Venice – love her madly

We left Padua train station with mixed feelings. I felt sorry to leave so soon, but also excited that we were finally going to Venice, the last destination in our trip. Till that moment, during our journey we had a cold rainy time in Zurich, a lovely sunny day in Lugano, spent four amazing days at Lake Como –  visiting Menaggio, Bellagio, Varenna and Tremezzo, enjoyed few hours in Milan, visited family and the gorgeous city of Turin, met the Bravest Girl in Cremona, froze in Mantua, felt like canned sardines at Juliet’s House in Verona, and listened to one of my favorite songs in Padua train station.

The train ride lasted around 30 minutes. I was so excited, so I kept my nose clinging on the window 🙂 . After Venezia Mestre station, a long bridge was tying the beautiful lagoon to the mainland. Crossing that bridge seemed to me like an eternity, as I was so anxious to spot some of the main landmarks.

Finally, we arrived at the train station – Venezia Santa Lucia. As we were exiting the crowded station, we found ourselves lost in the front of an ocean of people. The warm humid air, and the strong scent of mold which was covering the Grand Canal gave the old city a sweaty look. All tourists were rushing to cross the canal, so walking to our accommodation with huge and heavy backpacks was quite a challenge! 🙂

Surfing trough the waves of people which were trying to fit on the narrow dark streets made me a bit nervous. The curious thing about Venice was that many canals or alleys do not have names. So how can you find your accommodation or the main sites? Well with a map of course (for the technology addicts the GPS), or following the directions hanging on the buildings  which sound like this “To Rialto Bridge”, “To San Marco”, and so on.

After our check-in, it was quite late, so we followed the advice of the receptionist and decided to have just a short walk to Piazza San Marco (which was few steps away from our hotel) and after to admire the sunset from Punta Della Dogana.

Walking slowly as our feet were crying out of pain (due to the long walk we previously had in Padua), we crossed a dark grey passage, and suddenly we started hearing thousands of souls squeezed in the elegant square of San Marco. Now, close your eyes, and imagine yourself in Venice, in front of San Marco Cathedral, taking a memorable picture of yourself while feeding the greedy pigeons. Ready? Well… keep on imagining! As this will NEVER happen :)))).  The square is so packed with nervous tourists, angry vendors and queues for everything – like a table at the famous Caffe Florian, a 2km long queue for visiting the San Marco Basilica, a 3 km long for the Clock Tower and another 1.5 km long for the Doge’s Palace. Oh… and I forgot to add the one from Correr Museum :P.

In spite of the whole tourist craziness, while standing on my toes (yes, I admit, I proudly posses the height of a dwarf 🙂 ) and protecting my ribs of the rage of the greedy visitors I could not let myself unimpressed by the square’s beauty. The columns which surrounded the square were looking tired after bearing for hundred of years the weight of much beauty. With one eye, while avoiding a frontal collision with someone’s elbow, I could admire the bronze horses on the basilica’s sumptuous balcony, who once used to guard the old city of Constantinople. In the middle of the square, the Clock Tower was being overwhelmed by the tourist’s curiosity. Soon, we realized that our battle was already lost, so we left towards the Punta della Dogana. Like slippery snakes, we crawled through the airless narrow streets and, while were walking away from the main square, the streets and the canals were getting empty. In a small but cute piazza, I was even able to admire a young father, while teaching his son to bike.

We crossed the Ponte dell’ Accademia over the Grand Canal, and that was the first time when I felt my heart beating for Venice… it was love at 2nd sight :). The gorgeously illuminated palaces, the approaching night, the warmth, the tourist’s rush… everything made it look perfectly imperfect.

Soon we arrived at Punta della Dogana. Right on time to watch one my favorite show of lights – the naughty sunset. As we were sitting on the concrete triangle, we had a lovely view of the lagoon – to the left, Piazza San Marco and the Doge’s Palace, and to the right the Giudecca Island. It felt so calm to admire Venice quietly, holding hands with my loved one, while the weak lights of sunset were wishing us “sweet dreams”.

DSC_0626

 

 

 

Advertisements

A short walk in Padua

We woke up early in the morning to leave our beautiful Verona. After a nice breakfast we checked-out and started thinking on the big plans we had for that day: traveling to Padua, spending few hours and then… yes, the cherry on top and the final destination of our train trip: Venice and its gorgeous islands.

The train ride lasted around 40 minutes and the fare was around 7 euros. If you plan to travel to more destinations in Italy, I strongly recommend taking the train – they’re many, fast and more than affordable.

As we arrived at Padua’s train station I was impressed by the relaxed attitude and youth of its inhabitants. In one of the station’s halls, many talented youngsters display their talents by playing the piano, which gives you the opportunity to assist to a free unconventional show. In case you do not already know, Padua is one of the main student centers in Italy, where even Galileo Galilei was a lecturer.

We started our promenade on Corso del Popolo street, trying to enjoy the small city as much as possible in the few hours dedicated to its visit. As we were walking through amazing buildings and piazzas, a chic city started to grow.

Our first stop was at Padua University – Palazzo del Bo’. The weight of its inner courtyard was guarded by tall strong columns. Amazing statues and frescoes tell many stories of wisdom.

We continued our walk with the Jewish Getto. I could see, just like magic, how the life of its inhabitants was looking like many years ago. Flocks of noisy and cheeky kids running and playing around the slim columns. Long bearded men selling their handmade products on the tight alleys. Women hanging clothes to dry by their large windows. The music of life echoing between the old buildings. In present, everything was surrounded by peace and quiet.

Our next stop was Piazza della Frutta, which made Padua look very alive, in contrast to the mysterious quietness of the Jewish Ghetto. The rough voices of the merchants trying to advertise their fresh fruits and veggies gave the small piazza a joyful atmosphere.

Attracted by the strong scent of velvet tomatoes, many locals and tourists were queuing for a slice of the farmer’s hard work. Behind this vivid scene, something else was happening. A gorgeous medieval building was rising – Palazzo della Ragione and its beautiful market.

Behind the majesty of Palazzo della Ragione lies obedient Piazza delle Erbe. Another amazing place where you can take a short rest and admire the quiet life of the beautiful locals. Small, but elegant balconies decorate the surrounding buildings, sometimes embracing the presence of their owners, which watch curious at the many tourists.

DSC_0900

Piazza dei Signori – was a true delight! The superb architecture is enchanting  your eyes and the old pharmacies and stores give you a glimpse of how amazing was the life of its past inhabitants. Tall arches knighted with colorful frescoes give you the shade you long for in a sunny summer day.

But what is a town without a place for worship? Of course, as many other Italian cities, Padua does not lack the presence of the House of God. Duomo di Padova is one of the many cathedrals which give beauty and spirituality to this wonderful city. Unfortunately, we were running out of time, so we were not able to visit the gorgeous cathedral and its baptistery.

On a fast pace, we began our journey to our last stop – the amazing Prato della Valle – the largest square in Italy and one of the largest in Europe (it measures around 90 000 square meters). Il Prato – how it is spoiled by the locals – is a gorgeous piazza witch hosts a green island at its center l’Isola Memmia – embraced by a shy canal bordered by two rings of statues. Nowadays around 78 stone figures watch over the stunning square.

Unhappy to leave the graceful town of Padua, we started our walk back to train station. Again we were overwhelmed by the beauty of the architecture and the serenity of the locals. To be honest, this was one of the most beautiful cities I have visited until now in Italy. It’s less touristy, locals cheer you warmly and it has many points of interest. And its strongest asset – it looked so young!

As we were waiting impatient for our train to Venice, I was able to enjoy few more minutes of the local spirit. The air was warm and clean, everybody was smiling. As our train was approaching the station, a talented student was playing one of my favorite piano pieces – Yruma’s “River flows in you”. The song was played so majestically by the raw fingers of the pianist, that the arriving train was not able to cover it up. The train stopped, and with mixed feelings we got on the train. My ears were still playing the wonderful piano tunes…

The soft melody was brutally interrupted by the thick voice of the conductor announcing the next station: Venezia Santa Lucia!

One day in Verona – or vandalism in the name of love

Moving forward with our story, we took a train from Mantua which took us to our next destination: Verona. This was a longer trip; after spending two and a half hours in the cold train, we arrived in the city of Romeo and Juliet.

At Verona train station, again, a cloudy cold day was spreading its evil arms around us. On top of the grayish ambiance, an annoying rain was “making” my day. After twenty minutes of unpleasant walk we arrived at the hotel. A fast check-in helped my small feet feel warm and dry again 🙂 .

We started our visit at a slow pace, walking under the cover of a fragile umbrella, toward the old town. As we walked on its tight lanes, the smell of old wet buildings overwhelmed us. Soon my warm cold feet became once more cold and soaked. The many flocks of tourists which jammed the main squares made the air hard to breathe and the beautiful architecture impossible to admire. The nervous footsteps touching the wet pavement created a strange sound effect. It was something very curious about that city.

Taken by a strong current of tourists, we found ourselves in the middle of Piazza Bra. Verona Arena was rising with its majestic columns in one of the cold corners of the square. Getting closer, we were able to admire the wide stone arches, which, with hundreds of years experience still host large scale events like opera performances and concerts.

We turned on the left side street – Via Giuseppe Mazzini – and we admired the shops invaded by tourists. Lots of balconies filled with small palm trees and flowers were guiding our walk. All of a sudden the annoying rain stopped. Yay! It was high time to visit the house of the world’s notorious love queen, Juliet Capulet. And yes, in case you wonder, fictional characters do seem to have houses of their own 🙂 . At the end of Mazzini street, we turned right and after few steps, there it was!

DSC_0704

A once upon a time superb 14th century brick house greeted us. At present, Juliet’s house is vandalized in the name of love by the thousands of tourists which prove their love on the fragile walls. At the entrance, not even the house sign has not been spared by the passionate lovers. Stickers, all the letters of the alphabet surrounded by hearts,  and even nasty words are stretched all over the edifice. Well, if this didn’t help you to get a first impression, there’s more to come: as you pass the long corridor the mayhem gets unleashed. Plaster boards (thanks God it’s not the walls this time!) attached to the right and left walls are maimed daily under hundreds of layers of marker. All the names in the world, of all the countries in the world lie there angry, as they get covered over and over again by other heavy layers of pure love. If you try to get closer to those walls – and I do not recommend it – you might get pushed, hit, or even cursed with great passion by the in love vandals which are waiting for their turn to print their declaration. The heavy fighting is for the almost absent free corners on the top of the wall. And trust me, people do get creative and climb the walls, so they could leave, at least till the next brave visitor arrives, a proof of their unprecedented love.

DSC_0707

If you’re lucky and manage to escape alive the horror of the love corridor, I wish you lots of luck and patience with the inner courtyard. But more then that, I hope you have a long strong neck, to make it possible for you to see Juliet’s infamous balcony. Why infamous? Because that beautiful darn balcony had put her into so much trouble! 🙂

Sitting on my toes, I was able to admire for a second the courtyard. There was no hope for us to visit and be able to take a picture impersonating beautiful Juliet sobbing for love. The zombie lovers were getting hungrier for love as they were fighting for a perfect sugar picture. We decided to leave, until we would get intoxicated with the crazy love substance which was floating all around, and would probably turn us into heart-shaped-gremlins 🙂 .

As we were abandoning the courtyard, I heard a desperate cry for help. It was Juliet’s house, asking us not to visit anymore, as she is sinking slowly under the heavy weight of love messages and letters which were written or left even in the places where no one should dare to get.

Feeling sad for the helpless building we continued our visit with Piazza Delle Erbe. Amazing buildings were surrounding  the spacious square. Behind it, as a brave knight, Torre Lamberti was rising.

After walking a bit on the crowded streets, we crossed the bridge over river Adige. On the other side of the river, you can find another another beautiful site, the Ancient Roman Theater of Verona.

Tired, after walking on gorgeous streets and climbing many stairs we began a slow procession toward our temporary home. On the way back, we visited the old walls of Castelvecchio, which I dare say, were quite impressive.

Please visit Verona. But visit the beautiful city as you would visit your favorite grandmother. Do it quiet, gentle and with lots of care, without causing any discomfort, as you’d like to have her in this world for as long as possible.

Now prepare your bags, as our next stop in Padua will be! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

The hidden stage from Mantua

We woke up early in the morning on our 9th day on the road. We already had visited Zurich, Lugano, Lake Como (the beautiful towns of Menaggio, Bellagio, Varenna and Tremezzo), Milan, Turin and Cremona. A long day was waiting for us: going to Mantua and spending few hours, then heading toward the city of love birdsVerona 🙂 .

The train station in Cremona is quite small, but is frequently passed by trains which stop in Mantua. Traveling by train in Italy is quite cheap. If I remember correctly, a ticket to our destination was around 6 euros, and the trip would last around 50 minutes.

As we arrived in Mantua, a cold grey weather welcomed us. From the train station, you can easily walk to the small, but full of history town. Due to the nasty weather, the old city seemed unfriendly, but as we walked toward its core, we were able to discover its shy beauty.

We had a lovely walk on the narrow pedestrian streets. Suddenly, medieval tall buildings began to rise. As we were getting closer to Piazza Sordello, we were able to admire the imposing walls of Palazzo Ducale di Mantova. Close to the palace, Mantua Cathedral was keeping its warm doors open for us.

The white interior walls were decorated with the famous Carrara marble. Its long and elegant columns imposed us a respectful silence. As we were raising our sights to the sumptuous ceiling, the wide windows made the fine details glow in natural light. We got closer to the shrine, and the sky started falling on us, as it was raining with armies of angels coming from the tall dome frescoes. To be honest, in my eyes, this was one of the most beautiful  cathedrals I have visited until now.

As we were leaving the cathedral, the weather got colder. We had one more important stop – and that was in the wonderful world of theater.  On our way, we had the impression, that the old town of Mantua was build on arches and columns, as all its beautiful buildings were watching us, suspended from high above. Soon we reached our destination – Teatro Bibiena (also known as Teatro Scientifico, Teatro Accademico or Teatrino della Accademia Filarmonica).

As we entered the hall, just like magic, we were transferred into a new world. I was surprised to see seats even on the stage. The whole room was giving me the impression that you can be seen from every corner or angle. A diffuse light protected each seat and the weight of the balconies which was hosting the boxes was overwhelming. In a hidden corner, a stone spiral staircase was allowing us to experience a complete view of the entire room. Suddenly, as I was resting on a red velvet bench, I heard the gentle music of an overture. Smooth violins and cellos started whispering. I could see with the eyes of my mind, the heavy curtains opening, leaving a cloud of light dust behind them and with that revealing the main characters of the drama. All, like living ghosts, were saying with great talent, their best lines. A sudden thunder of applause opened my eyes woke me up to reality. This theater was not built by human hands!

DSC_0677

When leaving the curious theater, a tender rain started. It was high time to leave to the train station. We had a second chance to admire the old city of Mantua. Even if it had an urgent need of restoration, a particular beauty was floating all around.

Next stop: Verona! 🙂

 

 

 

 

The bravest girl in Cremona

It was a sunny Saturday morning when we left Turin (what happened in Turin can be checked out here). Our next destination: Cremona. I know, it’s not that popular. How did we decide to go there? Well, I heard the name of this city in a BBC radio play called “Cabin Pressure” (one of the main characters is played by Benedict Cumberbatch :X ) – I know, very superficial of me :P. When planning our train trip, we wanted to stop in as many places as possible between Turin and Venice. And guess what? I found Cremona on the map! 🙂

Leaving the joke aside, Cremona is famous for its musical history (Antonio Stradivari, the famous crafter of stringed instruments), lovely sweets (the tasty torrone) and splendid architecture. On first impression, the city of Cremona seemed very quiet. It’s not packed with tourists, comparing to other Italian cities, which gives you the opportunity to feel the real vibe of the city. Even if in the first moments I felt a bit disappointed – as soon as we arrived in front of the Cremona Cathedral, my disappointment vanished. The tall building was growing slowly into the skies as a white pale ghost. What brought her to life were two brick towers which were growing on her back. Built in Romanesque style, the beautiful decorations in Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque style gave that holy place an unique charm. Its slim long columns and the delicate white statues still looked alive, as they were warmly inviting you inside, where amazing frescoes decorated the old walls.

The cathedral’s guardian, the famous Torrazzo (bell tower), watched over the blessed house, with grace and great affection. Its red bricks showed its strong muscles, and the top terrace were the big eyes which looked over the kind city of Cremona. After visiting the church, we decided to admire the city panorama from the top of the tower. On the fourth floor, resided the mechanism of the largest astronomical clock in the world. As we climbed more stairs, the space started to get smaller and smaller. Even the stairs became more narrow. Before going on what we thought would be the last round of stairs till reaching the top terrace, we met an Italian mother with her son, and her daughter –  the one who would soon become – The Bravest Girl in Cremona. She was around 7 years old, but at heart, was as brave as a knight. The young mother’s son was too scared to climb further the narrow stairs, but the fire from the Brave Girl’s  brown eyes gave her the courage to hand us, total strangers, her care –  so she could see the city where she was born from up above. Happily, she took me by the hand, and she did not look back, not ever for a second.

The Bravest Girl in Cremona spoke Italian. Either the narrow spiral staircase, or her warm hand which was holding mine, gave me the power to understand her and to exchange few words. I allowed her to lead the way, while I was holding her hand firmly. As we were going further, everything got smaller, and the air was not enough for all of us to share. My mind was telling me that this place was shrinking so much that soon would not longer exist. My fears were soon scattered by one look in the eyes of the Brave Girl. We stepped into a larger room, which had few windows with bars. In the middle of the room was laying one the the scariest things I have ever seen – the narrowest wooden staircase in the world. The Brave Girl was eager to get on the top terrace. Every step we took on the staircase felt like a strong earthquake, as the fragile stairs were moving. I was praying that nobody would come from upstairs, as only a tiny person could fit at a time. The spirit of the Tower heard me, and we reached our destination safely. Once The Bravest Girl in Cremona got to see, using the eyes of the Tower, the beauty that surrounded the city, a victorious look spread all over her clever face.

DSC_0500

The bravery which was glowing from her eyes made me forget about my fear of tight spaces. She helped me to learn that once you focus on your destination, you will enjoy the journey. Once you enjoy your journey, meeting your biggest fears on the way won’t make you scared anymore. The power of your determination will make them abandon your thoughts, fully defeated.

After handing over The Bravest Girl in Cremona in the safe hands of her mother, we continued our visit with the child of the mighty Tower, the baptistery. Later on, we visited Palazzo Comunale, Loggia dei Militi and Piazza S Antonio Maria Zaccaria. Unfortunately, when we arrived at Museo del Violino (Violin Museum), was the closing hours and we were not allowed to enter. In exchange, we admired the sweets shops windows, and rested our legs on a bench in the park.

I do encourage you to visit Cremona. For its sweets, narrow streets, amazing architecture and welcoming inhabitants. And maybe, who knows, you will be lucky enough to meet the Bravest Girl in Cremona.

Coming next: Mantua! 🙂

Tu-tu-Turin

We left Milan after three hours (if curious about what happened there – just click here) – with a clear destination in our minds – Turin! Even if it does not seem much, we felt very tired – thanks to our heavy backpacks and the beauty which we were able to admire :P. After taking the train from Milano Centrale station, a heavy rain started. At least this time – I told myself – we were lucky enough not to get wet.

The trip lasted around one hour. As I was not able to see much on the train’s dusty window, due to the summer rain, I decided to play some card games with my hubby. Terrible decision! I lost all of them :(. When we arrived at the train station, the welcoming face of our host greeted us. It was my hubby’s cousin b-day, so that evening we went to a nice pizzeria to celebrate. Lovely time spent with great company!

The next day, our cute host F., took us on a city tour. She is a great organizer, and lucky us, is also one of the few people which do know much of the history of the city in which they spend most of their lives. So we took the car and started our journey from the small town of San Mauro, trough narrow roads with pretty houses around. The curvy road was taking us closer and closer to the sky.

Soon, we arrived at one of the places with the most breathtaking views I have seen in my life! And that my friends is called Superga hill, the host of Basilica of Superga. After having enough rain at Lake Como, the sunny day was a true blessing. And how can a beautiful sunny day be celebrated without a stunning scenery? From up there you are able to see how majestically is river Po crawling between the graceful streets of Turin. The spire of Mole Antonelliana, Turin’s landmark, can be admired how it tries to scrape the sky at its height of 167.5 meters. The old town of Turin, with its elegant aristocratic buildings and piazzas, was looking like a delicate tulle tutu.

The Basilica of Superga is also dressed to impress in baroque-styled clothing. Its intimidating tall columns and the tall arch are the resting place of the members of the well-known House of Savoy. But this beautiful place hides a sad story behind its walls – the air disaster which led, in 1949, to the loss of the famous football team Grande Torino.

The sun was still warm and shiny, so we continued our visit to the quarters of the Royal Palace of Turin. Hidden from the shadow of elegant Turin, the palace and  its surroundings are a true beauty. The mixed architecture of the palace, guarded by pieces of contemporary art, displays itself shameless before your eyes. The vast green gardens offers your sight the best alpine panorama.

This was an amazing full day. As it was our 7th day on the road, I could feel my heels pumping out tiredness. The remaining of the day was spent on relaxation and good company. The next day, together with our cool hosts, we hit the road towards Cremona.

Now stay tuned, more to come! 🙂

 

 

 

Three hours in Milan

We left Lake Como on a terrible weather. As I wrote on my post regarding our arrival to Menaggio (you can take a peek here), our accommodation was somehow on the top of the mountain 🙂 . So try to imagine this – rain, cold wind, heavy backpacks, no umbrellas or raincoats, and the two of us having an unwanted hike on the slippery, narrow, sidewalk-less streets. In spite of all these roadblocks we were able to make it, wet and cold, but alive to the bus station.

Menaggio – Milan is quite a short trip. You can take a bus to Como town, and from there  the comic character-named trains “Frecciabianca” (that would be  “White Arrow”) or “Frecciargento” (“Silver Arrow”) to beautiful Milan. As it was not the first time we visited the chic city, we decided to stop only for few hours, on our way to Turin (where were waiting for us my hubby’s cool cousin and beautiful wife and we planning to stay for two days).

Coming back to my story – wet and cold, we were very happy to get on the bus. In less than an hour, we were in Como train station. We hopped on the White Arrow and, in a blink we were in glamorous Milan. As we had our heavy backpacks with us, we decided just to take a small tour around the old town city center.

If you are expecting red limestone roofs, with colorful little buildings, as you might have seen all over Italy, get ready to be in a good way “disappointed”. Milan is cosmopolitan and sexy as a model :P.

My advice is do some research before your arrival, as some attractions which you might want to visit, as Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” might need an advance booking. We spent 3 hours, and we were able to see the Dome, La Scala Opera, Vittorio Emanuele  Gallery, the Dome Square and Cinque Vie historical district – all in walking distance.

 

What to say more about Milan? Its inhabitants look smart and friendly, and its streets are clean and well organized. I can say I was enthusiastic to visit for the second time an old friend, and, if the future will ever bring old Milan in my way, I would be more than happy to have a nice chat again.

Now let’s hurry up o the train station. Next stop: Turin! 🙂

Coming soon: Cremona, Mantua, Verona, Padua and Venice!