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)

Italiabackup2 033

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)

midnight mass8

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)

IMG_0627

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

Venice23

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

IMG_0709

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

Firenze Giorno 2 070

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

Cinque Terre Giorno 2 298

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.

DSCN8658

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.

DSCN8600

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.

DSCN8621

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.

DSCN8608

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.

DSCN8653

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.

DSCN8727

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.

DSCN8791

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.

DSCN8683

Fiume Arno

Italia, la dolce vita. (Part 1 of 2)

Firenze Giorno 2 070

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.

Il Vaticano96

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.

Pisa Day Two Firenze Day One7

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.

Pisa Day Two Firenze Day One109

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.

Italiabackup2 033

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.

Italiabackup2 120

 

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.

midnight mass8

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.

Venice23

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.