Ciao Italy: Rome

When you go to a new country, is it considered a faux pas if you don’t visit the capital? I don’t live in one and frankly neither do most of my friends so sometimes I’m inclined to think that they are overrated. Yet I couldn’t resist the allure of Rome. Rome, the eternal city. Never mind the fact that Rome was a convenient place to fly out of and back into Australia!

I’m very grateful to one of my friends who joined me for half of my Rome adventures and provided excellent company. Especially when waiting in lines and helping choose places to eat! She was also an excellent sport who indulged me in my wish to visit the Capuchin crypts. These crypts are really just a series of small chapels, decorated lovingly? with the bones of deceased Capuchin monks. If you’re curious I highly suggest looking the crypts up. It is because of these crypts that Victor Emmanuel II the first King of Italy was sufficiently disturbed to make decorating with human remains illegal.

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In the re-occuring theme of my Italian travel the Spanish steps were sealed off and under repair. When standing at the Trinità dei Monti church, we had no idea that we were in fact atop the iconic steps until we made our descent!

We had much more luck at the Trevi Fountain. It had been recently refurbished and every inch was stunning. No wonder it is often called the most beautiful fountain in the world. We weren’t the only ones happy that the iconic fountain was unobstructed again, as the surrounding area was packed like spectators at a sports match.

Less ornate but equally impressive is the Pantheon. As we walked in evening mass was starting. We chose to sit down and take part for a while as a kindly priest from Germany or was it France, helped us figure out what was going on.

I’m not sure how accurate this is, but to me, piazza novana is the heart of Rome. We often found ourselves returning here to orientate ourselves. It’s worth taking some time just to walk past all the museums and just admire the fountains.

Ponte Sant’Angelo is touted as one of the most beautiful bridges in Rome. Numerous statues grace the walk way leading across the Tiber river to Castel Sant’Angelo. I never went into the castle myself but from a distance it is still very striking. I’m told that from the top of the castle, there are very good views of the Vatican city and St Peter’s square. 

Getting into the Colosseum was a bit of a fluke. Our arrival in Rome also happened to fall on the first Sunday of the month so entry into the Colosseum was free! The line to get in was almost was impressive as the Colosseum itself, but it moved surprisingly quickly. Once the site of many bloody battles and hours upon hours of entertainment for the Ancient Romans, it was interesting just how still the building itself felt.

The Roman Forums is perhaps the most impressive part of Rome. Although not as famous as the Colosseum the forums dominate the landscape. It’s difficult to accurately convey just how massive these Ancient structures are. Walking through the Palentine hills is not only a rather pleasant walk, but also a walk through the annuls of Roman history. It’s awe inspiring to think of people 2000 years ago building structures to such scale and extravagance without the aid of modern machinery.

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Altare della Patria is a much newer addition to the Roman scene. Built to honour the first king of a unified Italy this structure can be climbed to get an amazing look at all of Rome. The white colour and size of the building also help it stand out from everything else in the piazza! 

Not entirely related to Rome, but while I was there I managed to catch the Alphonse Mucha exhibition in the Complesso del Vittoriano wing of Altare della Patria. As a big fan of Mucha I really enjoyed being able to see his art noveau work on so many products and on such large prints.

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Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is the very first church that we visited in Rome. Not too far from the station, but away from the other major tourist attractions this church was surprisingly grandoise. 

After this we visited church after church. I must confess that I haven’t the faintest idea where half of these photos are from, but without fail, at every church there was always something charming or novel that made walking in worth the while.

When I was keen for somewhere a little bit more shady and quite to visit, the gardens of Villa Borghese were perfect. The gardens are rather expansive, including both a zoo, cinema and gallery. I wasn’t organised enough to get inside the gallery as tickets must be booked in advance, but inside is a collection of arts and sculptures that hits you at every twist and turn.

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There are many ways to cross the Tiber River, but one of the most charming is probably via the man made island in the middle of it. This island is tiny! The only things on it appeared to be a church and a cafe. As we were crossing we chanced upon a wedding ceremony that was taking place in the church.

Trastevre is the hip other side of the Tiber river. This part of town is known more for the hipster bars and relaxed vibes. It’s also where we found this eclectic second hand English book store and stopped for some early evening drinks.

It’s not a post about Italy without some food photos to round things off. Where better to start than with my area of expertise: gelato. Although there was plenty of exorbitantly priced places, I’m glad to say that some of the best gelato places I tried were also found in Rome.

Frigidarium offers to dip your ice cream in white or dark chocolate free of charge. It doesn’t really get better than a premium gelato choc top! The chunky cookie flavour was also a big hit.

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In a similar vein, La Romana offers free whipped cream on top of your gelato! The gelato is inexpensive but very luxe feeling, with dedicated seating and a whole array of delicious looking cakes as well.

Come Il Latte is the very definition of artisanal gelato. They offer a range of interesting flavours like chai latte and also fresh waffle cones!

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Sapori e Delizie hit the spot when it came to my first taste of Roman style pizza. Unlike further south the pizza was almost uniformly crispy and had a whole assortment of topping options. Surprisingly the salad also went down a treat.

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Out of all the places that I had visited Rome was the only one where I could name all the main attractions without further research. In a way, because of this I thought that I would know what to expect. What I found changed and exceeded these perceptions in so many ways. I was surprised at just how chilled Rome was. Outside of the big tourist hot spots, roads opened up wide and plentiful. It would be a real injustice to just rush from place to place without being able to get a feel for a more relaxed Rome.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and you certainly should take more than a day to truly get to explore this city properly.

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Tips
Rome is well serviced by both buses and the metro. I mainly took buses as it was more convenient in regards to where we were staying. Taking the metro often seems to come with the warning that there may be heavy delays and plenty of pick pockets.

Rome train station is one of the few stations where almost everything is open until late. If you’re not in a rush to get home, but don’t know what else to do, wandering around the shops and cafes there can be a way to kill some time.

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After 15 posts and almost a year, I’ve finished chronicling my time in Italy! I hope that I’ve managed to give you a glimpse into my travels and Italy as a whole. Before too long I’ll be getting back to you with my journeys in Japan.

 

Ciao Italy: The Vatican

Before I get to my last post on my travels in Italy, I thought that I would take a little detour to the Vatican. Although situated in Rome, the Holy See it is unto itself its own city state. It is the smallest state in the world, both in terms of population and size. In order to honour just how small the Vatican city is, this post is going to be likewise concise!

As a normal tourist you won’t have free reign in the Vatican City. Instead, you’re confined to some well-trod hot spots, mainly the Vatican museum and St Peter’s Basilica. There are some tours that will take you around the gardens and the catacombs as well but they can be rather expensive or difficult to organise so I just stuck to this iconic duo.

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St Peter’s Basilica actually opens at 7 am. If you’re keen to avoid the queuing the earlier you get there the better. I only managed to make my way there at 8:30 am expecting a crowd, but I found getting through security to St Peter’s square an absolute breeze. It felt oddly appropriate to be looking up at the balcony where the Pope is usually sighted with rays of Italian sun hitting me straight in the face.

Entry into the Basilica is free. Leisurely walking in and out of the dimmed church was a bit of a joy in and of itself. It seems that at any time, various parts of the Basilica are sealed off from tourist foot traffic. In spite of this, the sheer size of the church and spacious open area doesn’t make it seem like you are missing out on much. Even after seeing all the other churches all over the country St Peter’s Basilica was still mesmerising. Every surface that could be adorned was full of beauty and detail.

Gorgeous artworks and architecture aside, St Peter’s Basilica is clearly an important site of religious pilgrimage. Although I’m not so inclined, watching other people make this important journey was worth reflection.

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To get this iconic shot of the Vatican and Rome a climb to duomo is a must. (Fun fact! Apparently, Michalengelo was inspired by the duomo of Florence when creating this structure!) I figured that taking the steps would give me a greater sense of accomplishment so off I went. This was actually one of the easier climbs that I had encountered on my trip. Although I had already seen many photos of this view I was still wowed. What people usually don’t tell you about when you get up to duomo is that there’s also a great view of the beautifully manicured lawns and houses in the Vatican city that normal visitors don’t have access too. From here I could also see the crowds at the Vatican museum!

The museum itself is something else altogether. Walking along I was gradually stupefied by the crowds and amazing artwork after artwork. Furthermore, it was difficult to stop and admire some of the rooms due to the throngs of people pushing us through the narrow rooms with only a cursory glance at everything. This was a real shame because I wanted to linger everywhere a little. Especially in the maps room and closely admire all the wonderful hand-drawn maps of Italy and pinpoint all the places I had been on my travels.

Without a doubt, the Sistine Chapel is the most visited area of the museum. There is a no photos policy, but that didn’t seem to stop tourists from taking many sneaky photos. Suffice to say, even with the people all around, the Chapel is an incredible example of High Renaissance artwork. I craned my neck and spun around so many times, but even that wasn’t enough to take it all in.

When things got too much to handle, I spent some time sitting in the more modern wing of the museum enjoying the aircon and lack of people. The garden within the museum didn’t have many chairs, but it was also pleasant to wander in and get a breath of fresh air, before doubling back to have a proper look at some of the things which we had walked past a little too quickly.

What really stunned me was just how different the frescos and statues were. All of them beautiful in their own right, but clearly from different painters and art periods. Personally, I was very taken with Raphael’s frescos and Melozzo da Forli’s radiant angels.

Current day Rome owes much of its wealth and status to the power of the Roman Catholic church. Nowhere is the grandeur and power of what was once the Holy Roman Empire more evident. Sometimes it does get to be a bit too much, with the gift shops everywhere and tourists in every other corner but there’s also beauty everywhere. From the ceiling right down into the ground.


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Tips
Pre-booking a ticket to the Vatican museum is fairly straight forward and an absolute must (https://biglietteriamusei.vatican.va/musei/tickets/do?action=booking). The line to get in can be hours long, especially on Mondays as the museum is closed on Sundays. With a pre-booked ticket you can by-pass the long line you see outside the Vatican walls and instead make a bee-line for the advanced sales line. From this much shorter line, you then go through security before exchanging the online voucher for a proper ticket.

There are two options when it comes to climbing the duomo of St Peter’s Basilica. A trip on the lift will save you some 300 steps straight up to the cafe and gift store. Walking up will save you a few euro and test your fitness. That said, the steps are well maintained and fairly wide up to a certain point, so if you’re of good health walking all the way up should be fairly doable. Getting here early also saved me from a long wait and left me with a lot of time to get good photos and take in the views without people in my way.

As always with churches, it is important to make sure that you are properly attired. That is, knees and shoulders covered. In my case, a pair of opaque stockings under a relatively short skirt never received any warnings.

Although I did not have the stamina for it, it’s possible to see both the chapel and museum in one day so long as you start as early as possible on one of them!

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Ciao Italy: Florence Sites and Sights

Florence: Sights

As I was going through my photos of all the things I did in Florence, I realised that I had done much more than I thought in the month that I spent there! In spite of this, there is still so much of Florence left to explore, and I’m sure that I’ve left some real gems off of this list. All I hope is that this list gives an idea of the sheer number of things to do and see in almost every corner of this beautiful city.

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Santa Maria Del Fiore (Florence Duomo)

I put this in its own category because it is THE landmark of Florence. It’s almost impossible to go through the city without catching sight of the Duomo. I had the pleasure of passing by it every day on my way to the train station.

Going through the doors of this impressive church is actually free! From the ground, you can see people making their way to the cupola and the very impressive fresco on the dome. However, the actual space is much more sparse than you would expect of a church this grand on the outside.

The ticket to the Duomo gives you access to the cupola, baptistery, bell tour and museum. Climbing the cupola is the quintessential Florence must do. Rows and rows of stairs come up above you almost endlessly, and just when you think you can’t go on anymore, you walk through a door and are face to face with the gigantic rooftop fresco. It was impossible to capture the sheer scale of this work with my camera. You can’t stop for too long though because another set of stairs will lead you to the dome itself and a view of the outside.

Although climbing the duomo may be more iconic, arguably the view from the bell tower is better. This is because you can actually see the duomo from the tower. There’s also a grill over which you can stand and look at the plummet many many floors down. I wasn’t brave enough to put my feet over, but I manage to shakily take a photo!

The baptistery is mostly famous for their golden doors; more specifically the Eastern door which leads to the duomo and was dubbed the gates of paradise by Dante. Personally, I found the mosaic rooftop inside just as captivating as the outside.

The museum is the largest and probably the most underrated part of the ticket. I don’t blame people for giving it a miss, due to its sheer size. If nothing else, make sure you have a good look at the original doors of the Baptistery which are kept and restored here.

Tips
Starting from late 2016 you can now pre-book your climb of the duomo (https://www.museumflorence.com/) I highly recommend this because it took us almost 2 hours of waiting to be able to do the climb! Booking for the other attractions is probably not necessary as getting to the bell tower and baptistery were only a short wait for us.

Markets and shops

Mercato Centrale
Located in the historic centre of Florence, right smack bang in the leather markets, Mercato Centrale is the perfect destination for foodies. The ground floor is filled with various vendors selling the most beautiful vegetables, pasta, and all round Tuscan goods. Whereas the upper level is a little bit more upmarket, with food options that extend beyond just the usual Italian fare. Although there are cheaper meals to be found elsewhere, nowhere offers as much variety in such a beautiful location. It also helps that is open beyond the usual lunch and dinner trading hours.

Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio
If you love food this is another market that is worth visiting. Less of a tourist hub and more of a local’s produce market this is a great place to get a feel for what a Florentine would actually eat. If you have a kitchen and are in Florence for a while I highly recommend picking up some Fresh pasta here.

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San Lorenzo leather market
People will tell you that the San Lorenzo leather market is a massive tourist trap and full of pushy sellers all trying to force upon you the same goods as the store next door. Although I’m inclined to agree, I also think that a visit is part of the quintessential Florence experience. How long you stay, and if you buy anything is really up to you and your haggling skills.

Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella
Of all the stores in Florence, this is probably one of the most beautiful and historical. Behind its unassuming facade is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. It now houses a tea room and sells various perfumes and other scented things. However, along the walls and in the displays are really wonderful artworks and tidbits of historical information that make a window shopping a real pleasure.

School of leather
This is a more recent Florentine historical institution. At certain times you will be able to see leather craftsmen hard at work in the school. At others, you will only be able to see their goods lining the walls. Most of the leather goods here aren’t cheap, but you’re getting a real assurance of hand made quality. Entry is free, so it’s a good way to spend some time admiring the local craft.

Gioia Chiara
If you’re on a bit of a budget, looking for leather but put off by the dubious wares hawked at a lot of other stores around town, Gioia Chiara really is the place to go. This small store is a family owned business that takes great pride in its products. There’s plenty of reasonably priced wallets, key chains, and bags that would make a great gift or wardrobe addition. I actually bought a beautiful soft brown leather wallet here for my boyfriend.

Bookbinding and Papermaking stores
There is a real variety of these all around the city. The notebooks and bookmarks also make great souvenirs without breaking the bank. You will find Il papiro everywhere (even in Melbourne!), but there are also plenty of other stores to choose from.

Museums

Uffizi gallery
There’s so much to see at the Uffizi it is mind boggling. Sure, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Spring are the biggest draw cards but the hall way of Caravaggio’s and Annunciation by Da Vinci was also incredible. There’s plenty of beautiful lesser known artworks as well. Not to mention, the building itself which is set across 3 different floors is stunning. This gallery is so large that my friends and I had to sit down and take a break little over half way through!

Accademia
Michelangelo’s David serves as a symbol of Florence and you can see the real deal in Accademia. This gallery is of a much smaller size than the Uffizi and for the most part very manageable despite a crowd due to the open space in which the statues are kept. Sitting down and contemplating David, is strangely surreal after seeing him so many times in the news, on books and in popular culture.

Make sure you pay careful attention to the street signs around Florence! There is also a fair bit of quirky modern art that sits carefully with the old. Other modern art exhibitions can usually be found all over town. Palazzo Strozzi will usually host more modern art exhibitions and is also open late in the Summer months.

Tips
Keep an eye out for special days and events that make these places a bit cheaper. We managed to visit Academia on the night of the Museum, a European initiative which made entry a mere euro from 7pm to 10pm. On the first Sunday of each month, state museums are all free. Although I am told that the line to get in is incredibly long.

Unless you happen to be visiting the museums on these fee reduced days, it’s best to book for entry before hand. Queues to get in are notoriously long at all times of the year and easily skipped by booking online for a set time (http://www.firenzemusei.it/) for a small fee of 4 euro per ticket or even better, calling up and getting a reservation for no extra cost.

Churches

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Santa Croce
This church is famous for being the burial spot of Michelangelo and Galileo. It is also a beautiful display of gothic architecture and a place for people watching. At night time, people will spill out onto the piazza from the bars. At others, there will be blockades put up for events.

Santa Maria Novella
Even if you never set foot in Santa Maria Novella, chances are you will hear of it, thanks to the main train station taking its name from this church. Although not the biggest tourist drawcard, Italians are often taught of this church as one of the most important gothic churches in Tuscany. So much so that one of my Italian friends commented that it was strange to see it in real life, as she had studied it so much as a 2d image.

Santo Spirito
Like most of the other famous churches, Santo Spirito faces out into a piazza. The point of difference here is that it is a market piazza that often features students sketching and an array of beautiful foodstuffs to buy. Lining the walls of the garden next door are the tombstones of many fallen soldiers.

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San Lorenzo
San Lorenzo church stands out, not only because it is smack bang in the middle of a busy marketplace but also due to its fabulously incomplete looking facade. This was purportedly meant to be eventually finished with a design by Michelangelo but evidently, that never happened!

There are so many more sacred sites and churches than these few dotted all over Florence. Listing them all would be an absolute nightmare. If you’re ever in need of a short respite or just curious, popping into a church probably won’t ever hurt.

Views and Gardens

Piazza Michelangelo
When I introduce people to Piazza Michelangelo I tell them that it’s really just a glorified car park. I stand by these words. In the middle of the piazza is a giant and somewhat dirty statue of Michelangelo from which it gets its name. The real reason why so many people take the treck up here is for the amazing views of the city of Florence and the Tuscan countryside. Going down the flower gardens are also a bit of a treat.

Ponte Vecchio
This picturesque bridge is beautiful from afar and also up close. At sunset and sunrise, this bridge is absolutely breath taking. When you’re actually on it, it’s a bit squishier, but it’s worth admiring the many fine gold stores built into the bridge. Even when all the stores have been shuttered, the view remains charming and fairytale-esque.

Piazza Della Signoria
A long-standing symbol of political intrigue, these days Piazza Della Signoria is more well known for the many impressive statues lining the square. Whilst I was on exchange, a most intriguing and irreverent art exhibition was taking place, featuring this man on a giant golden turtle!

Piazza Della Repubblica
This is my favourite Piazza in all of Florence. Mostly due to the whimsical carousel smack bang in the middle of the city. If nothing else, it makes for a pretty picture in the day and at night when it’s all lit up.

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Boboli gardens and Pitti palace
The closest I ever got to these gardens was actually sitting on the steep stone incline outside and sunbaking. However, by all accounts, the gardens and palace are incredibly beautiful and worth a full day’s worth of exploration if you’re up for it.

Oltrarno
Technically not a sight, the Oltrarno is Florence on the other side of the river Arno. Some of the places I’ve mentioned on this list are in Oltrarno so, you’re bound to wander into it. However, this part of Florence is worth a bit of exploration in its own right. The windy streets house many beautiful cafes, bars and stores and much fewer tourists. My favourite tea house can be found here. Same for my favourite gelato place.

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Tips
A lot of official Florence tourist places will want to push the Firenze card upon you. The card offers entry to the Duomo and skip the line entry to some museums but it comes at an eye water 72 euro and only lasts for 3 days. I think that it would be almost impossible to get good value for money with the card unlesss you really want to speed through all the museums and exhibits.

As with all Italian cities, there’s a fair share of beggars and pushy sales people. I find it’s best to be careful but firm when people start getting up in your face. As a side note, tt also helps to already have an umbrella when it’s raining otherwise everyone within a 50 metre radius will be trying to shove one in your face.

Florence is a very walkable city. As a result, there isn’t much public transport apart from the small and rather hectic looking buses. I never managed to catch a bus due to how crowded they were and walking proved to be a good excuse to get just another gelato. From one end of the city to the other, it only takes around 30-40 minutes. If you choose to go this route, remember good walking shoes and luggage with good wheels are your friends as the cobblestones are not kind to your feet or luggage.

If you would like to read more about Florence I recommend the following blogs:
http://girlinflorence.com/ A detailed and almost invaluable resource that goes above and beyond the general lists (like this one!) that dot the internet.
https://www.walksofitaly.com/blog/florence This is more of a general guide for Florence and other parts of Italy. Handy if you want an overview of what to do, see and eat without or before getting into swathes of information.

To finish this lengthy post off, here’s some extra photos, including the stunning view from the apartment in which I stayed for a month.

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Ciao Italy: Capri

I’m actually typing this up on a high-speed train from Naples to Capri. I know I said I was going through my time in Italy in a chronological order but I thought that I would at least try and type this up while it was still fresh in my memory.

Although the trains are not the smoothest in the world, (I feel like that honour belongs to the Japanese shinkansen), the scenery is stunning. To visit the Italian cities I’ve taken trains all the way from the north in Turin down to Naples in the south, and in the process, I’ve passed by beautiful mountain ranges, charming little towns, idyllic pastoral scenes and ruined castles. This is such a change from long haul train rides in Australia where you’re more inclined to see reddish dirt.

Now onto the actual content of this post!

Capri is often touted as Italy’s answer to Santorini, with beautiful blue seas, magnificent views and very steep climbs. One of my friends highly recommended Capri to me before I went to Italy, so I just had to check it out!

By fast boat, the trip to Capri is only 40-50 minutes. I’ve heard that the boat can rock a lot and leave you feeling pretty seasick. Not one to take chances, I took some travel sickness medication and slept the whole way over!

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I was disappointed to learn that I couldn’t buy tickets to go visit the blue grotto because the seas were too choppy and the water level too high. In light of that, I decided to give the whole boat ride along the island thing a miss because I was still a bit dizzy from the ride over.

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Not to be deterred, I decided to make the most out of my day and head to Capri Centro. I was entirely caught off guard by just how much of a climb it was to the city centre. I sweated and cursed my choice of shoes as I made my way up. On the other hand, it was nice to have the walk up mostly to myself and to get a feel for the windy streets of the island.

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On the other hand, the main piazza and the city streets were buzzing with the smart people who had decided to take a train or cable car up! The town of Capri is actually full of stores, hotels and restaurants down alleyways and all across the main road. All the luxury brands were really well represented and I can imagine this being the perfect place to splash out for a romantic honeymoon. As a poor uni student, I had other priorities!

I quickly popped into the church in the city centre before heading off to see the more natural side of Capri.

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As my luck would have it, the natural arch of Capri was under construction! This was a complete surprise, because although I have encountered my fair share of buildings and monuments being under construction, this was a real first. Part of me was rather disappointed whereas another part of me found this all too humorous. I could overhear a lot of other tourists around me lamenting that seeing all the scaffolding was a real shame. In the end, I guess it would be more of a shame for erosion to eventually cause the whole thing to collapse, so good on the government for attempting to maintain it.

 

Not far from the main city centre is the Augustus gardens. It turns out that the garden was really more of a small well maintained park. The main draw card is the amazing views that you get of the bay and paths far below. There is a small entrance fee, but I felt that it helped keep the crowds at bay and made sure that there was room for everyone to sit and relax.

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On the way to the gardens, make sure you pop into Carthusia. The international perfumery is based in Capri, with scents based off of the island itself and other parts of Italy. The store both smells and looks incredible. At the time I couldn’t justify buying anything but browsing was still a rather pleasant experience.

All the wandering around had made me rather thirsty so I picked up a freshly squeezed orange juice from a friendly store owner. Sitting, back against the sun, juice in hand, I realised that it’s easy to love Italy when you find yourself in such a picture perfect moment.

Less pleasant was the bus ride over to Anacapri. What I initially envisaged as a zippy 15 minute trip over to the Capri’s other town soon morphed into a frustrating 30 minute queue in sweltering heat to get onto the tiny jam packed buses.

When I eventually got to Anacapri it was with a real sense of relief. Coming off the bus, it seemed like the heat and people were peeling away to reveal a more spacious town. Gone were the large piazzas and bars, and instead I saw a few houses and steep heels. Although most people were taking an afternoon break, in typical Italian fashion I couldn’t resist a little wander through the historical centre.

Perhaps the most famous and eye-catching part of the historical centre is the tiled ceramic floor of St Michel. This pokey church doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the ceramic floor really is something to behold. It looks part biblical and part fantasy. It was difficult to capture it all on the ground level, and even from the second floor taking it all in was impressive.

 

Villa San Michele is without a doubt my favourite part of Capri. The entrance was so unassuming that I mistakenly thought it was a gift store. Swedish Physician Axel Munthe arguably made Capri and his Villa famous through his biography, which penned the creation of this Villa. In the present day it is part museum, part cafe and part gardens. I found that it worked on all those levels, as it was both educational and a beautiful place to sit and have a moment of tranquility.

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The mysterious sphinx sits at the centre of many of the stories about the house. I couldn’t resist taking a photo from behind it.

After the nightmare bus ride, I figured that it would be much safer to walk back to the port rather than risk another sweaty line. Little did I know of the horrors that awaited me! Okay, that’s a little exaggerated. To be more accurate I had no idea how much of a trek the path down was. I walked down seemingly endless flights of stairs and roads before eventually finding myself back where I started. Distance aside, this was actually a fairly tame walk. At times the incline was fairly steep, but there were few people and lots of opportunities to take breaks.

Capri feels like a whole world away from the grittier Naples. It’s easy to see why people associate it with romantic getaways and a heady scent of citrus fruits. It’s almost impossible to resist the relaxed holiday mood that permeates almost all of the island. I simply can’t argue against the charming fairy tale romance that Capri has, nor would I want to.

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Tips

Never trust the time estimate the google maps gives you to when walking to places in Capri. It seriously does not take into account the steep climb up and down!  My legs were shaking uncontrollably at the end of the day.

Getting to and from Capri from Naples is fairly straight forward. You can buy a ticket for the ferry or boat at the port on the day which is what I did. You can also book your tickets online beforehand. If you know what time you would like to arrive and depart I highly suggest buying your tickets earlier in the day or online. This is because when I went to buy my tickets, the next ferry was usually sold out so I would have to buy tickets for a boat that was 20 or so minutes after the time I originally wanted. This usually meant that I was just waiting around the port for 40 or so minutes, which isn’t the worst thing in the world as there’s always snacks to buy and stores to browse but it’s probably not the best use of time if you don’t have a lot of it.

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Ciao Italy:Pompeii and Vesuvius

When visiting Naples, it seems like a shame to not at least attempt to make a pit stop at Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. Both these sites have captured global wonder for the longest time, serving as a lesson in human mortality at the hands of nature and a tale of tragedy. No matter what discipline you come from, whether that be history, science, literature or anything else there’s something of interest to be discovered.

I chose to go on a tour that combined a visit to Pompeii and Vesuvius in one day. This is because I read that the local train lines to Pompeii are rife with petty crime (in fact, people I know have seen people being robbed on this trip) and also, Vesuvius seemed rather difficult to get to without a bus or car.

The tour bus departed from Naples station, making short work of the trip between the capital and the ruins. Near the entrance to Pompeii, there are crowds of tourist stores and hecklers, trying to get you to buy their water and hats. The actual ticket booth is much more sedate. By the time we arrived all the English maps and pamphlets for the day were already gone. However, seeing as we had a guide there wasn’t a huge need for them anyway.

There are actually a few theatres in Pompeii.  This one that we started the tour off is on the larger side. It was really something, to sit on the steps where thousands of years earlier wealthy Romans would have been laying down, watching comedies and dramas emerge.

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Once again, modern art was so be found within the ruins. Giant statues towered over the ruins, and like Pompeii, they too were broken and imperfect. I actually really enjoyed these artworks along with the ruins. Their scale helped put into perspective just how towering this city must have been back when it was in its prime.

Casa del Menandro is one of the larger houses that you can wander into. The house takes its name from a fresco of the Greek playwright Menandro found within its walls. The size of the buildings, the beautiful frescos and the fact that this residence had its own private bath reveals that once a very wealthy family lived here.

The Lupanare is apparently one of the most visited buildings in the entire city. This small building was back in its heyday a brothel. As Pompeii was a merchant town with plenty of travellers, the erotic imagery on the walls, worked as a sort of menu for people looking for a good time, no matter what language they spoke.

I think that to many the thermal baths are truly one of the greatest achievements of Ancient Rome.  From the remains of the bath, it was still possible to tell that the bath, especially the men’s bath had once been ornately decorated with tiles and mosaics. The impressive, larger than life statues I saw the day before in the Naples museum also sprung to mind.

At the main forums, you can see rows and rows of pottery, daily artefacts and plaster casts of the animal and human remains. There is always a line down this way, so I only had a few brief moments with everything, but the sheer number of things on display was overwhelming. It was strange to think that this represented only a tiny fraction of what was found in the city as a whole. By the time of the eruption many had already left Pompeii and taken their previous cargo with them, much had been destroyed and of what was left the most precious has already been taken by museums.

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When you start walking around, you get a sense of just how large the town was. Sure, there are plenty of tourists, but apart from in a few key buildings it never feels crowded. I didn’t have much of a chance to get lost, apart from a bit of a harrowing moment when I was separated from the rest of the group, but what I saw was still amazing.

Climbing Mount Vesuvius is an experience that I’ll never forget! Not so much because of the mountain itself, but rather, the shocking weather. As I was ascending up the mountain, the scent of sulfate hung heavy in the air, but so did a very thick mist. If anything, it looked like something out of a horror game!

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Although I did manage to get to the top of the volcano, the rain and fog totally obscured the view of the city on one side and the crater on the other. I ended up standing in a souvenir store for 20 minutes waiting for the hail and rain to ease up before descending. The only half way decent photos I ended up taking were when some of the mist started to roll out, and I could catch a tiny glimpse of what must be an amazing view.

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In another twist of fate, by the time I had returned to my Airbnb in Naples, it was warm again! All my wet clothes and hair had already dried from the afternoon sun. Perhaps the sun had put me in a good mood, but instead of being frustrated, I just put it in my stride and had a laugh. Sure, it was disappointing that I didn’t get to see Mount Vesuvius the way you’re meant to, but I have a story to tell and a reason to visit again!

Tips:
There are very little explanations for any of the ruins around so a guide of some sort is essential for Pompeii. I chose to go with a tour to make things more convenient, but there’s a whole host of other options. There’s always guides at the gates offering their services but I can’t vouch for the quality of any of them. If you want an audio tour, make sure you arrive early as they tend to go quickly. Otherwise, some people have reported that it’s possible to have a very good time with just a guide book and some map reading skills.

It’s very possible to spend a whole day in Pompeii. My tour meant that I wasn’t able to, but if you’re interested in the ruins the town is sprawling and there is so much to see! As a word of warning, there is not much shade, so bring a hat and some water and wear comfortable walking shoes!

As you may have figured from my photos, make sure you check the weather before you climb Vesuvius. Not only is being stuck up the mountain in a storm not very fun, but there really is absolutely nothing to see!

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Ciao Italy: Naples

Before I went to Naples, a few different Italian people shared this anecdote with me and it stuck deeply, so I thought that I would share it with you too. Scooters and Vespas are fairly popular forms of transport all of Italy. Of course, helmets are recommended for safety reasons. However, in Naples, riding with the visor of the helmet down signifies that you’re trying to hide your identity. The police will shoot you because they think you’re on your way to assassinate someone. On the other hand, what’s the point of riding with your visor up? If you get into an accident you’re not going to be too well off. Either way, you’re doomed! As morbid as it sounds this anecdote was always told with great mirth and a wry smile.

Through this story, I got the sense that there was more to Naples than people were letting on. Naples might be dangerous and chaotic to some, but within that, there’s a certain warmth and joie de vivre that’s difficult to express. With this in mind, my first stop after a month in Florence was Naples.

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Naples station is actually one of the most modern and whimsical in all of Italy. The ticket machines were a little bit dated but the charming art more than made up for it. As an added bonus Sfogliatelle Attanasio is very close to the station, so you don’t need to go far to try one of the most famous Naples foods. My first taste of Sfogliatelle and I could immediately tell why so many love it. Crispy layers of warm sweet pastry with a soft ricotta filling is all that you can ask for.

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Toledo station was another interesting station, and worth a peek into even if you’re not commuting through it. Going up the escalators to street level made me feel like I was slowly ascending from the seabed to the surface.

I stayed in an Airbnb in the Spanish quarter. The narrow and steep alleys and stairs weren’t exactly the easiest the navigate with a heavy suitcase. Somehow I managed and was rewarded with one of the most artistic and spacious rooms that I have encountered. The Spanish quarter has a bit of a maligned reputation as a place of petty crime and dirt. Although the traffic was fast and the streets not all that well lit I never felt like I was in danger, even when it was dark and I was returning back to the apartment. Of course, it helps to stay on the larger roads and veer away from totally empty ones at night.

By day you can catch some quirky street art and locals putting out laundry to dry on the balconies. As it starts to turn dark, residents will start to open their windows and sprawl out onto the streets, eating dinner, watching TV and playing with the kids.

If you keep walking down Via Toledo instead of the veering into the Spanish quarter, you’ll see a seemingly endless row of stores and cafes, before finally being greeted by the sea. Upon hitting a very large roundabout with an impressive fountain in the middle, you can head left towards Teatro di San Carlo (the longest continually operating opera venue in the world!) and the constantly under renovation royal palace. Alternatively, you can turn right, onto the very spacious Piazza del Plebiscito. Even without knowing what it is the San Francesco di Paola church and piazza make for an impressive and imposing sight.

Instead of lingering at either of this places, I made my way straight down the coast. I noticed that closer to the waterfront a lot more upmarket hotels and posh cars started appearing. The people melted away and I was almost entirely alone by the time I reached Castel dell’Ovo. This little castle is free to enter. There isn’t much in the way of explanation for what anything is, but it was still extraordinarily pleasant to wander around and look out at the Naples gulf and port as the wind picked up and the sun started to go down. If you choose to go a little further inland there’s a number of classier stores, and the grittiness gives way to a more ordered Naples with cute cafes and chic shoppers. 

If you’re going to visit Pompeii or Herculean Naples National Archaeological Museum is a must. Many of the artworks and artifacts that were found in those areas are now preserved in this museum. Some of the most impressive were the statues that were excavated from the Roman Baths. On an interesting note,  at the time I visited there was also a much more modern exhibit by Adrian Tranquilli called Days of Future Past. This featured many superheroes and other pop culture artworks interspaced between the more traditional works. I found this really refreshing. It’s with considerable wit and irony that the heroes and stories of today are juxtaposed with those of the past. 

A short walk down and you’ll hit the Historic quarter of Naples. The whole area is designated as a UNESCO world heritage site. Walking through the cobbled streets and wide arches is a real treat. There are plenty of touristy stores selling more or less the same iconic Naples goods, but it is also filled with gorgeous churches and I am told, some of the best pizza in all of Naples.

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Sorbillo is one of many said pizza establishments. It’s also one of the most famous and busiest. I managed to snag a table after around 25 minutes of waiting early on in the night. I did however, end of sharing my table with another solo diner, who turned out to be excellent company. Unlike some of the other well known pizzerias in town, Sorbillo offered a considerable range of pizza toppings. I settled on something with mushrooms and was confronted with a truly giant pizza. I manged to eat most of it, enjoying half and slowly suffering through a remaining third before calling it quits because I was just too full.

Photographs are not allowed in Cappella Sansevero, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say that the sculptures inside this little church are completely stunning. The marble for each of the figures was carved with such skill. They looked incredibly delicate and life-like. Although the museum itself it tiny, in a way this is a good thing as you can get up very close to the statues and admire them. There’s also a bit of a surprise in the lower levels that I won’t spoil for you!

Gesù Nuovo church isn’t much to look at from the outside. The flat facade doesn’t reveal much of the wide cavernous space and artworks within. As many churches are, this was dimly lit and intensely atmospheric.

Complesso Museale di Santa Chiara. This was probably my favourite place in all of Naples. The cloister, decorated with colourful majolica tiles and lemon trees is utterly serene. While I was slowly making my way around the garden I could hear the tinkering of a piano and voices in song. If it weren’t for the rather modern garden tools it would have felt like I had slipped back in time, to an older and simpler Naples. I imagine that in its heyday this cloister must have hung heavy with the scent of lemon trees and been the most delightful place to sit in contemplation.

Ask any Italian, and they will tell you that the food is better down south. Therefore, I felt that it was my duty to try as much of it as I could!

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Casa Infante was my very first gelato in Naples. Their ‘welcome to the South’ flavour was full of interesting textures courtesy of apricot and pistachio but also very creamy. Sadly, the intense heat of the afternoon meant that I lost some of it on my hands!

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Il Gelato Mennella serves up a beautiful cone of gelato. The freshly made waffle cones smell amazing and are worth every sinful bite. I had a very large serve after dinner but still finished it all. They state that the gelato is made from all natural ingredients and sourced from a farm not too far from Naples. It’s hard to get any better than that.

Da nennella is touted as a typically Neapolitan experience. I’m not sure how accurate this is, but the atmosphere is incredible. The waiters were constantly bursting out into song and dance together. Both locals and tourists crowded around the red and white table cloths to partake in some very homey cuisine. For 12 euros, you get a fantastic feed of starters, mains and breads. The food is decidedly not upmarket, but it has a lot of charm and definitely feels like something you could eat at an Italian grandmother’s house.

Gay Odin has stores all over Naples. I believe that they were originally chocolate makers, before making heads into gelato and other sweet treats. With this in mind I couldn’t resist trying one of the chocolate gelatos that they had on offer. This was intensely chocolate, in the best way. It tasted slightly of cherry like a good dark chocolate is wont to do.

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Naples is known for a lot of things. It is one of the oldest cities in Italy, home of pizza and organised crime. To understand Naples is to understand this dichotomy. Italians will raise their eyebrows and say that it a dirty, chaotic place, nothing really works and that Napolitan Italian is like a completely different language. All of this is true to some extent, but that doesn’t stop Naples from being interesting. Unlike a lot of the other famous Italian places that I visited I really got a sense that Naples was full of locals. There’s so many extraordinary buildings and monuments to see. You get the sense that if only it was cleaned up a bit (or a lot) it would be the jewel of Italy, but the people certainly aren’t going out of their way to accommodate this. In a way, that’s all part of the charm!

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Tips
Another popular destination that I didn’t get to visit is the Naples Underground. Make sure you know what time the tours are so that you can take part!

Naples has a bit of a reputation for being unsafe but I never felt like I was in danger. As always it’s important to be vigilant of your surroundings and possessions but I acted much the same as I would in any other Italian city and got by just fine.

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Ciao Italy: Siena

After a bit of a break and a trip to Sydney, we are now returning to my Italy posts! Siena isn’t too far away from Florence so my friend and I decided that it would be perfect for a leisurely day trip.

The actual town of Siena is a bit of a distance from the train station. This meant that we had to take a short bus ride over. It was a little confusing as we walked through a small shopping centre but before too long we found signs pointing us in the right direction.

To me, Piazza del campo is the heart of Siena. It is here that every year the famous Palio horse race takes place. On one side of the piazza is Fonte Gaia. Although it is fenced off, you can still appreciate how amazed the people of Siena would have been after years of pipe building finally led to the creation of this fountain.

Another town, another tower to climb! Torre del Mangia is situated on the other side of the piazza. It wasn’t as challenging or narrow as the leaning tower of Bologna, but I still needed to rest and catch my breath multiple times. The view from the top of the tower is incredibly beautiful. Because the city is on the smaller side, and there’s so much greenery around the contrast between the medieval town and everything else is that much greater.

The very top of the tower is actually only accessible via steep ladder-like steps. My fear of heights meant that getting up and down this was very slow going, but the feeling of accomplishment at the top was well worth it.

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Having done our exercise for the day it was time for lunch! With some help from Tripadvisor, we found ourselves in a car park in front of Gino Cacino di Angelo. After much indecision, Angelo helped us put on this veritable feast. This wine was exceptional, not too dry and perfect with the meats and cheeses. Just thinking about it is making me drool.

Some more aimless wandering was in order to work off the meal before we headed to the Siena duomo. This is one of the most visually impressive Cathedrals that I had the pleasure of visiting in Italy. From the façade to the interior Siena’s historical wealth is abundantly clear.

I was particularly impressed with the mosaic floor. Most of it is covered up throughout the year to prevent wear but some of the most impressive works are always on display. The slaughter of the innocents is probably one of my favourite pieces. From the inside of the building, you can also walk into the adjoining Piccolomini Library. Every inch of the library was ornately decorated. I almost hurt my neck craning up to see the frescos. I loved the royal blue colours.

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When presented with the opportunity to some steps and get another view of the city we gladly took it. There was a bit of a wait to climb the Facciatone. Only small groups are allowed up on the unbuilt façade of the duomo at a time and there are time limits imposed on how long you can stay up there.

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The baptistery of San Giovanni is actually also part of the duomo structure. It shares the same striking green façade but has an entirely separate entrance that is down a flight of stairs. Just moments before we entered there had been some sort of event going on, with many formally dressed Italians milling around. I love how these historical buildings are still very much in use today!

Before heading back to the station we got lost wandering around. We found ourselves in a handful of churches, as always seems to be the case no matter where you are in Italy and almost took the wrong bus back. Luckily my friend asked the bus driver and we made it safely back to Florence.

I am incredibly fond of Siena; perhaps unreasonably so. The absolutely perfect weather and leisurely pace at which I enjoyed the city contributed significantly to my impressions of the city as a whole.  The town is an absolute joy to walk through, although your legs might get sore from all the hills. I’ll leave you with this photo that I took of a local school’s art fair at the base of the tower. I wonder if you can get any more Italian than this pasta art!

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Ciao Italy: Florence foods

This post is a sort of follow up to my previous post about the gelato in Florence. However this time I’m  delving into all the other cafes, restaurants and patisseries that I enjoyed while I was living in Florence. This is going to be a long list, so I’ll try to be brief!

Pastries
Some people claim that the Italian cornetto is the poor cousin of the croissant. Although I can see where they are coming from, I unabashedly love a good sweet filled cornetto. They run the entire gaumount, from soft and cake-like to flaky and croissant-like. Personally, I’m one for a bit of flakiness and golden ratio of filling to pastry where there is more pastry than filling.

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Robiglio
Via Dei Tosinghi 11/r | Via de’ Medici 16/r, 50123
When I had time before a long train trip I liked to stop by Robiglio and pick up some cornetti. The sheer selection of pastries on display is mind boggling, but the integrale (wholemeal) with lemon and honey were my absolute favourites.

Chiaroscuro
Via del Corso 36/r
Chiaraoscuro is an all day eatery, but I’ve only ever popped by for breakfast. Perhaps I had gotten in a little late, but the selection wasn’t as extensive as Robiglio. However, the lemon cornetto that I bought was probably hands down one of the best I have ever had.

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Pasticceria Nencioni
Via Pietrapiana 24/R
This probably isn’t the first pick for most people visiting Florence. However, it was incredibly close to where I was staying so I was lucky enough to pop in every now and then. This is a long standing family run establishment that is frequented by locals. Apart from cornetti, there is a whole range of other pastries. Some of them were too sweet for me, but basking in the hum of this place felt incredibly Florentine.

Don Nino
Piano Interrato, Firenze Santa Maria Nouvella
If I was running late to class, I would often quickly pop by the Don Nino in the underground station area. The jam and cream cornetti are surprisingly not bad for a store that does so much.  The best thing about this place is the more than convenient location.

 

Cafes
It often felt like a bit of a shame to be stuck at home working on assignments. Not to mention the fact that I would procrastinate like crazy when I was by myself. Most of these cafes are on this list not just for serving good food, but also their general ambience and ability to sit down with a laptop.

La Via del The
Via di Santo Spirito, 11, 50125
La Via del The boasts that it was the company which really bought the art of drinking fine tea to the Italian populace. In Florence they have three branches. Only two of them have sitting spaces. The one that I frequented was La Via del The 3 as it was the newest and most spacious. Mind you, the price of a pot of tea is rather steep at 8 euros or more! However, this is one of the very few places in Florence that will give you a well brewed pot of tea instead of a tea bag and a pot of water. A luxury that I was willing to pay for. The general ambience is also very relaxing and feels a bit upscale. The sweets are also very good and the staff are more than willing to recommend things. I think it’s one of my favourite tea rooms in the world.

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Ditta Artigianale
Via De’neri 32r
This is the place to go if you’re looking for a break from the typical Italian caffe (espresso). They offer the Australian flat white and tea that doesn’t come in a bag! The food options they have aren’t extensive, but it definitely fulfilled my brunch cravings. Since I left Florence they have since opened up another larger branch on the other side of the Arno.

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Todo Modo
Via dei Fossi, 15/R
More bookstore than cafe, Todo Modo is a charming place that I wish would open in Melbourne. Once you’re seated and surrounded by all the books, with a cup of coffee in one hand and a good read in another, it feels like you’re in a secret little cubby house.

Vespe Cafe
Via Ghibellina, 76, 50122
Believe it or not, the first time that I had an American style brunch was actually in Florence! Maybe it was because my brunch cravings were at an all time high when I visited, but I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would. The breakfast burrito is incredibly filling and for some reason, it felt wonderfully transgressive to be eating so many potatoes for breakfast! Vespe cafe is frequented by American college students who are on exchange so everyone speaks English, even all the customers.

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News Cafe
Via del Giglio, 59, 50123
Not too far from Santa Maria Nouvella station is THE place to go if you want a cappuccino. Not only do they do the most darling coffee art, but the wait staff is also incredibly friendly. It’s also air conditioned and spacious, which is perfect for those hot Italian days.

La Feltrinelli Red
Piazza della Repubblica 26, 50123
La Feltrinelli is a book store chain that is found everywhere in Italy. The rather grand looking store they have in Piazza della Repubblica also doubles as a cafe. This is the sort of place where you can sit as long as you like, use the wifi and no one will disturb you in the slightest. The tea and pastries that they served were also surprisingly decent.

 

Panino
I don’t usually order sandwiches of any sort when I’m out and about. However, in Florence it’s difficult to walk past a panini store without wanting to have one. The selection of cured meats and fillings is enough to make your eyes water. I don’t think that you can go wrong with any sandwich specialty store, this list is just the ones that I tried and enjoyed.

SandwiChic
Via San Gallo 3/r, 50129
My first introduction to panini at SandwiChic was a confusing one. There was barely any space to squeeze into the narrow counter of the store and the options seemed endless and confusing. However, the two guys there spoke excellent English and were endlessly accommodating. Although I picked a fairly unadventurous filling of ham, balsamic, buffalo mozzarella and tomato, this really lets every single component shine. I managed to polish off the very large sandwich in almost no time.

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Pane e Toscana
Borgo Degli Albizi 31/R, 52100
Not only was Pane e Toscana delicious, it was also very close to me. The salty schechatta bread that Florence is famous for is so incredibly moreish.I kept going back for me. The menu is really easy to understand, with all the fillings in different categories. When I was feeling lazy this was the perfect dinner.

Da’Vinattieri
Via Santa Margherita 4R, 50100
Although Da’Vinattieri is hidden away in an alley, you can instantly tell you’re close when you see groups of students and tourists sitting on the ground enjoying their sandwiches. This is a good place to try the specialty of Lampredotto stuffed in a roll. Make sure you don’t go too late in the day because by then they are often sold out and packing up.

Panini Toscani
Piazza del Duomo, 34/R
It’s often said that restaurants close to monuments tend to terrible and over priced. Evidently, these people have never been to panini toscani. The real point of difference is that they let you try a selection of different fillings so that you can customise your panini. The actual size of the panini is smaller than the above places, but that’s the price you pay for sitting next to the duomo!

Semel
Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti 44/r
If you’re after something a little bit different Semel is the place to go. It’s only open for a few hours at lunch and is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. Unlike the very large sandwiches found at other establishments, Semel offers small rolls filled with a rotating list of fillings. The owner is also an incredibly jovial guy. You get a real sense of Italian warmth and hospitality as soon as you walk into the store.

 

Restaurants

Tamero’
Piazza Santo Spirito 11/r
My friends and I stumbled upon this pasta bar by accident as we were looking for somewhere to eat near Santo Spirito. It was one of the few restaurants that weren’t completely full, which is a bit of a shock considering how good the food was. It was here that I tried the best balsamic of my life. The pasta dishes hail from all parts of Italy, including some very unique dishes, like the amazing pasta soup I tried.

Toscanella Osteria
Via Toscanella, 32r
Toscanella Osteria would be rather hidden if it weren’t for the friendly looking Pinocchio outside. This is where I tried the famous Florentine beef steak. Honestly, I’m not the biggest fan of steak generally speaking. I was glad to have tried it, but I was really blown away by the delicious soups at this restaurant. Every single soup really show cased what could be done with beautiful Italian vegetables.


I’ Mangiarino
Via Dello Studio 5R
This was another lucky find when we were wandering around looking for dinner. We shared a starter of the most amazing bruschetta and cured meats. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to look at bruschetta in Australia the same again.It’s the sort of place where you can be thrifty or splurge like the two guys seated next to us who were enjoying the most extravagant multi-course meal. Either way, you’ll probably have a good time.

Trattoria Mario
Via Rosina, 2r
Trattoria Mario is probably Florence’s worst kept secret. There is always a crowd and wait. The waitstaff are brusque and a bit harried but the food is cheap, authentic and delicious.

Osteria delle tre planche
Via Antonio Pacinotti 32R, 50131
Do you love truffles? If you do, Osteria delle tre planche probably loves them more than you. The restaurant is tiny so reservations are recommended. There is a whole page dedicated to items with truffle, and boy are they generous with the truffle shavings. Something like this would set you back a small fortune in Australia but is a relatively affordable indulgence in Florence.

Gustapizza
Via Maggio, 46R,
Sure, locals will tell you that there are better more authentic places to have a naples style pizza, but Gustapizza is tasty, reliable and relatively fast. There’s something to be said about sitting on the steps of Saint Spiritos with everyone else and enjoying a box or two of freshly baked pizza.

Oibo
Borgo Dei Greci, 1, 50122,
Last but not least, is the only appertivo place on this list. I didn’t really try to brand out with appertivo places, perhaps because Oibo was so close and I knew exactly what to expect. It is classy without being intimidating and the food is generous and varied.

Some of these images are pulled from google or webpages because at times I simply forgot to take photos or I just can’t find them amidst all my other travel photos.

Thanks for making it through this list! Let me know if you’ve been to any of these, or if there was something that you absolutely loved in Florence that I should try next time!

Ciao Italy: Bologna

After much delay, I return to documenting my time in Italy. I’m hoping to be able to finish up the bulk of these posts before I go off to Sydney in the middle of February. However, the deeper I get into this, the more I realise that it is wishful thinking on my part. In the interests of actually getting these posts written up, my next few posts about Italy may be a touch shorter. It also helps that these were just short day trips that I took!

This was another semi-last minute trip. Most of our friends were busy on the weekend, but along with one of my friends I was determined to explore a little more and visit this bustling city.

Upon exiting Bologna Centrale station we decided to trust our gut and walk in the direction with the most people and tall churches. This proved to be an excellent decision. Before too long we soon found ourselves in front of Porta Galliera. We could immediately deduce that this was one gates of the old Medieval walls of the city. It felt strange to see such an ornate structure, smack bang in the walkway with nary an explanation for it.

Although we were aiming for the centre of Bologna, we veered off course and into the Park of Montagnol. Although the steps and fountains leading up to the park, the same could not be said for the park itself. I imagine that the statues were once rather imposing and grand, but now they were gated and rather unkempt.

From up in the park we couldn’t miss La Piazzola. This is a weekly market that houses almost everything imaginable. We weaved through the white tents, looking at people hunting for bargains amongst piles of clothes and shoes.

When we hit the main road, it was almost like we were in a different city. The road suddenly became wide, paved and covered. We followed the shops down to Piazza Maggiore, at the centre of many of the tourist attractions of Bologna.

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Neptune’s fountain is perhaps the focal point of the piazza. This imposing fountain has seen better days, but that didn’t stop it from being interesting. Upon closer inspection, it appears as if the mermaid like creatures are lactating, which is an odd touch to any monument really.

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Basilica di San Petronio stands towering over Piazza Maggiore. The church is striking not only due to its large size, but also due to its unfinished façade. The interior of the church was on the plainer side. Impressive vaulted ceilings and chapels surrounded us, but it was less ornate and gaudy than many of the other churches in Italy.

For me, the highlight of our trip was the University of Bologna. Apparently, it is one of the oldest universities in the world. As one of the first Universities in the world, many have traveled from far and wide to its doors. This can be seen in the numerous crests adorning the walls. We couldn’t help over hearing a tour that was being conducted around us as we wandered around the halls. Turns out that not all students left their mark, simply because not all the students had crests. From the symbols, you can tell where the students came from. For example, the two headed dragons are very typical of German families.

Although the University is rather small, you also have access to the anatomical theatre and law chambers. The anatomical theatres, in particular, was quite the sight. The wall and the roof were adorned with an equal mix of revered scientists and gods of mythology. I imagine that it would have been rather intimidating to be sitting there, crowded in with other students, attempting to peer over them to the dissection at the table, all while surrounded by these greats.

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The chambers were not nearly as grand, but they housed an impressive collection of books. We were able to peer further into the library, where an almost unimaginable number of books were kept. I believe that the majority of this collection is locked away from the public due to their age and rarity.

With little else planned we meandered over to Chiesa di Santa Maria della Vita. This building is probably best known for the terracotta statues inside, depicting sorrow over a dead Christ. On the world scale, these statues aren’t particularly well known, but it was easy to tell that they were real masterpieces. The expressions on the faces of the mourners and the sense of motion that they captured were simply amazing. The rest of the church felt rather secretive and peaceful. For the most part, we were the only people looking at the frescos and wandering around.


Having completed a fair bit of sight-seeing, it was time at last for lunch. Google maps helped me locate the tucked away Trattoria Gianni. Apparently, this place is fairly popular, but on a lightly drizzling Friday we managed to snag a table for two with no problems. We couldn’t go to Bologna without trying their most famous dish: ragu alla Bolognese. This is the forerunner to the now eponymous spaghetti Bolognese. Unlike the spaghetti at home, this was served on beautiful fresh tagliatelle. Rather than being saucy, it was slow cooked down to a complex meaty coating for the pasta. If you ever stumble upon this place, do save room for dessert. The semifreddo was also incredibly delicious.

The filling lunch was just what we needed before tackling the two towers of Bologna. Although Bologna is home to many towers, once part of the city’s fortifications, these two leaning towers are now the symbol of the city. Move over Pisa, the title of tallest leaning tower in Italy actually belongs to the larger of these two towers. Only the larger tower is accessible to the public. This is probably a good thing considering how precarious the shorter tower looked.

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Climbing the tallest leaning tower in Italy was no easy feat. The stairs were often uneven and could only accommodate one person at a time. This meant a lot of shuffling and waiting at landings for people going the other way. I kept thinking that we were almost there, but the climb kept going until the steps got almost impossibly steep. Somehow, we made it all the way to the top to be greeted by some truly impressive views. It started spitting lightly again as we relaxed and took in the medieval city.

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Let’s just say that going down was challenging but a lot easier than going up. At the end of that very long journey, we sat down to have gelato, of course, and contemplate the rest of the day.


Somehow we found ourselves in Basilica di Santo Stefano. This church is currently the number 1 thing to do in Bologna according to TripAdvisor. Once again, this was a rather austere church, or rather collection of churches. The complex consists of a cluster of different buildings built throughout the ages. Walking through all of them and comparing the architecture and examining the many years of wear and tear was particularly arresting.

Basilica di San Paolo Maggiore turned out to be our last stop. At this point, we were almost all churched out. I know that’s not a word, but I feel like in Italy it should be.Wandering into the church we noticed musicians setting up and tuning their instruments. The promise of a free musical show in this beautiful building was just too good to pass up. We lingered, missing a train, but enjoying the moment before finally saying goodbye to Bologna.

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More than anything else Bologna was a city of contrasts. Whilst we were walking around we were approached by a number of suspicious characters, more so than in any other city. However, the luxe shops, porticos and sports cars hinted at the other wealthier side of Bologna. There’s a lot of history in this medieval city but also a lot of human interest, from the bustling markets to a group of students dressed in historical costume that we lazily tailed for a while. Given the chance, I would love to revisit Bologna. I feel like I’ve really only scratched the surface.

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PS. To my disappointment, we didn’t get to visit the most famous church in Bologna: the hilltop Basilica Santuario della Madonna di San. This is a fair distance away and requires some planning re: transport timing. As we were doing everything so last minute, this didn’t really eventuate. If you’re keen to check it out, remember to be organised!

Ciao Italy: Cinque Terre

Almost as soon as I settled into my new place in Florence I was off again! My friends and I decided to plan a very last minute trip to Cinque Terre after the first week of class. As the name would suggest Cinque Terre is actually a collection of 5 towns located on the coast of Liguria.

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From Florence to Cinque Terre, the train trip took a total of roughly 3 hours, including transfer times from La Spezia.We had chosen to stay in Monterosso, which is last of the five towns. As soon as we stepped off the train we were all immediately blown away by just how stunning the beach front looked. Apparently, the areas covered with beach chairs and parasols are ‘private’ areas of the beach, which you need to pay for, but there were still plenty of people enjoying themselves everywhere else.

Although we had packed a few snacks for the train ride over, it was well past lunchtime by the time we had settled in. Being by the coast a seafood meal was in order! The meal was a touch on the pricier side, as is usually expected in the more touristy areas of Italy, but it was delicious.

Thoroughly rejuvenated by the good food and a quick peek into the souvenir stores we were ready to go for a hike. I think normally you have to purchase a Cinque Terre card to have access to the paths, but when we arrived at the starting guide box, we were ushered in without needing to open our wallets!

The trail to Vernazza tends to be touted as one of the most difficult paths. This is because there is an abundance of stairs, both up and down. As we weren’t the most athletic group around we took our time and took plenty of breaks.Along the way, we ran into a friendly gentleman selling shots of limoncello from his vineyard, and some of the most incredible views.

We arrived at Vernazza just as the sun started setting. The dusty pink sky made a perfect backdrop for the colourful houses.

Once we actually got into the town it was time to reward ourselves for the workout with pizza and limoncello. As the sun completely set and the weather turned cold, we huddled together, chatted and eventually made our way back to Monterosso by train.

If you’re someone who loves to sleep in you will be relieved to hear that Italy is also a country of late sleepers. The early riser of the group commented that not much was open as the rest of us blearily opened our eyes. Over breakfast we roughly planned out the rest of the day (although that wasn’t without mishap!)

We decided to start from Riomaggiore, the first town of the five, and slowly make our way back to Monterosso.

Riomaggiore is well known for its long slanted street and colourful houses which appear haphazardly stacked atop one another. We poked our heads into everything and almost tumbled down the steep road looking around.

We arrived in Manarola by boat. When we docked, there was a particularly adventerous French family jumping off of the rocks on the port. Everyone in the area was transfixed. As for the town itself, it was also colourful and charming. We made our way up stairs to look at churches and more of the stunning view before leaving by train.

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Corniglia was different from all the other towns as instead of being on the water it is located up on the cliff face. Just getting to the town from the train station was a considerable trek up many, many flights of stairs. Once you do finally manage to get to the top you are rewarded with more temperate weather, a cool breeze and an incredibly charming town.

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We stopped for a round of panino and some of the most creamy lemon gelato that I have ever had in my life. Feeling relieved from the heat it was time to start hiking again! This hike was considerably easier than the previous days. Perhaps it was because we were all better rested. More likely it was because there weren’t as many stairs.

Half way between Corniglia and Vernazza is the tiniest little hamlet of Prevo. I’m not sure if it would even classify as a town considering how small it is. We stumbled upon the town rather late, so everything was already  closed but that didn’t stop us from gawking over how cute everything was.

Once again, we were in Vernazza as the sun set. Only this time we were coming from the opposite side. This time we sat and watched the sunset before heading off to a pasta dinner. On the way back we manage to scrounge up some sparkling wine and a game of Italian Monopoly. After many laughs, we all sleep well, thoroughly exhausted but happy.

On the last day of our trip, we took the time to properly explore Monterosso. We happily bought bread and souvenirs before finally heading to the beach. Throughout the whole trip the water was just too cold to go for a proper swim, but before leaving we all dipped our toes into the sea and happily splashed around for a while. I think that at the end of the trip we were all congratulating ourselves with having done incredibly well on such a last minute trip.

As a side note on the way back, our train to Florence had been canceled by a train strike. So we spent a few hours meandering around La Spezia waiting for the timetable to return to normal. Honestly, this just made everything feel much more typically Italian.

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Tips:

If you’re a keen hiker remember to check to see which of the hiking paths are open before you go. I found this map really useful: https://www.incinqueterre.com/en/trails-advice#statusmap. Due to damage from extreme weather conditions the paths sometimes close, and some of the more popular trails s some of the popular tracks won’t be open for some time. However, there are always alternate walking trails between the towns and further afield for the more adventurous!

A few of my friends said that it was possible to hike through all 5 towns in one day, if you started early and finished late. If you’re extremely time poor this may be an option for you, although I don’t particularly recommend it. The appeal of Cinque Terre is in the rustic towns, picturesque beaches and  the views from the hiking trails. To rush it would be missing out on half the enjoyment.

Remember to check train and boat times online or at the station early on in the day. They don’t appear as frequently as you would hope. If you know exactly what you’re doing it might also be a good idea to buy tickets in advance so you don’t need to line up behind everyone else. We weren’t nearly organised enough in this respect, but it also meant that our day was extremely flexible.

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