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”.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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! 🙂

 

 

 

 

Visiting Carlotta

We had only one day left to spend at Lake Como. We had the chance to visit calm Menaggio, fancy Bellagio and infamous Varenna. While in Bellagio, at Villa Melzi, I saw the shadow of an imposing building on the other side of the lake. It seemed interesting, even from far away.

I started looking for more info, as the shadowy building intrigued me. This is how I found out that building was called “Villa Carlotta”, and was located in Tremezzo. As we were accommodated in Menaggio, we had to take a short bus ride to our destination. Travelling by bus in Lake Como area an be a real adventure. Narrow roads, timetables which are not followed (if you miss your bus, get ready to wait for the next one around 1-2 hours), even buying a ticket can be a challenge 🙂 . This time we were lucky, as the bus arrived on time. We hopped on, found two seats. As the bus was following its route along Lake Como, we had a nice view of the surroundings. In 10 minutes we reached our destination. The bus stop was in front of an elegant villa.

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I was surprised to find out that the gardens of the villa host an enormous botanical garden filled with hundreds spices of trees and plants. As we entered the garden though the iron gates, I was able to see one of Carlotta’s cheeks. It was white and strong. The next thing  Carlotta revealed were her many, big blue eyes, shaded by long black lashes. Now please, have some patience to let me tell you more about Carlotta. She’s old, but still young, beautiful and full of grace. She’s calm and full of confidence as she was educated in the spirit of the old days. Carlotta is quiet as she is gazing over the Italian garden. I could see her long slim legs touching firmly the alleys… as I got closer, Carlotta‘s fit figure came back to reality as her legs turned into the stairs which welcomed us inside her private kingdom. Her white cheeks turned back to cold walls and the many blue eyes shaded by black lashes came to be large wooden windows. Her silence was disturbed by our first footsteps on the shiny crooked floor.

Carlotta was the only villa in the area which was open to public. We were able to admire her simple but still elegant interiors and to discover bits of  Carlotta’s short life story (her full name was Princess Frederica Louise Wilhelmina Marianne Charlotte of Prussia – quite a long one to remember 🙂 ).

After exiting the villa, we wandered in the botanical garden. Again, we were seduced by the beauty of the trees, flowers and many plants which were inhabiting the garden.

In Tremezzo you can have a nice walk, admire the local architecture and of course enjoy the Italian cuisine in the many restaurants which  surround the small town. This was our last full day at Lake Como, which made me quite sad, as I had to leave so much beauty behind. I love the fact that it left me with such strong memories, that even now, almost 9 months after our trip, I am able to remember everything so vividly.

Now all aboard! Next stop: Milan! 🙂

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Alive gardens live in Varenna

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We spent three days at Lake Como. The first day was dedicated to Menaggio and laziness, the second to Bellagio and Varenna, the third day to Tremezzo and bad weather :P.

As I already wrote an article about Bellagio on my previous post (which was written a long, but very long time ago 🙂 ), today I shall  “sharpen my fingers” and write about the short but beautiful time spent in the heaven-like village  Varenna.

To Varenna you get by boat  – either from Menaggio or Bellagio. To be honest – even all three are famous – Varenna was the one closer to my heart. As you get off the boat in the small port, the Gothic architecture is giving you a cold welcome. In order to get to the main attractions you have  to cross a beautiful bridge which is not suspended, but embraced by the rocky cliffs. From there on, just focus your steps on getting to two magical places – and these are Villa Cipressi – currently a hotel and Villa Monastero.

We discovered Villa Cipressi by accident, on our way to the well known Villa Monastero. It’s an orange hotel, and I know, it does not make it appealing. For some reason, we decided to enter in the hotel and ask the reception if we would be  allowed to visit, at least the gardens – which for a modest fee, was possible. This was probably the most wonderful surprise we had on our trip. From the sumptuous reception we went though a large glass door and…

In a blink we were transferred into a new world! The humid warmth gave me the impression that I am next to the Mediterranean Sea. The palm trees of all sizes were guarding the godless heaven. Flowers of all colors and scents were hypnotizing me as their petals were dancing in the warm air on the lullabies sung by the flying children of the garden. Strong scented lemons were growing big and healthy under the hot caresses of the sun. But it’s more to come. As I was sitting in the shade of a green tree, I was able to see how amazingly the garden was spreading her long, slim arms into the lake in narrow tall steps. The garden – beautiful and calm, was breathing slowly as she was kissing with her rocky lips the unique blue of Lake Como. This Garden was alive!

There is no camera in this world able to capture so much beauty and serenity. If you get the chance to visit this garden, please do not waste your time taking too many videos and selfies. Just find a tree’s shade, sit under it, and try to look around with hunger. Then close your eyes for a moment and let the warm wind give you a hug. This is how you will never forget the best picture which you will able to take with your own eyes.

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With our minds and eyes full of beauty we continued our way to Villa Monastero – another charming place. The garden is quite big – and as well full of the best things which only nature can give. Only at this place, it was not the garden which spoke to me, but the beautiful Villa. Unfortunately, it is not in a very good condition, but this is what gives the place an unique charm, as the cracks in the fragile walls and the moldy fences were able to tell us beautiful stories about the amazing hands of the people which not only had built her, but also protected her from harm.

Now hurry up dear, as we do not want to miss our boat! Next stop: Tremezzo! 🙂

Cheers!

 

 

 

It’s a lake! It’s a mountain! It’s Lugano!

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Let me continue the story of our train trip with the next stop: Lugano, Switzerland.

After a rainy cold day in Zürich we were looking forward to a nice warm train trip. So at 13:30 we were at Zurich Hauptbahnhof, waiting patiently for our train, but already tired and wet.

We took another cool and fast train. To be honest (even though might sound freaky 🙂 ) the coolest thing on this train was… the toilet! 🙂 🙂 🙂 Leaving aside the fact that it was incredibly clean, it came with another surprise: it was very spacious and had a cute wallpaper with cool drawings which gave you the felling that it was in fact  an old granny’s home restroom. The wallpaper was looking like a nice window with flowers in pots and stuff. :)) Well done! 🙂

Once more the way to Lugano was spent next to the window, keeping  my eyes and mouth wide open. Just from time to time you could hear me saying : ” Wow!”, “Aaaaaaaa!!!”, “That’s sooooo beautiful”!

The 3 1/2 hours went quickly. Speedy train, tall mountains, turquoise lakes… made the train ride very exhausting  as staring at their beauty consumed the last drops of energy I still had on board :P.

The train stopped in a very small but coquette station situated on the top of the mountain. The first thing which took me by surprise was the heat and high humidity. After two winter like days spent in Zürich, it felt like a true blessing! A breathtaking view towards  Lugano lake made me feel more like being next to the Mediterranean Sea than next to a lake surrounded by mountains. Lots of flowers and hundreds of palm trees gave the landscape an exotic touch.  It was packed with people from all age groups dressed in colorful and eccentric traditional clothing. Lugano was dressed up and had the mood to party!

 

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Honestly, and I hope that saying this will not raise eyebrows, being in Lugano felt like being in Monaco! It had the casino, the beach, good mood and food and of course – the rich people 🙂 !

What to do and where to go while in Lugano? Well, there are lots! You can take a boat trip, a funicular ride, lay in the sun, have lovely meals, enjoy a walk in the park or to waste your money in the casino! But I shall not bore you with these details, as the mighty Internet is already well loaded with this info 🙂 .

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My favorite activity in Lugano was staring at the beautiful sights and people, but the cherry on top was having the most outrageously tasty roast beef sandwich which my taste buds had the chance to taste in 28 years! And my friends,  that’s the place to be in Lugano!

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The name of the beautiful place is Macelleria Salumeria D. Gabbani. It is located in the old town, on via Pessina 12. Hint: go early in the morning, around 08:30 – 09:00 and please be hungry! The sandwiches are still warm and sexy looking :), the only problem will be to choose which one to have, as all of them are sooooo appealing! Also, very important, please take your sandwich to go, and enjoy  it on one of the many benches facing the lake.

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The beautiful view of the lake, the clean blue sky, the tall green mountains sprinkled with tall palm trees and the best roast beef sandwich in the world were the perfect ingredients for a relaxed and out of ordinary vacation!

 

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Now all aboard! Next stop: Lake Como! 🙂