Bel paese (meaning beautiful country in Italian) is definitely a great term for Italy. While most of the people visit Venice or Florence or Rome, I doubt that many have ventured to historical port city of Genoa. Perhaps you went on a cruise along the Mediterranean and you embarked on your cruise ship in Genoa? But did you roam its gritty streets and have you seen its baroque palaces and lively squares? Did you know that Genoa is the birthplace of Christopher Columbus and that it once was a powerful merchant republic just like Venice? It even shares its flag with England ( St. George’s flag). A part of the old town of Genoa is inscribed on the World Heritage List (UNESCO) which is just another reason you should visit Genoa one day. And no, this isn’t a sponsored post 🙂 I dare you to give Genoa a chance.
What better way to spend Sunday than by eating cakes in some of Trieste’s oldest cafes? My best friend M. and I went on a day trip to Trieste, Italy with the sole purpose of enjoying ourselves. There was no fixed agenda apart from our wish to visit several traditional cafes/ patisseries. It’s been a long time since I had fun in Trieste because I usually just use it for flights/ train connections. When I was a child we used to regularly go to Trieste.
Anyway, it was nice to just wander around the city center leisurely and to take in the beautiful architecture of Trieste. Very much like my hometown Trieste has more of a feel of a Central European city than a Mediterranean city. Trieste is an important Italian port and a significant university center (especially for languages) but it’s also the oldest town in Italy by the age of its inhabitants. It’s seen better days and a vivid memorial of that is its grand main square Piazza Unità d’Italia. But there are other beautiful buildings and squares too.
Florence isn’t my favourite Italian city. There, I said it. But it’s undoubtedly beautiful and immensely important for world culture. After all, it’s the birthplace of Renaissance and artists such as Michelangelo created some of their best masterpieces in Florence. Having said that, it’s no wonder than many people find Florence daunting and even overwhelming because of an abundance of must- see museums and art galleries filled with so many iconic sculptures and paintings. Florence is also one of those cities where the tourists outnumber the local population in the period of April to October. So choose your time of visit wisely. I’d suggest to either visit in the early Spring or in the late Autumn. Definitely avoid the summer when it’s too hot to walk around the city. If you’re a first time visitor then definitely focus more on squares and palaces and ice-cream than on museums. Unless, you’re a real culture vulture and you simply have to see the original statue of David in Galleria dell’ Accademia. And book your museum tickets online to avoid waiting in the queue. Even if you only have a day in Florence you can manage to see all of the most important sights I listed below.
So here’s the list of 5 unmissable sights in Florence
- Ponte Vecchio
The oldest bridge in Florence (1345) is also the most beautiful one. The Americans call it the Golden Bridge because of all the high-end jewellery shops on it. It’s always crowded and you should take care of your belongings while admiring all the costly jewellery. If you cross the bridge and go left you’ll reach the Palazzo Pitti and the serene Boboli Gardens. Over the bridge is the Vasari’s Corridor which connects the new Medici palace (Medici family ruled over Florence and Tuscany for centuries) of Palazzo Pitti with the old palace of Palazzo Vecchio. The newest addition to the bridge are the so-called love padlocks. To take the best photos of the bridge you have to either go to the bridge after or before the Ponte Vecchio bridge.
- Piazza della Signoria
Once the political center of the entire region and nowadays a hotspot for locals and tourist alike this gorgeous square is also a sort of museum in the open. The dominating feature of Piazza della Signoria is the medieval town hall of Palazzo della Signoria or Palazzo Vecchio. You can enter it for free but if you want to see the upstairs rooms you have to pay for the ticket. On the right side of the palace is the world-famous museum the Uffizi and on the corner is the Loggia dei Lanzi with a number of interesting sculptures. There are many important art pieces at this square including the copy of Michelangelo’s David (the original is in the Accademia). There’s also the Neptune Fountain and the Cosimo I Medici sculpture on a horse. Occasionally there’ll be some temporary modern sculpture or installation too. You’ll probably notice a round marble plaque on the floor in front of the Neptune fountain. That plaque marks the exact spot where the infamous Girolamo Savonarola was hanged and burned after he was finally captured. He used to organize Bonfires of the Vanities in the 15th century and burn books and artworks. There’s a water tap behind the Neptune’s fountain so you can fill in your water bottle. If you fancy a cup of pricey coffee you can choose one of the two historical cafes at the square.
Sirmione is a charming little Italian town on the Lake Garda. When it’s not overrun with day-trippers it offers tranquility and spa treatments at its many hotels. The symbol of Sirmione is the Scaliger castle (13th ct). You can climb its tower to get a nice view of the Lake Garda and the entire town. Once you cross the castle’s drawbridge you enter historical Sirmione. Another noteworthy attraction is the Grottoes of Catullus, the remains of a Roman private house, the largest such uncovered in the northern Italy. This villa is mentioned in the poems of the first famous resident of Sirmione who lived there in 1st century BC (the Roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus). There are several interesting small churches too. But the town’s claim to fame are its thermal springs. Many famous writers visited Sirmione such as Alfred Tennyson, Ezra Pound and James Joyce. I shouldn’t forget to mention the famous Italian writers Giosuè Carducci and Antonio Fogazzaro who wrote about Sirmione as well as the notorious Gabriele D’Annunzio who found the short-lived Italian Regency of Carnaro in Fiume (Rijeka, Croatia) with himself as the Fascist leader. English writer Naomi Jacob made Sirmione her home. One of the best opera singers of all times had a villa here too: Maria Callas.
What do you do when you’ve already been to a place several times and you’ve got some time to kill? Recently I found myself again in Florence because of work and I had no idea what to do with a couple of hours of free time. I had lunch and absolutely no plans for my free afternoon. So I just kept walking when I left the restaurant. I wasn’t really walking in the unknown direction because I have actually walked down that street previously but after a couple of turns I saw something new in the distance. A grey tower. I came closer and saw that it was the oldest Anglican church in Florence. How funny that I manage to find English things wherever I go. 🙂
But I didn’t remember the name of the church and when I tried to find it on Google for the purpose of this post I couldn’t. There wasn’t such church on the map and when I googled Anglican church in Florence the search engine gave me a different result. After quite a bit of the research I found my mystery church. It is the Holy Trinity church which was acquired by the Waldesians in 1967. It was the first Anglican church in Florence built in the first half of the nineteenth century by Domenico Giraldi. Only fifty years later the English expat community of Florence decided to rebuilt the church in an English perpendicular style to designs by George Frederick Bodley. There are statues of St John the Baptist, King David, St Alban, St Augustine, St Stephen, St George, St Andrew and St Patrick on the grey church tower. The main English church today is St Mark’s English Church.
After admiring the marble statues of the saints on the church tower I crossed the street and saw a park and thought that I might sit there for a while and enjoy the sunshine. But this park wasn’t actually an ordinary park; it was the Botanical garden of Florence and so I decided to visit it. The entry cost me only 3 euros. I walked around the botanical garden, sat and soaked up the sun and then explored some more. In the end I decided to take some photos with my phone and maybe write a few words about it for my travel blog :).
Falling in love is a mysterious process over which we do not have any control. Whether you fall in love with a person, an animal, a book or a city it’s very difficult to explain what was it that attracted you in the first place. My faithful readers know how crazy I am about London but can you guess what’s my favourite Italian city?
I have been fortunate enough to have travelled widely around Italy. I got lost in Venice. I got annoyed by tourists in Florence. I ate chocolate in Turin. I wandered around Milan. I was surprised by Naples. I admired the Pantheon in Rome. And I’ve visited many many other Italian cities and villages. But there’s only one where I can imagine myself living. Only one that stole my heart all those years ago. That city is BOLOGNA. The city famous for its gastronomy and the red roofs and the oldest university in Europe (1088) and the leftist politics.
It might come to you as a surprise but luxurious Ferrari cars have nothing to do with the town of Ferrara. Ferrari cars are actually made in another Italian town: Maranello. Unlike some other cities (Florence I’m talking about you!), Ferrara is still a peaceful town undisturbed by hordes of tourists. There’s a lunch break for a lot of shops and bars and restaurants which means that if you want to buy something, at let’s say 2 pm, tough luck, the shop will be closed! Italians need their lunch (and afternoon nap!) more than your money.
Where is Ferrara? It’s in the region Emilia-Romagna, some 50 km from Bologna. It’s also 150 km from Florence and 111 km from Venice, if you’re contemplating a day trip. Ferrara is famous for its Renaissance town planning which has earned it a place on UNESCO World Heritage List.
What can you see in Ferrara?
Castello Estense: This red brick castle dates from the 14th century and it was once an opulent residence of the noble Este family. It’s right in the center of Ferrara and you can walk freely into it, but if you want to explore its rooms you have to pay an entrance fee. The tourist office, as well as public toilets, are in the castle’s courtyard.