Torino…il Setmeravelles

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Although my time in Turín was short, I was able to see most on the list. The rest can be for another visit, whenever that may be! Aunque no tenía mucho tiempo en Turín, podía ver la mayoría de las cosas en la lista. Lo demás se puede ver en otra visita…¡aunque no sé cuando será!

Mole Antonelliana

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The famous tower of Turin was originally built as a synagogue and completed in 1889. The city of Torino bought it before completion to use as a symbol of unity. It is 167.5 metres high (541 feet) and once was the highest work of masonry in Europe. The lift/elevator costs 7€.  “Mole” in Italiano means “building of monumental proportions”.  El torre famoso de Turín era construido como una sinagoga, terminado en 1889. La ciudad de Torino lo compró antes de terminar construcción para usar como un símbolo de unidad. Tiene 167,5 metros de altura y erase una vez la obra de albañilería más alta de Europa. El ascensor cuesta 7€. “Mole” en italiano significa “edificio de proporciones monumentales.” 

Museo Nazionale del Cinema

The National Museum of Cinema located at Mole Antonelliana (tickets 10€, combined entrance lift and museum are 14€) is a must-see for film fans. It shows the history of cinema and houses a lot of memorabilia, especially from Italian cinema, through the ages, including the cape Christopher Reeve wore as Superman. El Museo Nacional de Cine está ubicado al base de Mole Antonelliana. Las entradas cuestan 10€, y una entrada combinada de ascensor y museo cuesta 14€). Si eres aficionado del cine, hay que visitarlo. Muestra la historia del cine y tiene muchas cosas de la historia del cinema, especialmente el cine italiano. Tambien tiene la capa del Superman de Christopher Reeve. 

Piazza di Castello

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The square or plaza is located in the centre of the city and houses an old castle and two palaces, the Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace) and Palazzo Madama. At Christmas, the piazza houses a advent calendar and the city Christmas tree next to a big Christmas market. La plaza más conocida de Turín está situado en el centro de la ciudad. Hay un castillo antiguo y dos palacios, el Palazzo Reale (Palacio Real) y Palazzo Madama. En Navidades, la piazza también tiene un calendario del Adviento grande y el árbol de Navidad de la ciudad a lado de un mercado navideño. 

Holy Shroud

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The Shroud of Turin is believed to be the shroud Jesus was buried in, although the Catholic Church has never confirmed or denied this belief. The actual shroud is kept beneath the cathedral in a vault and is only shown at certain times.  La Sábana Santa es pensada por muchos ser la sábana del entierro de Jesús, aunque la Iglesia Católica nunca lo ha confirmado ni ha denegado. La Sábana real es guardado en una cripta abajo de la catedral y solo se puede ver en épocas ciertas. 

Superga

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Overlooking the city of Torino on a hill lies the Basilica de Superga.  It was built in the 18th century for Victor Amadeus II of Savoy on the hill of Superga, 672 metres (2204 feet) tall. The train from Sassi to Superga adds to the adventure. Mirando desde arriba a la ciudad de Torino en un monte es la Basilica de Superga. Fue construido en el Siglo XVIII por Víctor Amadeus II de Savoy en el monte de Superga (672 metros de altura). El “trenino” desde Sassi a Superga también es divertido. 

Il Po (ed il 3 più fiume)

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The River Po is the most famous of the four rivers that flow through Turin, and the River Po Park is one of the most famous parks in the city. The other rivers (Dora Riparia), Stura di Lanzo and Sangone are tributaries of Po.  El Río Po es el río más famoso de los cuatro ríos de Turín, y el Parque del Po es una de los parques más conocidos de la ciudad. Los otros ríos (Dora Riparia, Stura di Lanzo y Sangone) son tributarios del Po. 

Parco del Valentino

The Valentino Park is the most popular park in Turin. Opened in 1856, it’s the second largest park in Turin and is the home of the Castello del Valentino and a medieval village. El Parque Valentino es el parque más popular de Turín y fue abierto en 1856. Es la segunda parque en tamaño de la ciudad y se encuentra el Castello del Valentino y otro castillo y un pueblo medieval allí. 

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A weekend (sorta) in Turin.

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My mom told me she was giving me 100€ to do a trip on my birthday. I had planned, before this announcement, to do a weekend in Barcelona and the Catalán Pyrenees. My mind was changed by this gift, and I looked at three cities with roughly the same RyanAir prices: Turin, Cologne and Hamburg. The return flight straight to Valencia from Turin made me go ahead and choose Turin. I wish I would have had more time. Mi madre me dijo que iba a darme 100€ para hacer un viaje el fin de semana de mi cumpleaños. Antes, había planificado un fin de semana en Barcelona y los Pirineos Catalanes. Este regalo me cambió la mente, y investigué tres ciudades que tenía más o menos el mismo precio de vuelos de Ryan Air: Turín, Colonia y Hamburgo. Había un vuelo de vuelto a Valencia desde Turin con un buen horario, y por eso elegí Turín. Ojalá tuviera más tiempo.

Turin, or Torino in Italiano, is a city of 892,649 residents (metropolitan area of 2.2 million) in northwest Italy close to the Alps. It was home of the 2006 Winter Olympics and was Italy’s first capital city in 1861. It’s home of the FIAT automobile headquarters and the famous Italian football (soccer for the Yanks) team Juventus.  Four rivers flow through the city, and it dates back to ancient times when it was attacked by Hannibal in 218 BC. (not Lector, of course). Turín, o Torino en italiano, es una ciudad de 892.659 habitantes (area metropolitana de 2,2 millones) en el noroeste de Italia cerca a los Alpes. Los Juegos Olímpicos del Invierno en 2006 tuvieron lugar allá y Turín era la primera capital de Italia en 1861. La sede de FIAT está allí, y el equipo famoso de fútbol, el Juventus, juega en Turín. Hay cuatros ríos en la ciudad, y su historia es grande e incluso incluye ataques de Aníbal en el año 218 a.C. (Desde luego, no era Hanibal Lector.) 

The Cattredale di San Giovanni Battista (St. John the Baptist Cathedral) is home of the Shroud of Turin, which is believed by many to be the shroud Jesus was buried in. The Cathedral itself was built between 1491 and 1498, whereas the Chapel of the Holy Shroud was built 200 years later, between 1668 and 1694.

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Dentro de la Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista (la Catedral de San Juan Bautista) se encuentra la Sábana Santa, la sábana en cual el Jesús Cristo era enterrado. La Catedral fue construida entre los años 1491 y 1498,  y la Capilla de la Sábana Santa fue construido unos 200 años después, entre 1668 y 1694. 

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My trip began with a night in Barcelona. I often fly out of Barcelona because I love the city and take any advantage I can find to spend time there. I don’t think I’d be happy living there, but I am happy travelling there whenever possible. After a night out on the town to celebrate my upcoming birthday, I spent Saturday morning at the Santa Llucia Christmas market near the Cathedral and took a stroll along the beach, because December. El viaje empezó con una noche en Barcelona. Muchas veces vuelo desde el Prat para tener una excusa visitar la ciudad que me encanta tanto. Creo que no estaría feliz viviendo allá, pero estoy contento viajar allí cuando pueda. Después de una noche celebrando mi próximo cumpleaños, pasé la mañana de sábado en el mercado de Navidad de Santa Llucia a lado de la Catedral y fui por un paseo por la playa, porque diciembre…

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I caught Rodalies/Cercanías train to Terminal 2 at Prat and survived another Ryan Air flight. The bus from Torino’s airport (one of my least favourite airports now!) costs 6.50€ one-way as of December 2016 and takes about 40-50 minutes to Torino Porta Nuovo train station. I had no problems finding it and even had time for a quick dinner. Cogí el Rodalies/Cercanías hasta Terminal 2 en el Prat y sobreviví otro vuelo de Ryan Air. El autobus desde el aeropuerto de Torino Caselle tarda 6,50€ (en diciembre de 2016) y tarda unos 40-50 minutos para llegar a la estación de trenes Porto Nuovo. No tenía problemas encontrar el autobus y tenía tiempo de sobra para cenar. 

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I stayed at a nice AirBNB about a 20 minute bus-ride (40 minutes walking) from the city centre (Piazza Castello). Sunday morning, I awoke bright and early to take advantage of the day. My first stop was the Piazza Castello, a beautiful square in the heart of Turin with an old castle and a few palaces. There was another Christmas market there, and I enjoyed practicing my rusty Italian. Me alojé en un AirBNB a unos 20 minutos por autobus desde el centro (Piazza Castello), 40 minutos andando. El domingo por la mañana me desperté para aprovechar del día. La primera parada era la Piazza Castello, una plaza bonito en el pleno centro de Turín con un castillo y unas palacios. Había otro mercado navideño allí, y disfruté practicar il mio italiano cutre. 

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Next was a cappuccino and croissant on the busy shopping street, Vía Garibaldi, which the Torinese say is the longest shopping street in Europe. I went to the Cathedral to see the Shroud before finding the famous Museo Nazionale di Cinema and the Mole Antonelliana. I should’ve bought my tickets online, as there was a queue over an hour long to buy tickets. Since my time in Turin was short, I decided not to go and went for a nice stroll along the river instead. The Fiume Po had some nice sights of Torino. Después, tomé un cappuccino y cruasán en la calle famosa de compras, Vía Garibaldí, que según los de Turín, es la calle de compras más larga de Europa. Fui a la catedral para ver la Sábana Santa antes de encontrar el famoso Museo Nazionale di Cinema y la Mole Antonelliana. Había una cola larguísima (más de una hora). Os aviso, mejor comprar las entradas por internet. Como no tenía mucho tiempo en Turín, elegí dar un paseo por el río en lugar de ir al museo y subir el torre. La Ría Po tiene bonitas vistas de Torino. 

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I had an early for me (I’m mostly Spanish now!) lunch around 1:30 PM. It was some mediocre lasagna. It was near Mole Antonelliana and was named King’s. My fault for choosing a touristy place, but I have had better lasagna from Mercadona. Comí pronto, sobre las 13.30. Era lasagna mediocre cerca de Mole Antonelliana y el restaurante era King’s. La culpa era mía como elegí un restaurante en un sitio turístico, pero para ser sincero, he probado mejor lasagna de Mercadona. 

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I wanted to eat lunch early so I could make my way to Sassi to catch the Trenino a Superga, a basilica on the Superga mount overlooking Torino that has, on a clear day, great views of the city. It wasn’t so clear, but I saw some beautiful views of the Alps! Quería comer pronto para ir a Sassi para coger el Trenino a Superga, una basilica en el monte Superga a lado de Torino que, en días asoleados, tiene vistas bonitas de la ciudad. El día era algo nublado, pero vi vistas preciosas de los Alpes. 

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The train leaves Sassi every hour on the hour and returns from Superga on the half hour. It’s a blast to the past train, and the basilica, built between 1717 and 1731, is beautiful. There is also a crypt for members of the royal Savoy family. I was more interested in the views of the Alps. I can finally say I’ve seen the Alps. El tren sale de Sassi cada hora y vuelva de Superga en la media hora. El tren es un viaje por tiempo, y la basilica, construida durante 1717 y 1731, es hermosa. También hay una cripta de la Familia Real Savoy. Me interesaban más las vistas de los Alpes. Por fin puedo decir que he visto los Alpes. 

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After returning to Turin, I walked back along Via Garbaldi back to where I was staying, and I had a pizza dinner at Gustaso which was good at a decent price and not as touristy. Después de volver a Turín, caminé por Via Garbaldi hasta donde me alojé y cené una pizza en Gustaso. Buen precio y no era muy turístico. 

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Monday morning (my birthday!), I went for a last meander through the centre of Torino, taking Via Roma to the Porto Nuovo train station to catch the bus back to the airport. I was sad to leave after such a great trip. Lunes por la mañana, el día de mi cumple, fuí al centro para un último paseo por el centro de Torino, y después fui por Vía Roma hasta la estación de Porto Nuovo para coger el autobus al aeropuerto. Me entristecí despedirme de la ciudad después de un buen viaje. 

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As the year is coming to an end, and my planned hikes for the upcoming weekend might be ruined by rain (but when this posts, it will be the past weekend, whoaaaa), I am counting the long walk along the Barceloneta beach as hike number 37/40. Easy walking along the beach for as long as possible! The walk around Superga is hike #38. With the walking I did in Torino city, it would definitely count for the kilometres. Como este año va acabando, y las rutas que tenía planificado para este fin de semana va a estar estropeados por una “gota fría” (aunque cuando publiqué la entrada ya será el fin de semana pasada…wuuuuaaa), voy a contar la ruta por la playa de Barcelona como Ruta #37/40.  Era una ruta super fácil por la playa. Como hice una ruta pequeña por Superga, eso será Ruta #38. Como caminé mucho en la ciudad de Turín, cuenta por los kilometros hechos. 

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I didn’t have enough time in Turin, that’s for sure. I would’ve enjoyed the nearby Valle de Aosta even more. I made the best of a short trip and saw what I could. If/when I return, it will be to make it a home base to explore a great region of Italia. No tenía tiempo suficiente en Turín. Me habría encantando la cercana Valle de Aosta aún más. Hice lo pude durante un viaje corto y vi lo que pude. Cuando vuelva, será para hacer como un base para explorar una región bonita de Italia. 

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(Hikes 37-38/40. KM walked unsure.)

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Nature Photo Challenge Day 3. Cinque Terre.

I was challenged to post one nature photo everyday for a week by Living the Q Life. I nominate anyone who wants to do it. Living the Q Life me ha dado el reto para subir una foto de naturaleza todos los días durante una semana. A cualquier persona que quiere participar puede hacerlo. 

Day three is from my favourite place in Italia, Cinque Terre. Although I was surrounded by tourists everywhere, I was able to break away to find some peace and quiet. Día tres es de mi sitio preferido en Italia, Cinque Terre (Los 5 tierras). Aunque había más turistas que en Valencia durante Fallas, pude encontrar un poco de tranquilidad.

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Italia. Les Set Meravelles

I have been to Italia four times now (you can read about them here, here, here, here, here and here), and four trips have not done much to quench my thirst for exploring this country. I know I have a few more trips left in me to the bel paese, as I have to discover Sicilia and the south, Naples and Pompeii, Capri, Cerdeña (Sardinia in English) and its Catalan-speaking villages, Torino (Turin), Genoa, Bologna, Lago di Como, the country of San Marino…the list goes on and on.

However, in the four trips, I have managed to see quite a lot. It’s going to be hard, and I know as if I get to continue exploring these jewel of a country, these are apt to change.

So without any further ado…the Set Meravelles of Italia. I’m limiting myself to only two in Rome as if not, they might all be in Rome, which isn’t even my favourite Italian city! All of these are pretty touristy, I must admit. But they are all touristy for a reason! I’m just going to cheat and say the entire cities, as it’s hard to settle on just seven. And my beloved Fontana di Trevi is undergoing some reconstruction right now. I had to mention it as I am in love with that fountain, but it didn’t make the list this time.

Set Meravelles

Il Colosseo (Roma)

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The Colosseum of Rome is one of the most famous monuments in the world. It was the biggest Colosseum and could seat between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators. It was named a New Wonder of the World in 2007 by the New Open World Corporation. Over the years, the damage has been done by earthquakes and stone robbers. It is well worth the 13€ I paid in 2008, and I’m sure it’s even more expensive now.

Vatican City (Roma)

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The Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s (San Pietro) Basilica are just two of the things to see in the Vatican. I was lucky enough to attend the Misa de Gallo (Midnight Mass in Spanish) in 2008 with the third best Pope in my life (there have been three Popes in my lifetime), which was an experience in itself. The Sistine Chapel is well worth the winding walk through the Vatican Museums, as it took my breath away. I did not take any pictures there.

Il Duomo (Milano)

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The Cathedral of Milan, dedicated to St. Mary of the Nativity, is a major architectural achievement. It’s the fifth largest church in the world and largest church in Italy and took over 600 years to finish (It was finally finished in 1965). While in Milano, also check out the painting of The Last Supper, but make sure you buy your tickets in advance. The tale of this famous painting is quite interesting, as the church it is in was heavily bombed during World War II, yet the wall it is on survived. Milano also has some famous fashion designers I hear…

Venezia

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Venice, the city of the canals, is located in 117 islands on the east coast of Italy. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The population is 260,000, but only 60,000 live in the area with the canals. Recent years have brought lots of flooding, and the city is said to be sinking. They are losing a lot of their art unfortunately. The day I went, I nearly froze to death. Fa freddo da cane, as the Italians say (It makes the cold of the dog, or it’s dog cold I guess.) I’d like to return to explore the romantic city again one day. But there are more pressing things to do at the moment.

Verona

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Oh, fair Verona, how beautiful you are, with your own colosseum, your Adige River, your House of Capulet, how you impressed me with everything you are. The city of 265,000 (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) is often ignored by tourists for more popular destinations, which is a blessing for me (fewer people!) and a curse (people are missing out!) It’s one of my favourite cities I’ve been to ever.

Firenze

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The famous Florence, which in While You Were Sleeping, protagonist Lucy dreamed of one day visiting, has so much to offer. Picturesque monuments, famous statues and incredible sunsets, and usually under the Tuscan sun. 379,000 habitants are lucky to call this beautiful city home. The historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cinque Terre

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Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggiore. Some of the most spectacular coastline and mountains with these five unique villages mean another UNESCO World Heritage site. While you may no longer be able to have a tranquil Italian experience here, you can still find some peace and quiet on the lesser-known trails and no matter where you go in this National Park, you’re going to see beautiful sights. Bella Italia, grazie mille!

Italia IV part IV. Firenze and its spectacular sunset.

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Firenze

After Pisa, Cinque Terre and Lucca, it was time to hit the last city of my four-day tour of Tuscany/Cinque Terre and go back to one of my favourite cities I’ve ever been to, Firenze (Florence). I had been in 2008, so I had already seen the statue of the David, Ponte Vecchio, il Duomo and all the other amazing things Florence has to offer. It left me wanting more, of course, which is why I based my trip out of Florence.

The Tuscan capital has 379,000 people but feels much bigger, maybe due to all the tourists. It was the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and today boasts many important sculptures and paintings. For those of us who aren’t artistically minded, the city itself is beautiful and located in a valley with mountains and hills all around. The Arno River flows through the city centre, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was also home to the powerful and famous Medici family.

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Il Duomo

I went without much planned. I had wanted to go to Sienna and San Gimignano, but I was tired of the train changing and needed to rest a bit, so those towns will have to wait for another trip. I arrived to Florence around 17:00 (5 PM) and checked into my pension close to the train station. Arriving in the Santa Maria Novella train station is a chaotic adventure, with trains arriving and taking off to destinations all over the boot peninsula.

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Ponte Vecchio

I found my way back to the Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio, the Piazza della Signora, the Palazzo Pitti and all the amazing monuments I had seen in 2008. I admired the outside replica of the Davide statue (the real one is inside the Galleria della Academia) and the Fountain of Neptune for a bit before deciding to make my way to the Piazza de Michelangelo for the sunset.

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Il Davide, Piazza della Signora

I was not the only one who had this idea, but this time I was able to shrug off the tourists and enjoy one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen. It ranks right up there with Mirador de San Nicolas in Granada and Cabo Sounion in Greece.

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Sunset over Florence from Piazza Michelangelo

I had an expensive risotto and wine for dinner before getting some rest. The bed was not comfortable, and it ended up affecting my back (it still hurts nearly a week later!). I slept though and woke up without any major plan. I went looking for Il Porcellino, the famous boar statue that tradition says if you rub its snout and drop a coin from its mouth, and the coin lands in the grates, you will have good luck and come back to Florence. It looks like my luck may finally be changing, and also that this was not my last visit to Florence.

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Il Porcellino

After strolling along the Arno a while and having a great cappuccino in a café named for one of my favourite writers, Hemingway, I found a place in my Spanish tour guide for Florence called Fiesole in the hills near Florence. I took off after a quick stop in the market near San Lorenzo.

To arrive at Fiesole, I had to take a bus from Piazza de San Marco (number 7), and about 20 minutes later, I was in this incredible village 8 kilometres outside the city centre. The return trip is when I learned that buying a bus ticket on board the bus will cost more. Be warned!

The village has spectacular views of the amazing city of Florence along with a Roman theatre (which I didn’t have time or money to visit unfortunately, too many risotti and Chianti!) I visited an old church and admired the beautiful vistas. It was a great break from the tourists. Although the village is pretty famous for its views, during my visit, it was quite peaceful. I finally found the peace and quiet I was looking for.

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Views from Fiesole

As I had to catch a 3:40 AM bus to the airport in Pisa, I didn’t really have a chance to explore the nightlife of Florence this time around. I would love to share this city with a boyfriend one day and tour all of Tuscany with a car. The return to Spain went without a hitch, although my penance for arriving early at the Pisa airport was met with hurry up and wait as the plane left from a gate beyond passport control. Fortunately we just had to wait and not go through customs as this is European Union and my passport and NIE had been seen by the Ryan Air clerk who stamped my ticket at check-in. Flying is such a pain, but travelling is always worth it.

I average a trip to Italia every 2.5 years, so it’ll probably be 2017 or so for my next trip. I am hoping for Naples, Pompeii, Capri and/or Sicilia. Turin and Genoa are also options. There is so much to see in this amazing country.

That said…I still believe the Iberian peninsula, with Spain (and Euskadi and Catalunya), Andorra and Portugal is the greatest peninsula in the world.

Italia does give Iberia some fierce competition though.

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Fiume Arno

Italia IV. Lucca and a fight over dogs.

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Duomo di Lucca

All good things come to an end, and on Monday morning, I had to say ciao ciao to Cinque Terre. I was sad to say goodbye to the villages and the area, but not sad to say goodbye to the somehow increasing number of tourists. Somehow there were more tourists in Cinque Terre then there had been in Pisa with its Leaning Tower.

I caught the 8:53 train to La Spezia to change trains to one to Viareggio to change to another train to Lucca. If I had more time, I would’ve spent it exploring these towns after another day of hiking Cinque Terre. However, I had to make the most out of my four days there, so it was on to Lucca.

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One of Lucca’s many churches

Today, Lucca has a population 87,000. The Piazza San Michele is located on the former site of the Roman forum, and the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro still has traces of the amphitheatre (and has a circular shape). In 56 BC Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus formed the First Triumvirate in Lucca. Lucca is the birthplace of Puccini. The place is filled with history.

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One of the many churches in Lucca

I left my luggage at the train station for 4€ so I could explore more easily. A bit expensive (considering the fact last month I did the same thing in Burgos for 1€), but Italians know how to make money off tourists, so I paid it without complaining. It was a well spent 4€ to maneuver through the city.

A quick cappuccino (had to get it in before 11:oo) before going under the wall to the city centre. Lucca is famous for its medieval walls and for having a ton of churches. As I always prefer God’s architecture to man’s, I didn’t really keep track of which church was which and only looked at the map to make sure I was seeing everything there was to see. Which was a lot.

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The medieval walls

After wandering the streets a while, I spent some time sitting on a bench resting and writing in my personal travel journal near the walls and a parking lot/car park (only residents can drive within the walls and everyone else must park outside). It was about 14ºC (57.2ºF), and someone had left their poor German Shepherd dog in the car in the shade. Some woman asked me (in Italian, of course), if it was mine, and I was like “No, non è il mio cane” (although I do live with a German Shepherd). She went off on the indignities of leaving a dog in a car (which I do agree with, of course). She finally got bored of waiting for the car’s owner to show up. A few minutes later, they did, and another woman appeared out of nowhere to yell at them. This lead to a screaming match in Italian. It was like my own little Fellini film right before my eyes. They then tried to bring me into it, and with my rusty Italian, I explained I had just been there five minutes and could not say how long the dog had been in the car. I just wanted to play with the dog. The moral of the story is…don’t leave dogs in cars!

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Piazza dell’Anfiteatro di Lucca

I had my token lunch of pizza (I only eat pizza in Italia nowadays, and only once during the trip! Silly diet and trying to eat healthy) found my way to the famous Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, which I really enjoyed. Spain has some amazing plazas, so it takes a lot to impress me now. Piazza dell’Anfiteatro succeeded. I really liked the bar that advertised a husband day-care centre and reminded people that every time you tip a bartender, a Justin Beiber fan catches a cold, so tip your bartender. (With the coperto, tips aren’t needed in Italia as they’re already getting paid just for you sitting down in most estabalishments).

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Wives and some gay husbands, a new service for you!

 

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Ojalá…I wish.

I had my gelato and walked along the wall a bit more, admiring the views of Tuscany. I wish I had had more time to explore. Alas, my reservation was in Firenze (Florence), so I knew I should be wrapping up my visit to Lucca. I had bought my souvenirs in the morning from a cart selling post cards and other Lucca Memorabila in the piazza near the Cathedral, so I was good to go. I said “ciao” to all the beautiful towers and churches and headed back toward the train station. There was a train around the half hour of every hour connecting Lucca to Florence. I settled down on the train to study some italiano and admire the beauty of the scenery around me…wondering what would await me in my second visit to Florence.

A continuación…

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Under the Tuscan sun…

Italia IV. Le Cinque Terre

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Le Cinque Terre been on my bucket list for the past several years, ever since someone first told me about it. In my mind, I had planned on a nice, peaceful holiday hiking near these five villages built in the mountains on the Ligurian Sea not far from Genoa. Nature, mountains and sea.

As the train from Pisa, where I had spent the first part of the day, arrived in La Spezia and the rain stopped, I began to get excited. I changed trains in La Spezia. As the train pulled into the station in Riomaggiore, the first of the Cinque Terre…my heart sank and my anxiety levels raised as the hordes of tourists began to fight each other to board the train.

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Corniglia

I’m not talking about a few tourists. I’m talking Times Square on New Year’s Eve style tourists. Everywhere I went, it was English-only. As an English teacher and lifelong student of Spanish, when in Spain, when I am not working, I just don’t want to hear the language at all. The same goes for Italia. I was expecting and prepared for a ton of tourists in Pisa and later in Florence. I was NOT expecting so many in Cinque Terre as the majority of people I have met had no clue that this place existed. I did my best to make Aquarius Limón (I don’t like lemonade) out of lemons, but I did have a panic attack from all the people on Sunday afternoon unfortunately.

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This is a break in the tourists. They were usually in Times Square NYE masses. (Monterosso)

The thing is though…Cinque Terre is incredibly beautiful.

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Corniglia

I did my best to ignore the tourists as I got off at the train station in Corniglia. I made my way to the hostel, which for being a hostel, had nice facilities, I have to admit. I was not happy when people were talking at 2 in the morning or when people were snoring either. I may have to rethink this whole Camino de Santiago thing! (A joke).

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Even in Italia, I can find these arrrows.

I showered and went off exploring Corniglia, the one village not directly on the sea. I had my daily gelato (I only eat ice cream and pizza when in Italia now and yet still do not have a six-pack) and meandered through the village. I walked down to the sea, and then found the “closed” trail to Vernazza.

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Vernazza

A 2011 flood left the Cinque Terre damaged, and several trails of the famous Blue Trail remain closed four years later. This trail isn’t gated off, and many more seasons hikers brave it. I was one of them, and I found a lot less tourists. (I only went as I saw people ahead of me doing it!) The trail was incredibly beautiful, and I had the added bonus of it being sunset.

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Sunset

I arrived at Vernazza an hour later. I think Vernazza is my favourite of the villages. It has a castle and has a more rugged, medieval feel. I was looking for something quick for dinner as I bought the train ticket back, and for some reason, thought it mattered what time I went back. I could’ve taken a later one, but oh well.

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Vernazza

Being the night before Easter, they had mass at 10 p.m. in Corniglia, and the adults left the children out to make a small bonfire.

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Selfie time

Sunday I woke up from a restless night of sleep (hostels as I previously said) and went to my new favourite café in Corniglia for my morning cappuccino (don’t drink it after 11:00! Sure, they’ll serve it to the tourists, but Italians don’t drink it after 11:00. Remember the saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do?” Rome is Italia!). The waiter let me practice my rusty Italian with him. I then went to the train station to buy my official Cinque Terre pass for the trains and hiking trails (12,50) and caught the train to Vernazza and went to the castle, which was not included in the pass and cost 1,50€.

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Castle

I then set off for Monterosso al Mare, waiting a bit for a large tourist group to pass. As I walked through the natural wonders (many waterfalls, plus the sea and mountains), I had to stop many, many times for large groups of tourists to pass by.

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Waterfall between Vernazza e Monterosso

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Arriving in Monterosso

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A bridge

I had lunch in Monterosso (lasagna) and played with some cute puppies. They’re so much friendlier than Basque dogs.

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Man’s Best Friend

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Ciao!

I meandered the streets for a bit before having my gelato and then a walk along the beach, then I caught the train to the first village, Riomaggiore. I was getting tired of the tourists everywhere and looked for quiet, tranquil places. An espresso macchiato improved my mood slightly, and a fresh bottle of water helped even more.

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Riomaggiore (Creo)

I found my way down to some rocks on the water to allow the sea to sooth my nerves. I also found some horrible English. Sea storm case! What did the sea storm do, pray tell? (I’m already going to hell anyway!) I went up to the church to admire the views of the village from above.

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I’m taking the sea storm to court

The Lover’s Trail was still undergoing repairs, so I waited for an increasingly delayed train in the increasingly number of people to catch the train to Manarola, the last village for me.

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Riomaggiore

Manarola I explored quickly, as I had to recover from a panic attack while waiting for the train. Meh. It was also beautiful. I decided to take the alternate route through the mountains back to Corniglia instead of risking the train. The main trail between Manarola and Corniglia was closed, so the other trail went through some steep mountains and the town of Volastra. It was nearing sunset, which provided me with some more awesome views. Part of the trail went through someone’s front lawn. I felt bad about that one, but I suppose they would be used to it. There were some stray hikers, but they were the people looking for a more peaceful time, like myself. I arrived back at Corniglia exhausted but satisfied with the trip.

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Waterfall between Vernazza and Monterosso

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Manarola

 

In the end, I loved Cinque Terre. I do wish I had gone in February though when there would’ve been colder temperatures but fewer people. I’m not sure what the solution is, but I know these precious villages are not meant for mass tourism. I can only imagine what it’s like in the summer if Easter was this crowded. However, I cannot deny the beauty of the Cinque Terre and surrounding landscape and understand why it is so popular.

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Sunset

I tried my best to get some sleep, and I slept better. After one last cappuccino in my fave café, I checked out and went down the staircase from Corniglia to the train station one last time to catch the train to Lucca…

A continuación…and sorry for any formatting issues. I’ve spent two hours working on trying to make it perfect, but I’m not perfect, so neither is this blog! All my html skills are from 2003 🙂

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Manarola (creo)

Italia IV Part 1: A return to Pisa and a tower climbed.

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El Torre de Pisa

Italia is a place that keeps calling me back time and time again. I just got back from my fourth trip there in the seven years I’ve been living in Europe. I’m not sure whether it’s the culture, the food, the natural beauty or what, but I always leaving wanting more.

This Semana Santa, I spent my time frolicking in Tuscany and the Cinque Terre. I’ve been with very spotty wifi that has kept me from updating the blog LIVE as I had been planning on doing. Better late than never.

On Friday, April 3, I caught a BlaBlaCar (a car ride share service that connects people in need of a ride with those of a car and *is* still legal) from Bilbao to Madrid. Everything went fine with the flight, although my bags were both a little bit bigger than the Ryan Air requirements. Don’t tell anyone. Upon arrival in Pisa, I was a bit disheartened to see that the weather forecast was right. Cloudy and overcast skies, as if I hadn’t left Bilbao. Where was the Tuscan Sun promised me by Diane Lane movies changing everything about a memoir? I had a quick cappuccino at the airport and bought a bus ticket before catching the bus right before it was pulling out. (This was a theme for my entire trip, it seemed).

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Pisa

For those who haven’t been to Italia, you should always buy bus tickets from the tobacco shops as they will be much cheaper than those bought on board the bus. I would later find that out on my last day in Florence, but that’s a spoiler for an upcoming entry. The bus took me to the centre of Pisa, where it’s one claim to fame, a leaning tower, can be found. The ticket I had bought online for 18€ was for 13.30 (1:30 PM), so I had an early lunch to kill some time. I had been in Pisa in 2008, my very first trip to Italia, but I had never climbed the tower. After lunch, the rain started. As you can’t take bags up the tower, I was more than happy to leave my luggage at the luggage desk. I took the obligatory supporting the Tower photo again as the skies opened and the rain came down.

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Puedo aguantar el Torre.

My umbrella did little to protect me as I stood in line, waiting for 13:30 to roll around. I practiced a little of my rusty Italian with the guard, who was quite pleased to help me with it. As people came out, he punched my ticket and let the 13:30 group in. A tour guide explained a brief history of the tower in Italian, then in English, before letting us free to climb the 300-odd stairs to the top.

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Catedral

The top is open, and my umbrella continued to fail to protect me from the torrential rains. I should consider myself lucky they didn’t close it. The views of the surrounding Tuscan landscapes astonished me, and I can only imagine how beautiful it would be in the sunshine. Diane Lane movies lie. Okay, there was that scene where the winds went through and the house got wet, which was exactly how this storm was.

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From the tower

I took a ton of photos. You don’t notice that you’re in a tower that’s leaning while you’re in it, which is part of the mystery of this tower. (And it is not made of pizza. My students believe it’s the Tower of Pizza!)

I bought a bus ticket back and arrived just as the bus to the train station 2 kilometres away (easily walkable for me if it weren’t raining and I didn’t have my luggage for a week away from home). I arrived at the train station, soaked to the bone and most of my luggage too, with five minutes to buy my ticket before the next train left for La Spezia and onto Corniglia…one of the Cinque Terre.

A continuación…..(to be continued in Spanish

Italia, La Dolce Vita (Parte 2 di 2)

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As anyone who has visited Italy can attest, one trip is never enough. After my first visit in 2008, I had to return as soon as possible. I took a day off work for a four-day weekend in January 2010 to explore more of Rome.

While Rome will never fall on a list of my top 25 cities I’d want to live in due to the constant chaos of people everywhere, I must say that the second visit was more enjoyable than the first. For one, I wasn’t spending my first Christmas away from my mom back in the States. For another, I was able to focus on Rome. Thanks to Ryan Air, I had an all too-early flight, but it was worth it when the plane arrived at Roma Ciampiano. I was back in Italia for more pizza, pasta, gelato and practising Italiano.

One of the first things I did was a return visit to the Vaticano to see the St. Peter Basilica without being rushed in and out during a Midnight Mass. I was impressed with the architecture and beauty of it all. While I am in general opposed to the Church using money to build extravagant churches instead of helping the poor, I have to say that the basilica left me astonished. I may not have felt the presence of God like I do in smaller churches (I refer to the quiet stillness one feels in older cathedrals around Spain as God’s presence).

I also went to Ostia Antica, an archaeological site outside of Rome. I was wanting to visit Pompeii, but time and money wasn’t going to permit that trip this time around. (It’s on my bucket list though). It was once the seaport to Rome, but over time it now lies 3 kilometres from the sea. Seeing these ruins was an awesome thing, and I was able to learn quite a lot about Roman history here. Then a gelato on the nearby beach made the day perfect.

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I also managed to find my way back to Fontanta di Trevi many times, of course. This trip was more relaxed, and I got more out of it, just roaming the cities and not having to rush from place to place, monument to monument, as I could explore the streets more than the attractions this time around. I love roaming around city streets and spend most of my travel time doing this than doing a walking tour of 5000 monuments in 20 minutes.

However, it would be my third trip to Italia in 2012 that is by far my favourite. I know I just typed a few paragraphs above that the chaos of Rome is a major deterrent to my enjoyment of the city. However, it was the Puente de diciembre of 2012 when I went to Milan and fell in love with the city. Milan is the Italian fashion and finance capital. It has over a million people and one of the world’s busiest airports. Chaos.

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But for whatever reason, Milan spoke to me. The Duomo (Cathedral) of Milano is very impressive, and I had so much fun window shopping at Dolce and Gabanna, Versace and all the other shops of the big designers. In Italia, window-shopping is an art, as I get the impression that if you enter the store, they’re going to expect you to purchase something. I’m not going to buy a 300€ pair of boxer-briefs, let alone a 3000€ suit, no matter how pretty it is. However, just walking around this neighbourhood was exciting. I did make a purchase of a 15€ sweater/jumper at a shop close to the Duomo.

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One of my biggest questions about Italia is that with how amazing their food is, they still have McDonalds. C’mon! And so close to the Duomo?

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On a last-minute whim, I purchased a ticket to see The Last Supper, which I am glad I did. After my 2008 trip when I was like “Ok, I’m not paying money to museums like this again”, I went back on my word, thinking that I might regret being so close without ever seeing it. Il Cenacola/L’ultima cena is painted on the wall of the Santa Maria delle Grazie church, and most of the time, you have to book tickets months in advance. I lucked out. During WWII, the world almost lost this amazing painting as the refractory where it’s located was bombed. The wall in which it is painted remained standing, although there is obvious damage to the painting from being so close to the bombs.

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There are constant restoration works, and there are a series of doors that open and closed to control the air allowed in. A Spanish family who was on the English tour with me (my Italian unfortunately is only at an A2 level) were quite grateful that I was able to translate the important parts they didn’t understand for them. My high school Spanish teacher was right. You never know when you’ll be able to use your español.

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On Friday of this trip, I went to Verona, home of la casa de Giulietta (Juliette) and one of my favourite works, Romeo and Juliet. While there is more to see (a more impressive, more intact Colosseum than the one in Rome,

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many old castles and palaces, molte piacce (many plazas) and a beautiful river), it is the mansion that the Capulets would have lived in that impressed the literature geek in me. I asked “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore thou art Romeo?” from the balcony

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and touched her breast for good luck. (It is an actual tradition.)

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The mansion was actually owned by the dell Capello family, but it is not such a stretch of one’s mind that it could be the Capulets.

The best part of the trip was when the snow began to fall in the late afternoon as I was breaking Italian tradition and having a cappuccino in the afternoon. (Italians don’t drink cappuccino after 11, or so they say.) It was too cold for gelato. I had missed the snow so much, and it gave the city a more romantic feeling.

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Milano park Thursday

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Same Park Saturday after the snow

On Saturday, my original plan was to go to Lago di Como, but I wanted to stick around Milano more to explore neighbourhoods I hadn’t been to. I went to the canals in the south part of the city and to a market in the big park. And I had more pasta and went for more window-shopping.

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All in all, the third trip to Italia was the charm, and I am hoping for my fourth trip to happen in early 2015. I know I’m breaking the tradition of going every two years, but…now I just have to decide between more of Northern Italia (Cinque Citte, Turino, Genoa) or explore the charms of Sicilia or Napoli (although the mafia does frighten me a bit in Napoli!) Italia is a place I will return to time and time again.

 

Italia, la dolce vita. (Part 1 of 2)

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Without a doubt, Spain is my favourite country and the place that feels most like home, despite not being born here. I have intentions of staying in Spain indefinitely, finding me a nice, intelligent, witty, cultured and cute Iberian Boy to settle down with and raise golden retrievers with when we’re not exploring the world together. However, that quote that I often refer to, if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans, is oh-so-true. If I ever had to leave The Best Peninsula in the World (Iberia, duh!), I would hope a plane or boat straight across the Mediterranean to another charming peninsula, the one shaped like a boot, that oh-so-gorgeous Italian peninsula.

Growing up, like so many people, I always dreamed of one day travelling to Italy. There is something about the food, the culture and, of course, the history that beckons us to visit. In university, when I found out that learning a third language would help my case when I made my Spanish minor a major, I immediately decided on Italian. I only have a A2 level, but with my Spanish and now Catalán background, when I find myself in Italia, it comes flooding back to me. And I have already found myself in Italia three times in my six years of Spanish living.

My first Christmas living in Spain, I took off to Italia for the holiday. At that time, I was pretty naïve about European travel. I thought “Oh, flying from anywhere in Spain is okay!” I was living in Linares in Andalucía and flew in and out of GIRONA. This meant an overnight bus trip from Linares to Barcelona and an overcharged bus from Barcelona to Girona. I also thought that travelling in Italia would be cheap and 700€ would go a lot farther than it does. Ay yi yi, youth.

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Christmas 2008, my Italian dream came true. I flew from Girona to Pisa. I had read the AAA guide book to death about Italia and thought I knew how the bus system worked. I read the directions to the hostel over and over and was so eager to try out my Italiano. I didn’t understand much, especially after my ear had spent the last three months trying to make andaluz into understandable Spanish. I somehow made it to the hostel, which was quite close to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. At the early hour of 20:00 (8 PM) , I found myself having my first Italian meal. I’m pretty sure it was pizza.

Pisa is a small town without much to see other than the Tower. At the time, I didn’t even know that you were supposed to take the photo pushing the Tower. My biggest travel regret ever is not paying to climb the tower. I figured that with Ryan Air, Italia would always be there and I’d be back soon to climb it when I was well-settled into Spain and had some money. It could be something I could do one day with that strong Iberian lad that is still out there waiting for me to conquistar his heart. Since then, if there is something like that, no matter how many touristy it is, it is well worth the money to go ahead and do it than have that regret in the back of your mind. I was feeling disappointed by Italia at that point in time. Pisa was not the best introduction to Italy.

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Another thing I learned that first trip is to pack lightly. I had a huge suitcase that I had to lug to the train station so I could go to Firenze (Florence). The train was about an hour, and I felt a rush of excitement listening to all the Italian on the train. I tried to pretend I was Italian, but reading in English gave me away. I fell in love with Firenze over the next few days. I paid the money to see the Davide at the Galleria dell’Accademia, ate a ton of great pasta, pizza and gelato, went window shopping and crossed the Ponte Vecchia a million times. My friend from a Mariah Carey message board came down from Genova my third day in Italia to show me places in the city I would have never found on my own. Firenze and Pisa are second on my list of places to return to after that return trip to Greece I have waiting for me.

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The next stop was Rome. Rome will never be a favourite city of mine because it feels more like an amusement park than an actual city. It is chaotic, and at the same time it is a city that everyone must see at least once in their life. I’ve been there twice now, and all those coins I’ve thrown in the Fontana di Trevi must ensure I’ll be back one day. (I am absolutely, positively obsessed with the Fontana di Trevi. La dolce vita a tutti!) My first stop that first visit was to the Colosseum, which is as amazing and beautiful and touristy as advertised.

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I saw the Sistine Chapel and was mesmerized by the immense work. (I also wanted to smack the idiots taking photos of it, but the security guards berated them before I had the chance. It says no photos because any type of picture will ruin it. The Musei Vaticani should have lockers to place all electronic devices. Seriously. Respect the rules, folks.) I had gelato on a cold day in the Piazza di Spagna.

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I also went to my first, and to date ONLY, midnight mass…at none other than St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican by the Pope. The nuns who gave me my reserved tickets warned me that if I really wanted to attend, to get there early to line up and then be prepared for a bunch of people to appear out of nowhere when the doors opened at 10 PM and also to be prepared to physically fight with Italian nuns to get in. “It’s okay. They see it every year, and they fight dirty.”

American nuns encouraging men to fight with Italian nuns who would probably win. This is Italia, la dolce vita.

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After four days in Rome, I had a long train to Milan that arrived late. I didn’t spend much time in Milan, just seeing the Duomo, and I’ll write about Milan in a future entry about my next trips to Italia. The first trip left me cold and wanting more. I then made my way to Venice to end this first 10 day trip to Italia. It was also cold in Venezia, but nothing prepared me for the fairy tale atmosphere of the city. The canals made the city even colder, and as I crossed the Gran Canal to get lost in its maze of streets and canals, I ducked in several cafés to order cappuccino to warm up. Another regret was not taking a ride on the gondola, but my bank account and wallet were just out of money.

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This first trip opened my eyes a lot. It taught me more about myself, having to get by in a country whose language I only spoke the basics of. It taught me a lot about budgeting. And it taught me that less is more, especially when packing for 10 days abroad. Now I am more likely to go to a country for less time and focus more on a few major places than try to cram in an entire country in 10 days. I’ve since returned to Rome to see more of it (they say three months in Rome sightseeing every day won’t give you enough time), and returned to Milan and went to Verona….to be continued.

And yet I feel that I have just scratched the surface of the world’s second greatest peninsula. Viva la bella Italia.