The Dolomites are called the Italian Alps, for good reason. The mountains themselves are not extremely tall, but they rise so abruptly from a low valley floor their tall jagged peaks are very impressive. The area is a mecca for skiers, hikers , mountain bike enthusiasts and para-sailing. Many inhabitants do not like that this region became part of Italy after World War I, so there continues to be a strong Austrian influence in the buildings, language and menus. We hiked most days here and learned about Italian rifugios.
The thought of Venice likely conjures up romantic notions of riding in a gondola while being serenaded to familiar Italian songs such as Volare. The truth of the matter is a bit less romantic, but I would likely come across as a real scrooge by talking it down. So yes, we did hear many, many a gondolier sing a variety of wonderful songs. Our balcony overlooked a canal and we watched boat captains skillfully maneuver their beautiful wood power boats, gondolas, delivery boats and the occasional ambulance through the congestion. All the boat drivers pitch in and pass signals to other boat drivers regarding traffic around blind corners. We frequently heard the loud call of “Ooui!” which apparently means, “I’m coming around the corner so you had better get out of my way.”
Cinque Terre is a series of five small fishing villages on the west coast of Italy, known as the Italian Riviera. In these towns there are basically no cars, no stop lights and few roads wide enough to drive cars if you had one. We stayed in Corniglia, the middle of the five towns. To get to our condo we walked up a series of narrow sidewalks bordered by 4-5 story buildings several hundred years old. Adding to the interest of our stay were three turtles in the back yard. The first night we saw the Mom Turtle dig a hole with her hind legs and lay eggs. The very close proximity of the buildings does not provide much privacy but adds to the quaintness. If not careful, our just washed clothes could drip on the people walking below when hung out to dry. Corniglia was on a high hill requiring 400+ steps, arranged in a series of switchbacks, to arrive in the town from the train station. The bus service between town and train station was unreliable, so walking was the preferred method for us as it also provided good exercise. So here you have an entire town that is not wheelchair accessible. If you wanted to go to the scenic beach, that would be another 400+ steps down on the other side of the cliff, no bus service. I would say the Cinque Terre area is a highlight of Italy and wonderfully unique area.
Florence, or Firenza as they say, is a required stop for any newbie traveling Italy. It is big on the museum side with the Uffizi Gallery, among many, and one certainly needs to see the most famous sculpture in the world, Michelangelo’s David. This iconic statue has had a hard life. When first unveiled it was greeted with jeering, rock throwing and general disapproval. Later, during some riot in the 1500’s a bench was tossed at David which broke the left arm in three places. Still later a crazed, jealous artist smashed the toe with a hammer. It was also greatly damaged by a museum cleaning with hydrochloric acid. The statue sat outside in the elements for over a hundred years. David stands proudly today in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, alone in a large open room built just for it.
This photo reveals so much about Florence! It is often my goal to find that scene which can convey the most about the character of the town or place I am visiting. This is one of my favorite photos for that reason. Here is part of what this photo shows:
1) The addresses can tell the informed traveler this is Florence. The numbering starts over for each street, which is often quite short. So there will be lots of apartments with the number 1 or numbers less than 10. Businesses have a different number sequence than residences. Here the business address 14 is in red and the residential address is a blue number 6. The business address would be written 14r which tells the Florentine person it is a rosso or red address. The foreigner can mistakenly think this is an r for residential which is normally a black number, but is blue here. The numbering system does not even follow the simple rule of odd on one side of the street and even on the other. The distinction between what is a residence and what is a business is not always clear, such as searching for a bed and breakfast place which is a residence run as a business. Fed-X has their work cut out for them.
Siena is the largest of the mountain towns in Tuscany. These mountain towns were built high on hills and are surrounded by tall walls. These fortifications came in handy when they found it necessary to dump hot oil on the invaders from neighboring towns fighting for dominance of the region and control of trade. I never thought I would be reading articles on the unification of Italy on my own and with interest…. The main attraction in Siena is the huge brick courtyard, Il Campo. Here the tradition is for young lovers to chase away the flocks of pigeons and have a picnic on the hot bricks… hummm we skipped that part.
We have all seen photos of the Tuscan landscape and the beautiful green or gold rolling hills, depending on the time of year. We visited in the spring so all was very lush and green. Photos of Tuscany were responsible for Italy being such a large part of our initial trip to Europe. In particular, I was interested in the often photographed Vitaleta Chapel pictured above. We stayed at a working vineyard and olive farm in San Quirico d’Orcia primarily for me to have easy access to this chapel and many other vistas. As it turns out, the light was never quite right for photographing the chapel, but the surrounding area was still wonderful.
The short story on Rome is…. If you ever get a chance to visit Roma, do so! To understand Roma, it helps to realize it has been a vibrant city for over 2,500 years. Walking around this ancient city one can turn the corner and suddenly see the Roman Colosseum, Pantheon, Saint Peter’s Basilica, another statue of Romulus and Remus, or some other site we were required to study in school. Everything Rome has done seems to be over the top in excess and grandeur. For example, Trevi Fountain is so large it basically occupies the entire plaza where it was built.
We have all heard the saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” So my Dad asked me to find out what it is the Romans do.
I will leave to others to try and describe the immensity, beauty and grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica and all the Vatican offers. It is simply over the top in every aspect. The guide told us that they did what they could to make it appear smaller than it is, as the size was unnerving to many who visited. There are arches and domes of differing sizes that intersect, resulting in incredibly complex architectural lines. One of the photos in the Gallery is named ‘Complexity’ for this reason. On display is Michelangelo’s beautiful Pieta, now behind glass every since a crazy man chipped off part of Mary’s nose…. Among the crowd are tourists busily snapping one photo after another, wandering around with heads always strained toward the ceiling, as well as nuns quietly experiencing the meaning of the place in silence. There is likely no more beautiful and ornate building on earth. However, I am no expert in this area as I have yet to see the Taj Mahal, Palace of Versailles and many other places, so much to see….
While staying in Sorrento, Italy we visited both the towns that were buried by Mount Vesuvius almost 2,000 years ago, Pompeii and Herculanium. The only train between Sorrento and Naples passes right by these excavations. Theese towns once had the ocean right at their doorstep but are now set back due to the massive amounts of volcanic ash and lava. The bright colors are striking. My photos show apparently I was impressed by the varied brick work and textures, but decided not to include those here.