Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Mad Travel Favorites: Unexpected Pleasures

No doubt, you've heard that oft used quote by the incomparable Robert Burns "the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry".  No doubt you've also heard it used to mock the very idea of making plans.  Plans do have an alarming tendency to go awry, it is true.  But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't have them.  Plans do have their place.  You just need to recognize that they aren't the end all be all of travel.  The seasoned traveler knows that they must make plans AND expect them to fall apart at times.  Being able to roll with unexpected circumstances is just a part of travel.

For instance, I love planning my trips to maximize the amount of cool things I can see in a short period of time.  It can be convenient to know that two of the things you most want to see are in the same area.  It saves on unnecessary backtracking.  Yet, after reflection, it seems that my favorite parts of trips have all been the unexpected parts I could not, and did not, plan for at all.

Unexpected Discoveries in Rome

Santa Maria in Aracoeli's Entrance - by Madder Hatter
In Rome, one of my favorite discoveries was a little church that I hadn't planned to visit.  Rome is full of churches and there is simply not enough time to visit every single one of them.  No matter how beautiful they are, how historic, or how full of incredible art they are, the numbers make it impossible to see them all.

So, my friend and I had planned to visit only a few.  On the way to the Capitoline Museums we came across the side entrance of another church and impulsively decided to enter.

The Santa Maria in Aracoeli has a particularly uninspiring exterior.  But we decided it was worth a quick peek through the door since we were there.

Santa Maria in Aracoeli's Interior - by Madder Hatter

And boy was it ever!  It is hard to describe the vast discrepancy between the exterior and interior of this church.  Let's just say that we stood frozen two feet inside the door gaping at arches bedazzled with chandeliers.  

I mean, I have never seen that many chandeliers in one place.  Have you?  Not only does every arch down the colonnade have a chandelier in it, the main arches in the crossing/transept of the church have them every two feet.  

I know it's not the best photo of the interior, but it's good enough for you to get an idea of how truly amazing it was.  If you find yourself in Rome anywhere near the Capitoline Hill you should pop in to see it.  Truly, it's worth the five minute detour.

Santa Maria in Aracoeli's Ceiling - by Madder Hatter
The guidebook only mentioned the ceiling, which is clearly impressive.  However, I have seen many intricate and gorgeous ceilings.  Nowhere else have I seen chandeliers adorning arches the way they do in the Santa Maria in Aracoeli.  

It is my favorite little church and we would have missed it altogether if we had stuck to our plan. 

Take a minute, peek into something you didn't plan to see and you might be astonished by what you find. 

Delightful Surprises in Naples

In Naples my friend and I met a delightful older gentleman sketching in the sculpture rooms.  He gave us a sketch each and introduced us to a gentleman who worked at the museum.  The gentleman asked us if we wanted to know where to go for dinner.  We said we would definitely be interested in his advice on the subject.  He then personally escorted us across the street to a local restaurant.  Whatever he told the people there must have been good because our pizzas arrived in heart shapes and we were told which desserts were the best.  We weren't given menus we were given a personal description of the desserts.  It was the best evening in our whole trip even though none of it was planned at all.

Il Baba in Naples - by Madder Hatter

This is an Il Baba.  

Apparently an il Baba is a traditional dessert from Naples and it is gorgeously delicious.  Had we been left to our own devices and a menu we may never have chosen it and that would have been a true loss.  Sometimes the unexpected, unplanned for, locally recommended things, truly are the best.

Hidden Treasures in Granada

Vine in Granada - by Madder HatterIn Granada, one of my favorite discoveries was a little unexpected house tucked away down a narrow alley street.  A great friend and I wandered down a tiny alley, lured by an intriguing vine growing from a gutter that we wanted to photograph.  

Then we wandered through tiny alleys heading vaguely uphill looking for views of the Alhambra.  Then, by accidentally losing ourselves down these tiny alleyways, we accidentally found this incredible old Moorish house.  The door was open and looked intriguing but at first we couldn't tell if it was just someone's house or actually something open to the public.  The lack of furniture and a plaque on a far wall convinced us to step inside and have a peek.  

We found ourselves in an old Moorish house with a beautiful courtyard pool and a spectacular view of the Alhambra.    

Moorish House in Granada - Stunning Courtyard

Granada - Moorish house with view of Alhambra

It even had some of the original wall plaster with the original Moorish wall decorations.

Moorish House in Granada - original Moorish plaster workMoorish House in Granada with original decorations - by Madder Hatter               
If we had stuck to a strict plan and only gone up the wide roads that led to the top of the hill without twisty turns we would never have found this place.  The Unofficial Best Tourist Award for that year went to my friend for suggesting the alley that led us to this place.  It may not be in a guidebook's list of highlights every tourist to Granada must see, but it's one of my favorite memories of the trip.  

Get Lost to Find the Best Things in Life

Sometimes the detours, the bits where you get lost on purpose in a great little neighborhood, turn out to be the best path.  Get lost and find something unexpected and exciting.  Take a local's advice and see something that hasn't made it on the top five list of every tourist in the city.  Pop in a random doorway to satisfy your curiosity and see what treasures you might find.  Eat in a local place or in some place recommended to you by a local.  Do at least one thing you didn't plan to do on your trip.  It may even turn out to be the best thing you could've done and become your favorite memory of the whole trip.  

Article and photos by The Madder Hatter for more travel stories and tips visit The Madder Hatter Traveler Blog.  

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