Showing posts with label Italy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Italy. Show all posts

Milan shopping - trip came to end

Time to say Ciao, a presto (bye, see u soon) to Venice!!! Although we knew it might never be soon again. With happy mood we left for Milan from where we started our memorable journey. We boarded Euro-star for which we had to make advance reservation. Indisputably it was the best train we boarded in last seven days. On reaching Milan kept our luggage in lock room and set off to explore the business city as well fashion center of Italy.



Starting with Milan’s cathedral, the city’s centerpiece and third-largest church in Europe is worth visiting. Next to Cathedral Square “Galleria Vittorio Emanuele” – Milan’s great four-story-high, glass-domed arcade- place to shop for rich and famous. Milan’s famous opera house was closed for renovation. We skipped Leonardo’s “Last-supper” and his bronze horse which he never built.


We had pasta at lunch in small store which was really ambrosial - no doubt. Late afternoon, wandered through big brand stores for clothes and ultimately I bought one wrist watch for myself as souvenir which cost me dear.




Galleria Vittorio Emanuele


Early evening, we headed towards a restaurant recommended by guide book in the business district which was very deserted being Sunday. Unexpectedly, we found the place and it was big restaurant with white table cloths. We were received with great affection and hospitality by owners which we can never forget. Service was excellent along with food. We started with Pasta and had fish as second serving oh! That was big fish as they served us; Pamela missed all those bones and head as they took away that trolley (as she is a big human cat who loves to chew bones be it fish or chicken). Well, slowly clock was ticking off giving us a reminder to say Ciao to Italy. Train to Paris came from Venice and we had a good night sleep after a long strenuous day.



Epilogue: Writing travelogue after 3 years was not easy. Had to refer various web site to get the details right. But the only person made it finish is Pamela as she wrote each pages and I just added few lines here and there. Yes, its worth remembering those eight days. This was great to immerse oneself with recollections of those lazy afternoon or vigorous morning for sure as I know I am not going to have this kind of break soon in my present life.



Venice at leisure

Venice from Lido

Next day, when we woke up, were very happy to see blue sky after two days of grey sky. Around 9.00 AM we came by boat to hot-spot St. Mark's Square. St. Mark's Basilica which is Byzantine influenced was too crowded to visit that time and unfortunately in evening we ran out of time and could not make it so satisfied ourselves from outside only. Doge's Palace is a gothic palace with bridge of sighs at rear end which is made of white limestone and has windows with stone bars. It connects the old prisons to the interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace and last view point of Venice that convicts use to see before their imprisonment. Campanile bell tower is worth for city view only but we did not take the flight of stairs as we have lot more to explore. Visiting museum was big NO as we had enough (time was another constraint).

St. Mark’s Basilica blue sky small

Did enjoyed trip along the Grand Canal with hopping on-off. Countless bridges lace together the neighborhoods of Venice. Amazed to see many historical buildings is slowly sinking into the marshy ground…getting tilted?

At afternoon after lunch we took a cruise to one of islands in the Venetian lagoon. We went to Murano where one gets chance to watch Venetian glass blowers fashion their delicate objects known for glassware, lamps, chandeliers and glass jewelry. We started with glass museum and visited few glass factories, they show you the art, but for them it is just part of work. We got few souvenirs for friends and family.

gandola

At evening we came back to Rialto Bridge. Rialto Bridge is famous for its shops. There are three bridges joined together which makes it special. Wandered around saw many taking gondola ride – it’s ‘expensive’. Best if you are a group of four to split the cost for those twenty minutes. Any way, we could not found another couple to share and decided against it. The route from the Rialto to the Academia (one of the famous museum) and back to piazza San Marco winds through ornate squares and is quite interesting.

TIPS: Get a travel pass to ride the elusive water bus – else single tickets are less economical if you plan to spend days touring in order to explore every nook and cranny. We missed few things at Venice; we did not visit the famous Opera house which underwent renovation. We stayed in Lido but we did not explore its beaches. Last but not least we missed to pick up those carnival masks for wall hanging.

It seems Venice is not the place for pasta. Rather, Cichetti (chee-keht-tee) are small portions of food served in bars all over the city, with small glass of wine. You eat while standing in a crowded room. Certain bars display all the Cichetti before you; Sorry, couldn’t enjoy that as I am not a wine-lover.

Siena

Doumo from Distance

There are plenty of places to explore in Tuscan region from Florence as day trip. We decided to visit Siena which is only one hour. Reason for choosing Siena was for its medieval beauty; in that era Siena and Florence were at war when Florence defeated Siena.

Travel by road through Tuscan region is really amazing as you cross those post-card hills. But exhausted from yesterdays walking on the cobble stone roads of Florence I dozed as soon we hit the highway that made Santanu bit furious as he couldn’t share those moments.

Piazza del campo

Bus dropped us near to city center from where we visited top-sights – Piazza del campo square (city hall, museum, bell tower) and cathedral (with a baptistery, cathedral museum and viewpoint) of medieval town with twisting alleyways.

Siena’s city square (unique shell shaped piazza) is huge and it is the main landmark; only accessible by feet or taxi. There are lots of leather shops along Via di Citta (Main Street). Besides, there are numerous other shops and restaurants lined against the narrow lane which we found outrageously priced and too crowded with tourists. We walked along that street and had mouth-watering pizza for lunch in one resturant.

Marble Work small

Siena’s cathedral is outstanding with black and white marble columns and dazzling mosaics on the floor. Do not miss the magnificent Bernini statue of Mary Magdalene (does this bell a ring from Da Vinci’s Code?) hidden away in a niche of marble. Duomo is unfinished as you can see the half constructed outer wall. inside every possible inch of wall, ceiling and floor has been decorated. Adjoining the cathedral is the Piccolomini library which is also must.

Later, we walked to San Domenico (Basilica Cateriniana) with delicate and soft gelatos in our hand. This is a huge gothic church with minimalistic design so there is no fancy marble works or any thing.

Finally, we walked back to the bus stop (to Florence) with my eyes wide open this time.

At morning we crossed famous open market of Florence. But unfortunately, in the morning we were too early and in evening we were too late.

An afteroon at Pisa

Being exhausted from last evening we got up bit late and had very good breakfast before hitting the road. According to our itinerary, distance to be covered was long one as our hotel was booked at Florence.

We took train to La Spezia, it was a crowded, got packed with each passing stations of Cinque Terre but became empty as soon as we crossed Riomaggiore. We had to wait a bit at La Spezia as train was coming from north was late. We heard trains in Italy sometime get delayed by few minutes to hours.

On our way to Florence we planned to visit the amazing 180 feet high Leaning Tower of Pisa - stop for taking pictures as we were crunched with time for visiting top sights.

doumo-pisa

At Pisa, we left our luggage at locker room of railway station went to “Duomo” by local bus, which was a quick way to get a glimpse of this old city. Pisa is also known for its famous university. As soon as we got down from bus we found the entrance was packed with hawkers and souvenir shops. It is a pretty common site in Italy to find people from North African countries trying to lure tourist with fake designer bags to sunglass.

After years of restoration leaning tower of Pisa now allows visitors to climb up 500 plus stairs to get a breath taking view and unique experience. But there was a small catch – we were told to wait for next five hours for our turn to come. With exhausted legs from yesterday’s hiking and dampened by the long queue we dropped the idea.

The Baptistery

In the same campus there are three other key buildings which was also build around the same time. The bell tower only looks leaning once it is referenced against it surrounding. We started with the cathedral (duomo) influenced by Byzantine architecture with magnificent red tiles on the top.

After that we visited Baptistery- famous for its acoustics. And we were very fortunate to witness the same. There was a group visiting the same at the same time and one among them sang beautifully. Though we did not understand any words what that gentleman was singing but we experienced the power of music. It was a superb impromptu performance as every one inside stopped and made sure there was pin drop silence.

From there we went Camposanto (cemetery) which are guarded together by wall called as Field of Miracles. As we have nothing much to do we tried plenty of pictures where we tried to give a push or hold the tower ;)

Baptistery-Pisa-santanu-small

Back at station we picked luggage and boarded train to Florence. The view from the train was superb as we crossed the Arno River few times. The lush green of wheat fields with mountains at backdrop were very scenic with sun setting in west.

Arno river is very famous river as it flows through the famous Tuscany region. To some Arno divides Italy in north and south as there is vast political and socio-economical difference in those two parts.

TIP: European trains are very particular in time not fit for people following Indian stretchable time. It’s always better to have some time in hand as they close the doors of train 5 minutes before departure.

Cinqueterre – Mediterranean nirvana

We got up early had a quick breakfast and dragged our bags to Milan Central Station; bought our ticket for next destination “Cinqueterre” - refers to five small villages (Corniglia, Manarola, Monterosso al Mare, Riomaggiore and Vernazza) - cling to the rugged mountains along Mediterranean coastline with breath taking view.

cinque_terre

This UNSECO heritage site is not on the main train line or motor-way that connects Milan to Rome. To get there, we have to cross the mountain to reach the western side of Italy. Need to change train at Genoa- known for its pesto sauce and native place of Columbus. It is said that as the western side of the Liguria hills gets the best sun light which is perfect for tomato and basil. As we had to change train from main line to local line we could only get glimpse from train.

There are special trains from Levanto to La Spezia which stops in these five villages. As I write down about different trains lines I am sure you got an idea how remote these little villages are ; yes they are really small villages. Tourist attraction has not yet turned them into mini town.

hotel-levanto

Cost of hotels in those five small villages were enormous so we booked hotel at Levanto, north of Cinqueterre a small village with sandy beach, bustling day-time markets. Later, while exchanging travel notes with friends we found Levanto was a better choice in terms of food, spacious room and most importantly price and service.

After checking into the hotel in afternoon we rushed back to the rail-station to head towards the south most station Riomaggiore. We got one day “Cinque Terre Card” that allowed us to hike and ride public transport in Cinqueterre. This small amount helps to maintain this National Park.

The best way to explore Cinqueterre is to hike the trails between the 5 villages; there are other numerous trail which connects vineyards and sea. Of course, there are public transport or ferry to hop between villages.

 Hiking at cinque terre

We planned to hike south to north in one go; the distance between Riomaggiore to Monterosso al Mare is 12kms, a lot of the trail is steep and rocky. The hike started with steep stairs leading to famous Via dell’Amore, (which needs no translation I hope - Path of love). The walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola is the easiest which takes about 15-20 minutes depending on how long you stop to gaze at the view! It is paved all the way and fairly flat.

The next section of the walk is from Manarola to Corniglia ( 3km long and takes about 1 hour). Parts of this trail are pretty easy, but it is steeper at times, the ground is sometimes uneven. The most exhausting part of this section is at the end. As you arrive at Corniglia train station there are also signs to reach secluded or public beach along the way. That means you need to hike down to the sea. The station is located by the sea side, while the town of Corniglia is on top of the hill which is connected by long flight of stairs!!!

The section between Corniglia and Vernazza is most scenic part passing through vineyards, fragrant herb bushes and rocky outcrops with spectacular views. It took about 1.5 hours to complete, though we stopped quite a bit to admire the views and took some breathe.

Cinque Terre

Toughest section is between Vernazza and Monterosso with lots of ups and downs and steep stairs. It is a real bridle path which unwinds itself by the seaside.

From here, we returned back to Levanto by train full of sun-burned tourists.

TIP: Need good pair of shoes to avoid weary legs and hiking pole will save your knees. We hiked this part in late afternoon as we were crunched with time but will advice to start in the morning so that you take more frequent stops to admire the beauty and give rest to your legs and lungs.

At the end, we almost had to run as we were not prepared for hiking in dark and it was only us on that trail. You can spend few days in these villages to unwind and explore churches and other historic buildings if those interest you. </p

Milan and Lake Como


Prologue:

Weeklong journey of Italy takes us back to summer of 2004; due to various reasons never posted travelogues on time though pictures from the same were published on time. Please hang on as we try to recite detailed vacation from our faithful memory.

We had a night train from Bercy Station, Paris. For us, reaching Bercy was bit far from our Metro Station (Exelmans on M9) as there was no easy interchange; while on street-road map it looks closer from our apartment. This train is not a fast train (TGV) but fast enough to take you to Venice from Paris in one night. We started around 20:30 but due to summer it was still very bright day when we left Paris. We travelled by first class; the cabin was similar to AC 1st class compartment of Indian trains in size. No doubt, the spotless and punctual services are incomparable. Only down side of this night train is missing the beauty of Alps as we cross in the night.


Journey Begins:

Parco Sempione

After checking in pre-booked hotel at business centre of Italy, Milan and having our breakfast we left for Sforza Castle, rebuilt brick fortress and Parco Sempione. There is also “Arco della Pace” resembling Arc-de-Triumph of Paris to hail Napoleon’s entry into Milan. These are in the northern part of Milan and worth visiting.

Santanu had heard a lot about Lake Como from his old colleague Antonio about his home town. Those countless description aroused a curiosity to visit Lake Como. Como and other lakes of Northern Italy are very famous as they border with southern part of Switzerland. They are the tourist destination to relax in tranquillity for rich and famous. Rich bankers, fashion designers or Hollywood movie stars all want to grab a lake side property here. In old time, these lakes also meant reliable mode of transport to higher Alps from southern end.

Lake Como

Just half an hour from noisy, bustling Milan, Lake Como is a magical combination of lush Mediterranean foliage and snowy alpine peaks. We took a classic lakeside promenade, where roads are narrow, bit congested, and lined by old villas (some of which even converted into hotels) and from here we took a ferry ride to Bellagio on the southern shore known as the pearl of the lake.

Ferry ride is very enchanting leading to other small villages along lakeside which are hop away. Bellagio has narrow cobbled streets, breathtaking views, impeccable small homes and glorious villas with winding alleys, flowering balconies and lace-curtained windows which give a feeling of most captivating spot.

Tips: Instead of walking you can take a cab or bus from the train station to the lake front if your legs feel weak.

In recent time, two big ticket movies which I saw were shooted here - “STAR WAR –II” and “Ocean Twelve.”

Although, village is not animated by tourists but still we repented to leave this place as we had already booked hotel at Milan. Train journey from Milan to Como was nice but lost in our memory to the natural beauty of the lake and that magical afternoon on ferry. On returning had dinner at one of the restaurant near Galleria Vittorio Emanuele which was scrumptious.

Tips: As summer days are long, afternoon ferry ride is a better option that way you can use the first part for exploring something else. You may enjoy the afternoon sun on the ferry for a sun-tan. But too late in the afternoon means you might not be able to get an “aller-retour” ferry ride.

Itlay revisited

We have been to Rome for 4 days in 2003 but we wanted to visit the other parts of Italy but could not do that due to time constrain. We were planning for trip to Florence, Venice etc old classic route for long time.

Krovi and Vidya went to Italy on their paper honeymoon which was 3 weeks earlier than us and they did provided us with lots of good tips. Then we too spent a lot of time on Internet especially on Rick Steve's site and talking to other friends about the same.

We found a very good deal on train via SNCF to Milan for to and fro in 1st class which we opted. We booked almost all our hotels via venere after planning our itinerary.

Our itinerary was:
Day1 : Arrive Milan, after check-in leave for Pleasure day-trip to Lake Como and back to Milan.
Day2: Train to Cinque Terre (hiking to an extraordinary old villages set in rugged coastal mountains )
Day3: Pisa (Picture stop at the Leaning Tower) and continue further for Florence
Day4: Day trip to Sienna and back to Florence
Day5: Explore renaissance city Florence
Day6: Half day at Florence and leave for Venice
Day7: Venice at leisure
Day8: Back to Milan and at same night journey to home via rail.

Rome (Sep 5th-7th)

We wanted to visit all the top attractions of Italy in one trip but due to vacation time (for Parisians) and taking off from work and with Pamela's school we could not do. So, we planned for only Rome. We flew with Alitalia from CDG this time in early morning. It was much better than Ryan Airlines in terms of access to the airport. But the initial fun started when just before checking-in we have to run 3 terminals to collect our tickets from Air Traffic office. But other than that running, every thing was smooth. Luckily, we had nothing to check-in.

We started our days visit from Colosseum - just to check if all gladiators have gone home or not. I still do not know how to express my feelings about this magnificent achievement of mankind and engineering, which dates at least 2000 years back. After having lunch we walked along Via del Corso from Colosseum to Roman Forum and all the major attractions to Fontana di Trevi which refers to the three roads. Needless to say, the famous custom-to throw a coin into the fountain over your shoulder to ensure you return to Rome. A second coin will have you falling in love with an Italian, and the third marrying him or her. But we didnot took a trial. Anywayz, on the way we got the taste of traffic rules of Rome. From there we walked towards Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna) with all the big brand designers shops around it. After strolling at Piazza del Popolo square we walked to the top of the hill towards Pincio - a nice garden to take some time off under shady trees. From here we went to Pantheon via Piazza Navona another city square with fountain of four rivers and Egyptian obelisk in the middle. WOW !!! extraordinary dome of pantheon is the largest masonry vault ever built. Its really magnificent to see that. Finally, after hectic day of walking day long we decided to move towards Metro-Colosseum for our hotel.

Second day, we planned to visit opulence of the Vatican. So, started with Vatican museum and went to Sistine Chapel. It is must if you want to see the work of Michel Angelo and Raphael the great artists of Italian Renaissance. Better start this way as museum gets closed early around 2PM. From there we went to St. Peters Basilica the main Vatican church. We went to the top; the lift takes up to 3rd floor which is quite at height and from there it is 320 stairs more for the top. The view from the top was worth with those narrow stairs.

Last day, we spent again the whole day for one more last time in ancient Rome. We went inside of Colosseum and Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. Those big structures with columns still standing just as it use to be really takes you back to history. After doing a final round of walk which included a late lunch close to Pantheon and walking towards Piazza del Popolo on Sunday when most of the road is taken by pedestrians we decided to pack-up. That road is really crowded and you need to watch your belongings that time. And, thus our trip to eternal city came to an end.
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