and quickly turned around - we had three different dining 'neighbours' during our meal - but if you'd like to take your time like we did, there's no hurry and you never feel rushed. The menu is extensive with antipasti, tasting plates, pizza, pasta and salads etc, and the rosé wine was so divine that I took a photo so we'd be able to find it again - de Tarczal by the way, you're welcome!

Will had the meatballs and I had the porcini mushroom risotto, and both made us do that "oh, you HAVE to taste this" thing, and we also shared a side of garlic and chilli chicory. We could see why Cantina e Cucina is so popular and the dining experience (from the first free glass of sparkling wine to the last free shot of limoncello) was thoroughly enjoyed. 

The good thing about the Citymapper app is that you can easily see when public transport runs to, and after paying our bill we saw that we had about an hour before we needed to get on the last bus home to our B&B - just enough time to see the Trevi Fountain! It's a 15 minute walk from Cantina e Cucina (we use Google Maps on our phones to get everywhere) so we set off, and I wasn't quite prepared for the beauty! It's absolutely huge and looks so stunning in the evening, making the ideal spot to sit and bask in Rome's glory for our final few hours there before moving on to another part of Italy called Cassino. 

How To Spend: A Weekend In Paris

7 June 2018

Oh Paris, Audrey Hepburn really did say it best - you're always a good idea! And an extremely good idea that my boyfriend had late last year was to whisk me off to France's capital City Of Lights for my birthday as a surprise... such a keeper! The Airbnb he'd booked fell through which meant that our trip was rearranged for December, and visiting in the most festive month of the year was truly magical!

We had such a wonderful, whirlwind time and I wanted to share some highlights with you in case you're planning on visiting one of the most romantic cities in the world for a few days.

First up, props to the Eurostar service from London St Pancras to the Gard du Nord for being the most easy and seamless transition from England to France ever - it's actually quicker than the journey from my house to Will's, would you believe! Upon arrival at midday we jumped in an Uber and headed straight to our Airbnb which was the most perfect 'base camp' for a weekend's stay - unfortunately I don't have the details but I remember that the address was Rue Chénier (I just checked that and my little yellow Google Maps street view guy was plonked right outside of our red front door, so that's definitely it!) and it had everything we needed as well as the most minimalistic Instagram-worthy decor.

We added another layer of clothing on under our coats to go for a stroll and ended up on a gorgeous parade of shops, bars and cafés. One of the things I love most about Paris and something that you should definitely experience whilst you're there is their café culture - all of the chairs face outwards from the buildings which makes for total people-watching heaven and everywhere has outdoor heating, so even though the air was frosty we were completely toasty and happy to sit for a while enjoying a coffee and a plate of French fries.

After having a little mosey around some antique furniture and clothing shops we started walking home to our apartment, and Will suggested that we stop to pick up some food (he has this brilliant ability to make a cooked breakfast every morning no matter where we're staying in the world, I once woke up in an Airbnb in Budapest that had an empty fridge and cupboards the night before to a complete breakfast buffet!) so we stopped off at the local boulangerie to pick up some freshly baked ciabatta. The haul continued in another little shop where we got some essentials: eggs, tomatoes and spinach to go on top of our toast for breakfast, and garlic and chilled stuffed olives, tapenade and red wine for the evenings.

Back at the apartment we had a little mini-feast (you can't go wrong with the old trusty classic of crusty bread dipped in oil with garlicky olives on side and a couple of glasses of vino, so good) whilst we got ready for the evening. I must mention that we discovered that there was a new series of one of our favourite tv shows 'People Just Do Nothing', but we couldn't watch it on BBC iPlayer as we were out of the country! Instead we put the Baby Driver soundtrack through the speakers whilst we drank and danced to American soul, which looking back was way, WAY more romantic than Kurupt FM - sorry, MC Grindah.

With an Instagram DM inbox packed to the brim with Paris suggestions (thanks guys, we really appreciated it!) we decided to head to Popolare which is a very trendy pizzeria, but they may want to change that 'o' to a 'u' and get rid of that 'e' as this restaurant was POPULAR, all caps! The queue of young people waiting to get in seemingly snaked around the whole city and wasn't moving anywhere fast, so we dove into a warm and welcoming wine bar next door for a drink whilst we chatted and planned our next move. We were intrigued by Popolare but didn't fancy waiting, and therefore found ourselves walking along the parade we'd discovered earlier in the day. Not feeling too hungry thanks to our mini-feast earlier, we enjoyed simply strolling around and being spoilt for restaurant choices. 

Every place we passed looked super inviting, but the menu outside Little Italy Caffe caught our eye and as soon as we opened the door we were hit with this real palpable buzz. It's not a spacious restaurant by any means, but that only added to the charm and we were more than happy to wait by the bar 'cheers'-ing with a glass of wine until a table (that you need to be physically 'tucked into' because of the narrowness of the building, no joke!) became available. Will did that classic thing where you see someone else in the restaurant being served something that looks amazing and you have a 'I'll have what he's having!' moment so he had a seafood pasta dish, and I had 'pappardelle al porcini' which was delicious. I'm a spicy food fiend and have copious amount of chilli flakes on everything, and we discovered that night that chilli in French is 'chili'... good to know!

If you're a serious pasta person then Little Italy Caffe is well worth a visit - it's reasonably priced, the portions were very generous without lacking in flavour (quantity and quality, not always easy to find!) and the staff did a beautiful job of navigating the restaurant and making the smaller space seem cosy rather than cramped. You really feel like you're in an authentic Italian family restaurant!

The following day we decided to do some sightseeing so we bundled up in lots of warm layers and called an Uber to the Louvre. We saw the Eiffel Tower and thought about going up, but a famous French singer named Johnny Hallyday had sadly passed away and we'd been advised by my viewers to avoid some of the larger Paris monuments as lots of people would be paying tribute.

It was one of those 'heaven help you if you forget a hat and gloves' types of days and it was beginning to rain, so we got in the queue for the Louvre which moved fairly quickly. Entry was free as we're within the 18-25 year old EU resident bracket, and once inside that glorious pyramid we set off exploring. As you can imagine there's an endless amount of history to be seen and you can get lost for hours looking at whatever takes your fancy, and of course there's Da Vinci's Mona Lisa - a lot of people comment that it's far smaller than you might expect, but I don't think that detracts from the pleasure and honour of seeing the real thing in real life (albeit over the heads of lots of people and their selfie sticks!)

After getting our fill of art for the day, we left the Louvre and walked along the Seine, passing a sign that read "we serve beer colder than your ex's heart!" which made us laugh enough that we wanted to investigate further. At first I couldn't see where this quirky place was, but we realised that the sign was pointing down some stone steps where a lovely little bistro called Maison Maison sat on the river's edge. It seemed closed, but it turns out that the door just needs a very large and firm push! My immediate thoughts were that it was a sweet and humble establishment - there was a metal bucket underneath a leak in the roof towards the far end of the restaurant and fresh flowers on every table. We were greeted by a lovely lady called Deborah who spoke fantastic English, which was really helpful as despite the menu being small I would've needed to Google Translate almost everything!

Will and I both had oricchiette with 'courge et trévise' which is pumpkin and radicchio (the dish also came with sardines which they were able to take out for me as I'm a vegetarian) and I kid you not - this was one of the best meals of my whole entire life! Every bite was to die for; the pasta was fresh, the chicory was cooked to absolute perfection and the sauce was so exquisitely creamy yet delicate and downright heavenly that I savoured each mouthful. It was, quite honestly, heaven on a plate. The location couldn't be more perfect either, as you look out of the window and the Seine is eye-level which just made me want to break out into a rendition 'Audition (The Fools Who Dream)' from La La Land - it's truly magical. Maison Maison will be one of the sole reasons I return to Paris, and Will can confirm that the beer was icy cold!

Full and happy, we climbed the stone steps again feeling extremely thankful that we'd discovered such a hidden gem and crossed the bridge, stopping to look at all of the 'love locks' on our way. Our afternoon was one of wandering - we took some photos for my Instagram, had lemon and sugar crêpes with mulled wine and saw Notre Dame before Uber-ing back to our cosy base camp to shower and go to town on the bread and olives.

The lovely waitress Deborah from Maison Maison had been really friendly and chatted to us about our evening plans, which were to head across Paris to see if we could find a rooftop restaurant so we could have a nice romantic meal, ideally with views of the Eiffel Tower and the Sacré-Cœre. She wrote us a little list of her favourite places that weren't too far from our Airbnb, one of which was called Benichat. The walk was longer than we'd anticipated and we arrived ready to shrug off our coats and tuck into some hot food. We were expecting a restaurant and instead found a very small bar, so maybe they only serve food early - always Google before you go, kids! - but seeing as we'd walked all that way we decided to stay for a drink that turned into two, three, four...

The guy behind the bar at Benichat served us a generous bowl of olives whilst we sampled their gin selection, our favourite being Monkey 47. It was the perfect place to chill and chat with a proper G&T and we spent most of our evening there, before realising that it had gone 11.30pm and the chance of a proper meal might've passed us by. Undeterred (and with our gin jackets on) we left the bar in search of a late-night food joint that might offer up a burger or a wrap with chips - hopeful, but safe in the knowledge that we had enough 'nibbly bits' back at our Airbnb to make a banging antipasti board.

Paris was kind to us on this night as we stumbled upon an Irish pub, which I'm pretty sure was called Corcoran's. We were greeted by the smiliest host who ushered us in and told us, to our absolute delight, that the kitchen was still fully open and we could have what we liked. After a quick glance over the menu (we were ravenous by this point) we both swiftly chose pizzas which were kind of average, but when it's bordering on midnight and you thought you'd be having a tapenade toastie for dinner - who's complaining?

On our final day in Paris the heavens opened, but it didn't stop us from having the best day ever! After packing and locking up our trusty, faithful Airbnb and telling it "its been real", we wheeled our suitcases along in the drizzle until we found a cute café (it doesn't take long in Paris, let's face it!) for petit déjeuner as there's nothing like good coffee and good croissants to get you ready for the day ahead.

Montmartre was the last stop of our trip, and driving through the winding hill of the 18th arrondissement is a pleasure in itself. Amélie, one of my all-time favourite films, was set in Montmartre so it was a dream come true to walk around and spot different landmarks from the movie. It really is like something out of a film there - the smell of homemade French onion soup wafts out of the blue painted wooden shutters of rustic restaurants, elderly men walk the streets with paintbrush in hand and the view both inside the Basilica of the Sacré-Cœre and outside it are completely idyllic. Even the blustery winds couldn't dampen our spirits as we simply ducked into a family-run place to sample some of that French onion soup we'd been craving, and once the rain had died down we continued our stroll again.

Will spotted a sign for a Salvador Dalí exhibition and in the spirit of enjoying our final day, being spontaneous and adding a little more culture to our trip, we bought two tickets and went to the exhibition. I can't tell you how fascinating it was! I was unfamiliar with Dalí's work before (I recognised the melting clocks, but that was it) and I really did fall in love with his imagination - he was a true genius and both of us were totally absorbed in his work. Barely ten minutes went by where Will or I didn't hurry to find each other and show them this-piece-they-absolutely-HAD-to-see, and I'm so glad we went. It was run by Espace Dalí and I couldn't recommend it more - I've always been way more into literature than art and sometimes feel as though things go over my head, but this exhibition was perfectly accessible and I left feeling like I could talk about the experience all day.

Whilst looking for somewhere nice to enjoy our last meal we found Roberta, and boy were we glad we did! The staff were all smiles and the decor was really modern with a relaxed feel. We ordered a Negroni each which were delicious, these pack a punch but are perfect for sipping on whilst you chat and peruse the menu. We asked to order but were a couple of hours early for the dinner service, so instead we helped ourselves to the deli counter which had every cheese, meat and pickle you could possibly wish for!

Our original idea was to sip our cocktails and carry on nibbling until dinnertime, but as the clock ticked we agreed it was best to head to the Gard du Nord and eat somewhere closer by, as there's nothing worse than being far away from the airport/station etc when your travel time is approaching. If anything happens like your meal takes ages to arrive or there are no taxis, you can't even enjoy your food or remaining time with the panic of possibly missing your journey home looming - it's best to get to where you need to be first.

A quick trip to the toilets in Roberta was necessary but tinged with sadness as we had to walk past their fresh pasta section - we were practically drooling over the homemade gnocchi, but knew it was more sensible to head off so we paid our bill and jumped in an Uber. We ate at Le Zinc Du Nord which was exactly what we needed, our food arrived promptly (Will had a burger and fries, I had risotto) and we didn't have to rush as we were already opposite the Gard du Nord with plenty of time before our Eurostar back to London. It was the perfect place to clink one final G&T and cheers to such a wonderful trip!

Big thanks to Will for organising this, he made it such a special birthday for me and planned everything beautifully. I hope this post gives you some ideas if you're visiting Paris, and please feel free to leave recommendations below in the comments for others. Au revoir!

Exploring The Ancient Neighbourhood Of Trastevere, Rome

3 June 2018

My only experience of Rome in my 24 years is summed up in one word: rushed. Will and I stay an hour and a half west at our good friend's family home in Cassino every year and Rome, to us, has always been a flying stop en route. 

It's a bustling airport where we weigh up getting the train or forking out for one of the many minivan services. It's a hectic terminal where we once saw Ed Sheeran. A vast car park in which we can't find our rental vehicle at 2am. A restaurant at Termini where we ordered bruschetta that took 45 minutes to make, tasted of nothing and costed us €14 (as well as almost missing our flight) for the privilege. 

We knew this wasn't 'the real Rome' (that's like saying that Waterloo is London in a nutshell) so we made 2018 the year that we saw more, starting with riverside district, Trastevere.

Landing at midday, the first stop was our bed and breakfast Il Boom - I've written a full review here - and the host, Angelo, suggested that we explore the ancient neighbourhood. Keen for some authentic Italian pizza (I had a serious craving!), we set off and quickly learnt that Trastevere is the prettiest place to stroll around. With crumbling houses, cobbled streets and charm by the bucketload, it manages to feel both old and new at the same time. It's a perfect 'let's see where our feet take us' place, and on this occasion we ended up in popular Piazza de Santa Maria - you'll find the Basilica di Santa Maria here (one of the oldest churches in Rome with the most stunning mosaics), and the fountain is a glorious people-watching spot. The nightlife is meant to be fabulous in this spot, too!

With the image of a proper pizza floating around in my head like a cartoon and making my mouth water, a late lunch was next on the list. Trastevere is full of cosy trattorias (informal and casual Italian eateries with a focus on family-style cooking) so enjoy ambling around to see which ivy-covered establishment takes your fancy. A looming dark cloud sped up our choice and we nipped into what I thought was called Popi Popi, however, my Google search to find their website has just informed me that we actually ate next door at Alle Fratte di Trastevere - less fun to say, but a very good choice all the same! Our simple but delicious order of Merlot, Peroni, olives and a classic Margherita to share was made even more enjoyable by a gorgeous table in the wide-open doors of the restaurant. It was like eating al fresco yet still being sheltered from the rain, and the staff were very friendly.

With the need for pizza satisfied, we headed to the stone footbridge Ponte Sisto over the River Tiber. Again, we saw where our feet took us with the soundtrack of various buskers playing electric guitar before heading back to our adorable base-camp of Il Boom. Angelo explained that he had a restaurant a short walk away called Meridonale, so after a glass of red and a chat about our day on the glorious roof terrace we made our way there.

The exterior of Meridonale is stunning (all pretty trees adorned with lots of twinkling fairy lights!), the interior has a huge wall of vintage coffee makers and you're given free Prosecco and nibbles when you're seated. Angelo had given us a 10% off voucher so I told the waiter we were staying at Il Boom, which received a shake of the head and a "not affiliated" so I think it was a 'lost in translation' situation. Will ordered the carbonara and I the cacio e pepe (spaghetti with cheese and pepper) - his was delicious but mine was terribly salty. "Way too much salt" is a recurring comment on Trip Advisor, but they're very highly rated (#265 out of over 10,000 restaurants in Rome) so it's clearly loved by many. If you're a guest at Il Boom make sure you show your voucher at the beginning of the meal, we showed ours at the end and were rather rudely told that the discount wouldn't be applied - a younger waiter came over to apologise and offered us a free drink/dessert!

Not quite wanting our first evening in Trastevere to end - and Will with a hankering for gelato akin to my pizza one earlier - we walked in the hopes of finding a gelateria and it didn't take long before we stumbled across one (we had coffee, obvs). One of the most enchanting things about Trastevere is the palpable buzz - there always seems to be something 'happening' and, wanting to experience more of this atmosphere, we headed to a bar (we had Negronis, obvs) before wandering home for an episode of Atlanta in bed. Bliss.

Trip Advisor Wasn't Wrong: A Uniquely Vintage Bed & Breakfast In Rome

After deciding that we needed to see more of Rome than its airport, Will and I sat in bed one weekday evening with a laptop between us and the shared goal of finding a great place to stay for a night or two before travelling to Cassino for our annual holiday with friends.

Our search led us to Trip Advisor where we quickly found a bed and breakfast with absolutely glowing reviews (we're talking 82% excellent, 18% very good and absolutely no average, poor or terrible ratings whatsoever) called Il Boom. We were immediately interested as it's not often that you come across places so highly praised, and after getting in touch we were very kindly offered a complimentary two-night stay*.

When you arrive at Rome Fuimicino, as with many airports, there are lots of minivan services waiting. We've always had a kind friend to pick us up or we've gotten straight on the train to Cassino, but this time around we put our faith in a suave, smoking Italian man named Gino. He had four other passengers waiting with two more needed and was charging €15 from the airport to the door of our B&B: the train is usually at least €10 anyway, we'd been up since 4am and when you've only got a couple of days somewhere it's nicer to spend your limited time actually exploring rather than travelling. Other than unknowingly flicking burning ash onto my foot when he shut the car door, Gino did good by us and we were promptly dropped off half an hour later outside Il Boom.

Located in the Trastevere district of Rome around an eight-minute walk from the centre, Il Boom sits on a slight hill in Via Dandolo with an unassuming exterior. After being buzzed in, we entered a spacious marble hallway which offered a crisp respite from the Italian sunshine. The host Angelo (who gets an absolutely stellar mention in pretty much every Trip Advisor review, what a guy) was there to greet us, and we immediately felt the warm embrace of Il Boom. You're quite literally walking into someone's home - a home in which you are completely and utterly welcome to treat as your own.

The first thing I was struck by was the decor - Angelo explained that they've collected various items over the years (you'll find retro jukeboxes, record players and pinball machines to name a few) and the walls are adorned with movie posters from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Basically, you're not likely to turn a corner without encountering Monroe, Presley or Hepburn! Everywhere you look there's something quirky, interesting and fun.

The B&B is located on the second floor of the building with an internal third floor where you'll find the terraces, kitchen and living room. Will and I stayed in a room on this third floor that's not actually open to the public (it actually used to be Angelo's sons - what a beautiful place to grow up!) and it was lovely. With more than enough space for two, a double bed, ensuite bathroom and beautifully decorated to encompass the vintage feel of the B&B, it served as the loveliest 'base camp' for our Rome trip. The rooms that are available to book (all of which are named after icons of Italian cinema) are here.

Angelo is the dream host; very friendly, non-intrusive and respectful of your privacy as well as always being there to draw up a quick map or help with a local recommendation. The family live downstairs and you have your own key to the building which gives an easygoing 'come and go as you please' feel, especially as Il Boom states that there are no time constraints. Obviously be polite and mindful of other guests when you're returning home after a Negroni or three, but it's nice and chilled that there's no 'curfew' as such.

The facilities in general were superb - absolutely no complaints! I was particularly impressed by the Internet speed which was much faster than my own WiFi at home, and you've got all your usual comforts: daily cleaning (by the maid Dorota - any Gossip Girl fans will be screaming right now!), air conditioning, TV etc and, perhaps the best of all, full use of the glorious kitchen. I know I've already raved about the decor but it really is something special, and amidst all of the vintage heaven you'll find a table groaning with breakfast every morning (the full continental works) as well as snacks throughout the day.

The kitchen opens onto the terrace which quite simply took my breath away. Clearly very well looked after, it's filled with various plants and flowers as well as plenty of pretty ornate furniture where you can relax and watch the world go by. Offering stunning views of Rome as far as the Castelli Romani, it became our favourite area of the B&B. In the mornings we'd make ourselves coffee in the perculator and put together a plate of breakfast before heading out to soak up some AM sunshine, and in the evenings we'd pour ourselves a glass of red wine and climb the winding steps to the other terrace (yep, you heard that correctly - there's another sun-drenched terrace for your enjoyment!) where we'd sit in deckchairs and chat about our day. Blissful.

Whilst we're on the topic of the terrace, this post wouldn't be complete without the inclusion of the B&B's furry (and scaly) pals, as Il Boom is home to three cats and various tortoises. I'm a true cat lady so the trio of kitties were a highlight of my stay - I always miss my own cats when I travel so I found it very comforting and homely. All of the animals are extremely friendly and if you're not a pet person then don't fear, they're not allowed inside and only join you if you call them over for a scratch behind the ear!

Here is how you get to Il Boom, and in terms of location it's pretty ideal as you're in a very quiet residential area but need only step outside to begin exploring the city. After a 15-minute walk you'll reach the River Tiber, and once you cross that you're in close proximity of many of the most famous and beautiful places in Rome (e.g. 25 minutes to the Trevi Fountain or 30 minutes to the Colosseum). The ancient yet refreshingly modern neighbourhood of Trastevere itself is really special also - described as "funky and bohemian", it's full of life and you'll never be short of authentic pizzerias, buzzing bars or pretty cobbled streets lined with centuries-old houses.

There are also great transport links if you prefer, so do ask Angelo as he's a mine of information and has some really useful tips. He recommended that we buy day travel tickets (you can pick these up from any local tobacco shop) and they were brilliant - we travelled around Rome from early morning to late evening on buses and trams for only €7 each. Do make sure you download Citymapper from the App Store also, we waited an hour for the 75 bus at the stop near Il Boom when they're meant to come every 20 minutes so you might find the app more reliable than the bus timetables.

If you're looking for an easygoing, welcoming place to stay during your time in Italy's capital city then Il Boom is definitely one to check out, especially if you like places with extra personality and charm. It was the loveliest place to begin and end our days in Rome, and we checked out with very fond memories of the B&B and all it has to offer.

*I'm a full-time blogger who's offered free stays from time to time. Transparency is of the highest importance to me, so I just wanted to highlight that whilst our stay was complimentary, this coverage is completely off my own back and all opinions are 100% honest and my own. We loved our time at Il Boom so much that I wanted to share the experience, just like how we'll recommend it to our family and friends.