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Duomo di Milano

Milan is a strange city … in half a day you can see just about everything you’ll find on a “must-see” guide, but after 25 years you can still be amazed by the number of secret and secluded places randomly getting in your way. It’s not the most popular of all the Italian destinations. If you are traveling to Italy on your honeymoon or on a simple leisure trip, Milan would most likely be just a quick stopover. Nothing wrong with that; Rome, Florence and Venice are so famous for their art, scenery, and historical background, that with limited time, it’s understandable going for a more traditional option.

Nonetheless, if you are curious enough, there are many things that you can and should do in Milan! Besides the obvious crazy shopping, let’s say you have one day, what do you do? Easy! Get lost! I’m not kidding … Leave the map in your hotel room, forget where you need to go and don’t even think about hiring a car. If you don’t know what to do in Milan, walk or get a shared bicycle, head towards the next random church, there will always some amazing mosaic or paintings that you couldn’t find on a guide. Then point to that little vintage shop, rest your feet in a patisserie with the most amazing cappuccino and brioches, sit on a church’s step for some serious people watching and relax in the sun.

The Basilica of St. Ambrose is the perfect place to start your tour. In the morning is probably the quietest time, the perfect moment to explore every detail and when the light is also at its best. Forget where you are but remember that this place has been there for the last sixteen hundred years … breathe silently, and feel the centuries fill your lungs!

You should try and book a visit to “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci, but remember to do so at least 6 months in advance. It’s a 15 minute tour through one of the most discussed paintings of all time. You will then find yourself wandering through via Meravigli, straight to “Castello Sforzesco” Milan’s own castle. Did you know we had a castle? A rather big one too … told you Milan is full of surprises!

Now to Brera, the artist quarter, with the Art Academy and Art Gallery. The famous Kiss by Hayez is here, together with some of the works by Raphael, Caravaggio, Tintoretto and more … and there’s always a temporary exhibition or two. Walk around narrow alleys, eat at Obika “Mozzarella Bar” for some serious buffalo mozzarella, indulge with an icecream at Amorino, and spend some time at the Cathedral, the Domme of Milan. Walk around Vittorio Emanuele, shop in “Via Montenapoleone”, “Via Manzoni” to end up in “Piazza della Scala”. Now, if you are on a honeymoon or a romantic holiday, please do yourself a favour and book a night at the Opera in one of the most beautiful and famous theaters in the world the “La Scala”. That is an experience you shouldn’t miss.

You would probably be exhausted after a long day like this, wouldn’t you? Well, take a nap because you are only half way through … Milan becomes incredibly alive at night, with hundreds of pubs and bars offering amazing cocktails along with delicious food, and of course you must try at least one of them. Sit down at the very fashionable Corso Como 10, or choose any of the stylish places in Corso Sempione.

Like every city in the world, Milan is moving and changing at an unbelievably fast pace, probably more than many other cities in Italy. Maybe the Expo in 2015 is giving this busy city something new and exciting to look forward to and it’s an amazing time to go and visit. You can breathe the change. There are buildings coming up at every corner and it seems that every little thing is always moving. So, all right I may be biased, but if you are planning a visit to Italy you really should give Milan a chance and spend some time over there exploring what it has to offer!

It won’t take long and I promise you are going to love it!

Photography by Miss Lilac

Ms Gingham says: I don’t know about you but I had real trouble concentrating after I saw the photo of those macarons! Mmmmmmmmm …..

Miss Lilac says: “I love writing, reading, finding and sharing. I love beauty, colours, fragrances, travels, the excitement of a breathtaking picture and the discovery of something that nobody knows.”

Follow Miss Lilac’s adventures on her blog.

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Welcome to Yamanauchi Town

After our mini honeymoon, it was time to make a decision for our real honeymoon. By early February we knew that we wanted to go to Japan and started making plans for our trip. We booked our tickets, hotels and planned which places we would visit. On March 11th, Northeastern Japan was hit by earthquake and tsunami. The issue with the Fukushima nuclear plant was majorly covered in the news. The disaster resulted in many people re-thinking their plans to visit Japan and we did the same. We decided to wait-and-see how everything would play out by the time we were supposed to go, exactly one month after the disaster. One thing that we knew also was geographically, the places that we would be visiting are actually quite far from the places that were affected by the earthquake and the nuclear situation. In the end, we decided to go anyway as we felt the best way to contribute to the re-building of the disaster-struck part of Japan was to actually support their tourism industry. So off we went and we had an adventure of our lives!

Our first stop in our 15-days Japan adventure was Yamanouchi in Nagano-ken. We arrived at Narita Airport in the early morning of 11th April, exactly one month after the devastating earthquake in Northeastern Japan. We were not sure if the quietness in the airport was due to the early morning or the aftermath of the earthquake as the number of incoming travelers dropped. To get to Yamanouchi, we took the Skyliner from Narita Airport to Ueno Station. We had decided to take Tokyo off the itinerary due to the aftershocks but we were there in between trains and even while we were there I did feel a slight tremor from time to time.

Kesei Ueno Station

Even so, we decided to do a little bit of exploration around Ueno area. Our first stop was Ueno Park. Ueno Park is the famous Hanami (cherry blossom watching) spot in Tokyo. Luckily for us, when we were in Japan, it was cherry blossom season! It was a beautiful sight to see the petals “raining” down as the wind blew …

Ueno Park

Sakura - Ueno Park

I can speak basic Japanese and I had been to Japan in 2005 but I actually found it much easier to travel in Japan this time. Most signage is now in English and we used the Lonely Planet’s Japan book and websites such as Japan-Guide.com to plan our trip. We decided to take a walk around Ameyoko, a market street located in Ueno and as you can see, despite the earthquake, life does go on in Japan.

Ameyoko

Our sojourn through Tokyo was brief as we had to catch our 1.50pm train. From Ueno Station we had to take the Shinkansen Asama (the bullet train) to Nagano.

Off on the Shinkansen

After a train ride on the Shinkansen Asama for about 1 hour 40 minutes, we finally arrived at Nagano where it was freezing.

Arrival at Nagano

Nagano

From Nagano we hopped onto the Nagano Dentetsu train. We planned our train journey using Hyperdia and taking trains in Japan was certainly an interesting experience. The train network is a little complicated and there are various options to get to one place. To get to Yudunaka on the Nagano Dentetsu train, we could either choose the express train which would take about 45 minutes from Nagano to Yudanaka Station or we could take the more scenic route on the normal train which required a transfer at one of the local stations (Shinshunakano Station) and would take about an hour. We ended up taking the longer ride but the sights that we saw along the journey were beautiful. It was Japan’s country-side at its finest.

We found the Japanese people so helpful and friendly; the train attendant made sure we got into the 3pm train by stopping the train from leaving even though we got into the station at 3pm exactly and we still needed to purchase tickets! Whenever we could not find our way around, the locals were always happy to help and it made our traveling much easier.

The view from the train

Window view of Japan's country-side

We arrived at Yudanaka Station at Yamanouchi at about 4pm. It was a long journey to get to Yamanouchi, but it was only the beginning of our Japan adventure. I am looking forward to writing more about this beautiful place and the other places we visited in Japan!

Photos from Jennifer and Tony’s collection.

Ms Gingham says: This is a great introduction to Jennifer and Tony’s honeymoon. I can’t wait to read more! Sayonara! … (which means “goodbye” in Japanese and “thong” in Greek!).

Jennifer says: “I’m not sure how to describe myself really, as I’m interested in everything and anything. I’m currently undergoing my post-graduate studies and as a creative outlet have my own mini label me.u, where I make jewellery/accessories. Despite having the wedding done now, I still love looking at all things bridal! So I still troll around wedding sites looking for all things pretty!”

Read about Jennifer’s mini moon here.

About to set off

Photo from Jessica and Lance’s collection

Lance and I had never been overseas before, so when considering where to honeymoon you would be right to say that we were amateurs. We knew our budget ($7000), we knew that we wanted a tropical paradise and privacy, but we didn’t know just how hard that would be to find. After searching through the countless travel magazines which covered the floor to no avail, suddenly, tucked away on the corner of a page we saw it, the perfect place for us to begin our marriage together. We booked 10 nights with full board (all meals included) in a premium bure at the stunning Toberua Island Resort.

Getting to our honeymoon was a little complicated. Due to rising flood waters in South East Queensland, we were forced to leave our wedding night accommodation at the stunning Glass on Glasshouse and spent our second night together as husband and wife in Lance’s uncle’s home after he kindly and bravely rescued us in the middle of the night. We just made it to the airport and enjoyed free champagne and movies on the flight to tropical Fiji (it really pays to tell flight attendants that you’re on your honeymoon).

As amateur travellers, we never reviewed our itinerary and ended up flying to Nadi then enduring a four hour drive in a taxi to another airport in Nausori. There, we were met by another taxi who drove us another 20 minutes to the island’s boat which finally took us safely to Toberua. To avoid the four hour drive, book a 20 minute flight from Nadi Airport to Nausori Airport. Driving through Fijian villages, however, taught me a lot about the Fijian way of life.

When we arrived at the Island it was late, we were tired and hungry but what we were about to experience would deliver us straight into honeymoon paradise. Pulling up at the dock, my eyes filled with tears, as I could see the beautiful glow of the lit pathways and the sounds of acoustic guitars and serenading voices which were carried through the warm air to greet us. We were guided to our room and enjoyed a gorgeous berry and coconut cream mocktail (I purchased dozens of these during our stay). We then enjoyed a private dinner where beautiful, live music continued playing.

Welcome

Premium Bure

Premium Bure Bathroom

Lamb

Photo from Jessica and Lance’s collection

During our ten night stay, Lance and I loved lazing by the pool, soaking up the sun on our own private beach and receiving complimentary champagne, fruit and a massage each. Once we mustered up enough energy we enjoyed kayaking, playing games on the island such as pool, volleyball and mini golf (fishing is also an option, the chef may even prepare your prized catch for lunch). On Sunday we experienced Fijian church and traveled to a local village where we were genuinely immersed in the Fijian culture.

View from premium bure

Lazy

Photo from Jessica and Lance’s collection

Activities

We went snorkelling three times which was offered complimentary every day (weather permitting) on the island. Another couple with us on the island who were quite well travelled commented that the snorkelling was of the best that they had ever experienced. The wildlife and variety of living coral was breathtaking.

Bure

Lance

Photo from Jessica and Lance’s collection

The food was fresh and prepared at a very high standard; we couldn’t get enough of the three course lunches and four course dinners!

Food

Photo from Jessica and Lance’s collection

FIsh

Photo from Jessica and Lance’s collection

Fish

Photo from Jessica and Lance’s collection

Did I mention that at one point during our stay we were the only couple on the entire Island?

Island

I completely underestimated the importance of taking a honeymoon after the wedding. Lance and I found it to be so valuable to have time together away from the world to reflect on and absorb the events passed.

DIning

Our experience at Toberua Island was incredible and I hope to return again in the future, I would like to encourage couples to consider booking their honeymoon at Toberua Island Resort, Fiji.

Photography by Toberua Island Resort, Fiji.


Ms Gingham says: Looks like that four hour taxi ride was worth it! This Fiji honeymoon looks so beautiful. Only danger is that they’d have to roll me out with all that food available!

Jessica says: “Our wedding day was the most incredible day, I will carry those memories with me for the rest of our lives! It really was perfect and I feel so much joy in being able to share this with you on Polka Dot Bride.”

Read about Jessica and Lance’s gorgeous wedding here.