Venice : Italy : 2018

Venice : Italy : 2018

The first time I visited Venice was on a school trip, back in 1977. We’d been on a ski trip and spent a day on the way back to the airport, in the city. It was January. It was cold. And, the city was flooded. St Mark’s Square was like a pool – I remember splashing about, as water sloshed around our ankles, so looking back, it can’t have been that flooded. I also remember the smell. It was very stinky! But, luckily, every trip since, we’ve avoided conditions like this and to us, Venice is always blue skies and sunshine.

On Monday, we set off for Venice, as family visitors were flying back to England the next day, from Marco Polo. We decided to make a bit of a trip of it and booked an apartment. We knew it was going to rain, but as all of northern Italy, and into Istria, had the same forecast, we didn’t pay too much attention to the forecast. Until we got a text from a friend who was already there. It just said…

OMG! It’s awful!

To be fair, the weather as we approached Venice, looked a little ominous.

Because we were in the car, we had to park in the usual car park – you know, the one where you have to leave your keys on the dash board! – and were greeted by attendants, clearly ready for wet weather. And a ground floor that was already flooded. Once out of the car park, it didn’t  look too bad, but everyone seemed to be wearing plastic style wellies. Or, and I kid you not, waders. (And, as we saw later, flip flops or even barefoot, as people just abandoned soaked footwear). So, four pairs of wellies were bought, and donned, and off we set for the water bus. Not a chance, as these were cancelled – and this made us realise that things could actually be a little bit bad.

The further into the city we walked, the clearer it became that this was quite serious flooding. Gangplank style platforms appeared and snaked their way through the narrow streets, with people trying to get to their destinations. To either side, people were wading through increasingly deeper floodwaters – tourists, porters from hotels (holding luggage aloft), business people.

 

 

The apartment where we staying was near the Rialto Bridge, and we can usually walk to this area, from the car park/station area in about 30 minutes. However, it took over an hour and a half as we precariously picked our way through streets which were becoming increasingly submerged. To each side, we could see shops, bars, restaurants and hotels becoming more full of water – and workers frantically trying to sweep, or pump out, the water. When we arrived at our apartment, which we chose because it was located in a beautiful little piazza, with a tiny theatre in the courtyard, the water outside was about 50cms deep and the reception area was full of water, which became deeper and deeper as the night went on. Like every other place with an entrance at street level.

However, unlike in England, where the country would have ground to a halt, life goes on in Venice. People have to work and eat and do normal things and so the city continued as normally as possible. We decided we had to venture out and eat, so the wellies were put on again and this time umbrellas were up, as it had also started to rain. Just to add to the mix! We didn’t go too far, as the water was seriously rising, but we were luckily staying near a few good restaurants where we had eaten before. Although never in circumstances like these…

At the start of the meal, the water wasn’t *too* high…

Welly wearing waiters…

Al fresco dining wasn’t too popular on the night we visited…

 

As we ate, the flood waters rose and rose…

When it’s this wet, you have to improvise…

It was quite amazing to see things just carry on as normal. Restaurants were still full – after all, Venice is mostly made up of tourists and people have to eat. Staff were clearly used to events like this (although, with hindsight, perhaps not on this scale and speed), as they deftly carried plates of food, whilst navigating the rising water. The food was super delicious, and I have no idea how the kitchen coped, but it was a very strange feeling to be eating indoors, with water lapping around your shins. And rising.

When we woke on Tuesday morning, the waters had receded, and although it was still raining, the streets were no longer flooded. Shops and cafes were open for business – and although there was a massive mopping up/drying out operation in progress, people just seemed to be getting on with it.

And, within an hour, Venice was back in business…

Water. Where water should be.

The clouds parting over St Mark’s Basilica.

The Doges’ Palace, Venice

San Marco Campanile

The morning after the night before.

Venice is always a spectacular place to visit. We are so, so lucky that we are now so close to it and never tire of exploring – and I have to say, this was one of those visits we won’t forget for a very long time. But, checking the weather, we don’t think we’ll be heading back over the next few days, as more flooding looks imminent…

 

road trip : istria : italy

road trip : istria : italy

We’ve just said goodbye to our second set of friends who’ve been staying with us for a few days. Amanda and Steve had a few days in Italy first – they flew to Venice Marco Polo from Manchester and then spent a couple of days 30km north of Venice, in Treviso and then took the train to Trieste, where we picked them up. We can be in Trieste in 45 minutes so it’s a great place to meet visitors and it’s a great introduction to our new part of the world. Although we live in Istria, which is part of Croatia, it was, until not long ago (1947), a part of Italy – and it certainly still feels very Italian.

We left Trieste in baking sunshine and arrived in Istria under dark, threatening thunderclouds. Note to visitors – bring something waterproof!

We’ve become used to our weather now – we get torrential rain and insane storms, but give it a couple of hours and we can be back out on the sun-loungers. Amanda didn’t quite believe it when I told her this, as we left them to relax for a couple of hours, while we did a supermarket run. However, when we returned, where were they? On the sunbeds!

As we had a few trips out planned, we spent a leisurely Friday evening, catching up. We’re getting used to the quirkiness and eccentricities of our house now, but it’s always a real delight to hear what other people think. We’re used to our Well, now re-positioned outside the front door, but every now and then, it’s good to remember that this is such an unusual and beautiful feature. It’s also very lovely when people see familiar things around them, that they know from our West Didsbury home and so very quickly relax into their new surroundings. And, have a very comfy night’s sleep…

We want people who visit us to get an insight into where we now live. It’s such a beautiful part of the world and we want to share it. We also try to think about what each visitor would like to see or experience – some people love water parks, some lovely cycling trips, some love hilltop villages, some love cities, some love some or all of these, but we’ll always try and find out what you like so that you have the best experience possible.

Saturday saw us heading over to Rijeka, on the eastern side of the peninsula, a journey which cuts through the mountains, via the Učka Tunnel. We wanted to come to Rijeka to see the Stadion Kantrida. Until July 2015, Rijeka football club was based at Stadion Kantrida, their traditional home ground for over 60 years. With Kantrida now awaiting demolition and reconstruction, Rijeka have been based at the newly-built Stadion Rujevica, part of the new training centre and the club’s temporary home ground. Following the demolition of old Kantrida, a new, state of the art, 14,600 all-seater stadium will be built at the same location. And what a location! When we take people to see it, they are always a bit wowed…

Yes, that is The Adriatic, with Krk Island shimmering in the distance.

Next stop was Opatija, a beautiful resort, much loved by the Austro-Hungarian nobility and very different in architectural style to the more Venetian/Italian style of the Istrian side of the peninsula. As it was a whistle-stop tour, we just stopped for a drink in the grounds of a hotel where The Rat Pack would entertain. Sounds swish – which it is, but very inexpensive for a round of drinks, sipped whilst overlooking the sea. As a birthday was being celebrated, we felt that a perfect spot to do so, was in a gorgeous sea-front restaurant we’ve found in the little fishing port of Mošćenička Draga – and no, we can’t say it either. The beach is white pebbles and the sea the bluest of blue – and we were lucky to get a table overlooking the beach at the lovely Konoba Zijavica.

Next stop was a drive inland, to the medieval village of Gračišće. Miss the turn off for this village and you will miss something very special indeed. It’s a sleepy little village, where everything seems to move at a very slow pace – but is just one of the most picturesque places we’ve visited. Some of the houses date back to the early 1400s (dates inscribed on crooked stone lintels above tiny doorways) and the sense of history is palpable. The church sits high on a hill and the views of the Istrian countryside are jaw-dropping…

We don’t have a *local* restaurant or bar, in the sense that we used to in West Didsbury. Our local is about 4km from The House, but it is our local – because we are treated as such. We’re not treated as tourists any more. The owner greets us with “Hello, Neighbours” – we’re sure he’s actually forgotten our names, but we love it nevertherless and we want our visitors to experience it too. When we arrived, it was clear that it had been raining, very heavily too – although we’d had glorious sunshine on the east coast. In fact, the weather had been so extreme, one of the guys we know, whose English is very good, just said, “I have no words to describe it!” Well, the sun was shining now, so all was OK with the world and we were able to enjoy our sunset drinks in the warmth.

To illustrate how mad Istrian weather can be – and no wonder he had no words to describe it – we returned home to find carnage in the garden. Plants had been ravaged – the hostas which I was delighted had not been eaten by snails, looked as if a razor had been taken to the leaves. All due to a hailstorm – the pile of hailstones, which had obviously shot out of the gutter, being evidence of the ferocity of it all. And all while we basked in east side sun…

When we collect family or friends from Pula Airport, we can’t resist a quick detour into Pula. Anyone who hasn’t witnessed the spectacle of the ampitheatre is really blown away as it’s the only remaining Roman ampitheatre to have four side towers and with all three Roman architectural orders entirely preserved, and the best preserved ancient monument in Croatia.

Next stop was Rovinj – a must for anyone who comes to visit us. We enjoyed – and all agreed – the best lunch of freshly caught sea-bass. HUGE fish and just so, so tasty, in one of our favourite restaurants, Rio, right on the harbour. No photos of said fish, as we wolfed it down. However, if you’ve not seen photos of Rovinj or been before, here you go…

One of the best things about where we now live, is our proximity to other places, especially in northern Italy. Amanda and Steve were flying back from Venice and not having been before, wanted to spend a bit of time there – so we offered to take then there and stay overnight with them. What a hardship…

The drive across the SS14, the main route from Trieste to Turin if you want to avoid the madness of the A4 motorway, is stunning. The Veneto is really flat and you can see for miles and miles, way up to the snow peaked Dolomites. We were a bit concerned weather-wise as the rain had started, but as we approached Venice – and you always know you’re near as you can see the planes taking off from Marco Polo airport – the sun started to break through and that was it. Sunglasses back on!

Rather than walk from the car park – the one where you have to park and where you have to leave your keys on the dashboard – we thought that a water bus would be the most spectacular way for Amanda and Steve to see Venice for the first time. Nothing beats seeing it from the water. A water bus isn’t expensive – 30 euros for four of us and the journey lasts a good 40 minutes if you’re going right round to St Mark’s Square, as we were, because we’d found a great value apartment, not too far from this famous landmark.

Anyway, Venice – it just really speaks for itself…

Rialto Bridge, Venice

San Simeone Piccolo Church on the Grand Canal, Venice

San Simeone Piccolo Church on the Grand Canal, Venice

Museo di Storia Naturale di Venezia

Museo di Storia Naturale di Venezia

Walled courtyard overlooking The Grand Canal, Venice

Walled courtyard overlooking The Grand Canal, Venice

Approaching St Mark’s Square from the water bus

Approaching St Mark’s Square from the water bus

St Mark's Basilica, Venice St Mark’s Basilica, Venice

St Mark’s Basilica, Venice

Cruise ship, almost dwarfing St Mark’s Square…

Cruise ship, almost dwarfing St Mark’s Square…

Venice

Venice

St Mark’s Square & San Marco Campanile

St Mark’s Square & San Marco Campanile

The Bridge of Sighs, Venice

The Bridge of Sighs, Venice

The Arsenale, Venice

The Arsenale, Venice

Those windows…

Those windows…

The colours of Venice

The colours of Venice

Washing day in Venice

Washing day in Venice

Nothing says Venice quite like a mask...

Nothing says Venice quite like a mask…

We were so lucky to stumble across this workshop in Venice & watch a real craftsman making the Fórcola, the typical Venetian gondola rowlock

We were so lucky to stumble across this workshop in Venice & watch a real craftsman making the Fórcola, the typical Venetian gondola rowlock

We found new places to eat on this trip too – although we did try to eat at a favourite restaurant, Al Buso, which is directly under the Rialto Bridge. The location is amazing and we’ve had great food and service there before, the last time being during the Carnival, where we had very delicious pizzas. We’d eaten lots of fish and pasta over the last few days and all were in the mood for a pizza, so we reckoned this would be a good choice. Menus were presented and the waiter (who had served us before), told us about the daily fish specials. Unfortunately, on this occasion, his mood wasn’t as customer focused and when we asked for the pizza menu – and there definitely is one – he replied by telling us if we wanted pizza, we should go to St Mark’s Square. Given that we would have spent quite a lot of money – given its location, it’s not the cheapest option – we found his attitude to be rude and condescending and left. And I vowed that I would never set foot in there again, and would tell everyone to avoid it. So, if you do ever find yourself in Venice, please join my boycott of Al Buso, located at Centro Storico fondamenta del Buso No. 5338 – right under the Rialto Bridge. We found two very lovely places and would heartily recommend these – Osteria il Milion, where the Spaghetti con le Cipolle is literally to die for, and Ristorante Marco Polo on Salizzada San Lio, where got the pizzas we wanted, and very nice they were too ?

So, there you go – a four day whistlestop tour of Istria and Venice.

Practicalities for Visiting

Our friends flew from Manchester to Marco Polo Venice, a flight of under two & half hours. We’ll always pick up visitors – unless you intend to come over and do lots of travelling, there’s no point in hiring a car, as we can always visit places with you. Or, we do have a Fiat Punto, a very sturdy & reliable car, which is insured for visitors to use. The only thing we’d advise you of, is that the house will seem, when you first visit, to be quite remote. However, as we – and everyone who has visited – quickly realise, Istria is a VERY small peninsula, and you very quickly get used to where we are in relation to other places, and pretty soon a 30 minute to the supermarket doesn’t seem that long at all. Especially when the road takes you through rolling hills and vineyards. Idyllic ?

If you’re only travelling with hand luggage, we have stocks of suncream & mosquito sprays, so you don’t need to weigh yourself down. You’ll obviously have fresh towels and bedding & the washing machine/dryer/iron etc are all there at your disposal. Consider it a home from home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

capo testa : sardinia : italy

capo testa : sardinia : italy

Capo Testa is located in northern Sardinia and is a wild and pretty remote part of the island. For thousands of years, the powerful wind over the Mediterranean has shaped Capo Testa, into an unreal world of lunar rock formations. Smoothed from the sea breeze, the huge, imposing rocks have been contorted into curious formations, almost as if they were formed by mythical giants, making this place a really mystifying sight and ensuring that it very popular with visitors, who also come to swim in the crystal clear waters.

As the closest Sardinian shore to Rome, the peninsula where Capo Testa is located, was at one point used for mining granite, by the Romans, who set up a small town around the mines, extracting large amounts of the stone for many of the buildings in the Italian capital. The caves where the stone was quarried were last used as a source of building materials in the early 20th century. The rocky, granite peninsula, which is attached to Sardinia’s mainland by an isthmus, is only about ten kilometers (6.2 miles) across. So, pull on a pair of sturdy shoes with a strong grip and hike around the eroded rocks to admire the formations smoothed and shaped by the wind. When you’re here you also realise how close you are Corsica, as the shoreline of the French island is clearly visible, even on a day like the one we visited, which was grey and at times, misty. In fact, this is how close we were…

Sardinia really is an island of stark contrasts, from the bustling and cosmopolitan city of Cagliari to the more sedate northern port town of Alghero. From the remote, deserted western beaches with huge sand dunes, to the glitz and glamour of the Costa Smerelda. And from beaches of golden sands, which stretch fro miles and slope gently into azure blue waters, to the other-wordly rocks of Capo Testa. The northern coast of Sardinia is like no other coast we have ever visited – and this was our first experience of this area…

The sheer scale and size of the rocks can be easily seen, above – look at the people clambering over the tops of the rocks!

Capo Testa is easy to get to by car, but be aware – parking is at a premium and you will get ticketed if you’re not obeying the parking rules. It can also be very cold if you’re out of season, as we were, as the wind does whip in from that strait, so make sure you have more than a T-shirt to wear. Also, and I can’t stress this enough – FOOTWEAR! Flip flops will not see you across those rocks – they can be slippery and they are riveted with cracks and dips and loose stones. Sturdy trainers, all the way. Or, as a lot of people were wearing – hiking boots.

 

 

 

 

pisa : tuscany : italy

pisa : tuscany : italy

A double header of an Italian trip meant that we could visit Florence and Pisa in one trip. We travelled independently and so our schedule was very flexible. The main stay was in Florence, with a train journey to Pisa. At just over an hour and less than €15 for return tickets, it was well worth the journey. Standard tickets on Italian trains generally are a great deal – uncrowded carriages, plenty of trains, usually bang on time and clean. For just a little bit more you can travel the equivalent of first class – although not all routes/companies offer this option on all journeys. However, well worth it if you can book first class.

If your prime reason for visiting Pisa is the Leaning Tower, and you’re arrived by train, it’s an easy 20 minute walk along Via Roma, almost in a straight line across the river. We visited in late October and this was a great time to do this trip – far fewer tourists than in the height of summer, and sufficiently chilly enough to be able to be quite wrapped up without melting. The lack of tourists was the main thing for us though, as it meant we weren’t jostling with crowds and trying to avoid people taking the very obvious photo with the Leaning Tower in the background.

The Leaning Tower & Cathedral

If you want to know about the tower and its history, this is quite a good summary. The Torre Pendente really does live up to its name – I definitely hadn’t expected such a lean. The 58m-high tower, which is officially the Duomo’s campanile (bell tower), took almost 200 years to build, but was already listing when it was unveiled in 1372. Over time, the tilt, caused by a layer of weak subsoil, steadily worsened until it was finally halted by a major stabilisation project in the 1990s. It’s now said to be about 4 degrees on a lean, from the vertical.

Access to the Leaning Tower is limited to 45 people at a time, and it’s probably good to know, that for safety reasons, children under eight are not allowed in/up, and children between 8-18 can climb the Tower, but only with an accompanying adult. To avoid disappointment, book in advance online or go straight to a ticket office when you arrive in Pisa to book a slot for later in the day. Visits last 35 minutes and involve a steep climb up 251 occasionally slippery steps. All bags, handbags included, must be stored at the free left-luggage desk next to the central ticket office – cameras are about the only thing you can take up. You need a good head for heights and not think about how easy it could be fall over the edge…

The Leaning Tower is actually the campanile of the cathedral, a medieval Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, in the Piazza dei Miracoli. It’s architecture is quite unusual in that the interior is reminiscent of an Islamic mosque, thanks to the use of raised arches, the alternating bands of black and white marble, and the unusual elliptical dome. The entrance to the Cathedral is free, but you still need to collect a ticket and book a specific time. 90 people are allowed to enter every 30 minutes, and when there’re too many people, they only let you in if you buy the ticket for the Baptistry or the Cemetery (to the rear of the cathedral).

The Baptistery

The Battistero di San Giovanni is the largest Baptistery in the world. You can visit the white 12th century building from the outside for free and from the inside for an entrance fee. It is famous for its acoustics, and if you time your visit right, you will experience, every half an hour, a guardian comes in to intonate a few notes, to shows just how well the sound resonates around the space.

A bird’s eye view of the lean on the Tower.

Our top tips, from we visited, would include :

  • try and go out of season
  • leave the under eights at home (or the hotel) if you want to climb the tower
  • wear trainers as you’ll do a lot of walking
  • make sure you have charger packs for your phone as there are a lot of photo opportunities
  • combine Pisa with a trip to Florence
  • use the good Italian rail network

 

florence : tuscany : italy

florence : tuscany : italy

Our trip to Florence was pretty whistle-stop as we also wanted to tie in Pisa, and we only had a few days. So, every time we return to Italy, if we are in the region (or thereabouts) of Florence, if we’re in a car, we intend to revisit. It’s not happened again yet, as there are just too many places we want to see, but it will as we know we definitely didn’t see everything. We also didn’t stay in the best hotel or find great places to eat – and I think this has coloured our perception of Florence. So, we need to put it right. And hopefully, sooner rather than later.

The name of the hotel escapes me – such was its impression on us – but what I do remember, is that it was located very close to Piazza del Duomo. A fantastic location, BUT we also stayed when a morning market was held and which started being set up at about 2am. The shouting and noise of trolleys being pulled to and fro over cobbles was just unbelievable. So bad, that we requested a room change, so lost our view of the Duomo but did manage to get some sleep – as the market seemed to be a regular occurrence. So, there you go – you may want a room with a view in Florence, but unless your room has super sound proofing, you’ll also get a room with lots of noise.

However, even with little sleep, you can’t fail but to be completely blown away by the pink and green marble duomo. Inside it is beautiful, but sometimes you can be a bit overwhelmed with the interiors of Italian churches and cathedrals – I know that I always miss so much, and it’s only when i read up on something afterwards, I wish I’d either taken more notice or known before what treasures could be viewed. With Florence, I kind of felt the same way with the interior, but the exterior could definitely not be ignored.

Formally the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Cathedral of Florence was begun in 1296 in a Gothic style, and was structurally completed by 1436, with the dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi.

The famous Baptistery bronze doors, known as The Gates of Paradise, in front of the cathedral were actually made by the winner of a citywide competition in 1401. Before the dome itself was constructed, a committee in Florence held a competition to decorate the east doors of the baptistery, giving each contestant the same materials and amount of bronze, allowing them to submit their ideas within the guidelines. The two finalists were young 23-year-olds Fillippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti, who were both trained metalworkers and goldsmiths. Ultimately, Ghiberti won, due to the judges favouring his classical style. Michelangelo commented that the doors seemed like the gates of paradise, thereby giving them the name by which they are now known.

Obviously, a highlight of any Florence visit, has got to be the Statue of David. The original sculpture is in the Accademia Gallery of Florence, with the second copy of the David being ocated in Piazza della Signoria (Duomo Square), just opposite the Palazzo Vecchio. Of course, not having done my homework properly, I was quite surprised to see David in the square, open to the elements. Until I realised that to see the real thing, we needed to get our early morning slot booked at the Accademia. Which we did – and once again, we were utterly blown away by the statue.

After the Duomo and Accademia, on such a short visit to Florence, we were a bit over-full of art, but still wanted to experience the Uffizi Galleries. However, when we got there, we couldn’t face another gallery, and so experienced it from the outside – still mightily impressive!

The late October weather did take a turn for the worse and we had drizzle and fog, meaning that shots of the famous red tiled roofs, weren’t quite as vibrant as they could have been. Definitely, another reason to return.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bergamo : Lombardy : Italy : 2015

Bergamo : Lombardy : Italy : 2015

Bergamo, located west of Milan, in the region of Lombardy, is beautiful. Often overlooked for the more glitzy (and possibly more brash) Milan, it has everything. There is the lower, more modern town (Citta Bassa) – although, as well as your retail therapy kicks, you can still soak up the history of the town. Wide thoroughfares are home to a host of familiar shops and stores – Benetton, Zara, Coin etc – as well as churches, grand residences now converted into boutique style hotels, theatres, museums, elaborate government buildings, and many, many coffee shops, bars and restaurants. Like many Italian towns, it also has a fortified upper town, Citta Alta, reached either by a very pleasant walk uphill or by the easier Funicular, which is great if you want expansive views of Bergamo and way, way beyond, to the snowy peaks further north.

Citta Alta is a walled town in its own rights – more than 4kms of walls, built by the Venetians. A couple of days of leisurely strolling and you’ll be familiar with Piazza Vecchia, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, next to it the Cappella Colleoni, and next to it, The Baptistry. You’ll walk through the impressive entrance to Citta Alta at some point – Porta San Giacomo. You’ll also inevitably walk along the main cobbled thoroughfare – Via Bartolomeo Colleoni, from Piazza Vecchia to the arch which takes you to Piazza della Cittadella and beyond to the next funicular, up to the upper upper part of Bergamo – San Vigilio.

But, you also need to take the time to look up and look around you – because as well as the more obvious beautiful sights, you’ll start to see some real hidden treasures…

Vineria Cozzi, Citta Alta, Bergamo

City Walls Topiary : Citta Alta, Bergamo

Religious iconography – make sure you look up as these pieces of artwork are all over Citta Alta, Bergamo…

Original exposed frescoes under the eaves, Citta Alta, Bergamo

I love these huge, wooden doors, with the tiny door and the big wrought iron knocker, Citta Alta, Bergamo

This wall is on a back street, in Citta Alta – just look at what has been revealed as the plaster & render falls off…

Letter box : Citta Alta, Bergamo

Gorgeous Juliet Balconies, above eye/street level. Always look up! Citta Alta, Bergamo.

Gothic glory… Citta Alta, Bergamo

Even in restaurants, you need to look up!

Through a doorway in Citta Alta and this…

More exposed frescoes : Citta Alta, Bergamo

One of Bergamo’s many, many churches : San Vigilio

Hope you’ll agree that Bergamo is pretty special – and if you’ve not been before, that maybe we’ve inspired you to investigate it, especially as it’s the perfect destination for a weekend break. Previously, we used to catch a later afternoon flight out on a Friday from Manchester and return early evening Sunday. The airport is only about 6kms from the city, so you can really squeeze out every single minute!

Vineria Cozzi : Citta Alta : Bergamo : Lombardy

Vineria Cozzi : Citta Alta : Bergamo : Lombardy

We love Bergamo in Northern Italy. It’s often overlooked as a gateway to its more showy neighbour, Milan, as lots of flights land here with easy transport links to the bigger city. But, you are really missing a trick if you just land in Bergamo and hop on a transfer, without ever experiencing this beautiful medieval, fortified city. As well as being crammed with historical treasures around every corner, the eating and drinking scene is pretty spectacular, too. In Citta Alta, the higher, and older, part of the city, the choices for dining are extensive.

Vineria Cozzi, on via Bartolomeo Colleoni, the beautiful cobbled thoroughfare off Piazza Vecchia in the old, upper town, is just stunning. It’s a family run restaurant, that is just an utter delight, decor-wise. And that’s before you’ve seen the menu…

It's a gin bar, as well as a restaurant, so that's a win-win...

It’s a gin bar, as well as a restaurant, so that’s a win-win…

Window displays are sometimes pretty eccentric, but always beautiful...

Window displays are sometimes pretty eccentric, but always beautiful…

The bar area is a feast for they eyes...

The bar area is a feast for they eyes…

Gins of the day...

Gins of the day…

Eccentricity at its best...

Eccentricity at its best…

The menu is innovative, and like the decor, sometimes a bit on the eccentric side – although not pretentious, so you do feel as if you actually being served a proper hearty meal. Given the standard (and quantity) of it, it’s also pretty inexpensive.

Christmas does seem to be a favourite time of year for us to be in Bergamo, and Vineria Cozzi is always way ahead of the festive game. Sometimes quirky, sometimes traditional but always super gorgeous, in the attention to detail.

This restaurant is most definitely a magical experience – and when visited on a cold, crisp December night, it’s even more magical. As is Bergamo, itself.

 

 

 

 

padre pio : san giovanni rotondo : foggia : italy

padre pio : san giovanni rotondo : foggia : italy

Having driven around much of Italy, I think we can safely say that this guy – Padre Pio – is very definitely a superstar saint. You can hardly escape him – statues, images, grafitti, even a whole TV channel dedicated to him. I had heard of him before & had been mildly fascinated by the tales of his stigmata, and when were staying in Peschici & found out (via said TV channel!) that the town of San Giovanni Rotondo was a mere 30kms away, we had to investigate…

I’m sure that many people find this place deeply moving, but to be honest, I found it a bit nuts. Padre Pio’s image looms large, especially from the hospital, up on the hill. Tour buses spill religious tourists out. Stalls, peddling religious paraphenalia, can’t be missed. Priest and nuns mingle with the visitors in bars and restaurants. Everywhere trades on the Padre Pio story – and it’s quite clear that it’s a vibrant economy.

However, the real wealth is all too clear in the actual shrine of Padre Pio, inside Santa Maria della Grazie, the church which was built to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims – and the 50+ new hotels, which have sprung up in the town. As well as the actual tomb of Padre Pio, where he lies, his body well preserved, but without any signs of the stigmata (hmmm…), the walls and ceilings are elaborately mosaiced. Devout pilgrims, some in wheelchairs, many clearly unwell, file past the open casket, praying, and usually stuffing paper money into the collection boxes. There’s definitely a whiff of a charade going on here. But, in a mad way, that I just cannot understand, it clearly gives comfort to the devotees who file past his tomb. And spend money in the gift shop…

Leaving the town, which remains one of the craziest places I’ve ever visited, we turned on the car radio. And of course, which station was picked up? Only Radio Padre Pio! There’s no escaping this superstar saint dude in Italy…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

hotel valemare : tropea : calabria

hotel valemare : tropea : calabria

Tropea is an absolute jewel on the Calabrian coast and we couldn’t recommend highly enough, a stay in this beautiful town. However, if you are looking for accommodation, we couldn’t recommend highly enough that you steer completely clear of Hotel Residence Valemare. We made the error of arriving in Tropea & making a booking over the internet for 4 nights. The hotel we had wanted – Rocca Della Sena – was fully booked and we had seen good reviews for Valemare so we booked there & then. Had we not been on the road for a week, we might have investigated a little more, but we were just glad to be settled for four days.

We were greeted by Francesco – very pleasant guy, but with hindsight, the ONLY pleasant experience we had. We were shown to our apartment, having been advised by Francesco we’d been given an upgrade. I shudder to think what the original room must have been like.
We had a sea view – plus point. We had a balcony. Sort of a plus point but dirty plastic furniture and plastic foliage separating us from people on either side. Still, we weren’t so unhappy at this point. Francesco led us in, so it was only later, that we realised how utterly disgusting the door handle was – a sticky, black substance had been painted over the knackered door handle.

The apartment was large – a good size kitchen/diner, a small bathroom and quite a large double bedroom. So, if size is your only criteria, you might like this kind of apartment. However, a cursory glance around showed how utterly filthy and decrepit this accommodation actually was. The only lighting on the living/kitchen area was an overhead light, so you were either in darkness or fully illuminated. The bed settee had a blue cover which was covered in white stains. See photo & make up your mind as to origin of stains.

The hob did not appear to be working – not such a problem as the greasy, dirty, filthy condition had made any kind of cooking a complete non-starter. The sink was filthy, as were the cupboard doors – greasy finger/hand prints. Door handles were missing & the cutlery drawers had clearly not been cleaned in a long while. There was a remote for the air-con, but this did not appear to be working, as we later discovered.

The bathroom was very small – don’t have a problem at all with this. But I do have a problem with a small, filthy bathroom. See photos of shower, taps etc. It was so dirty, I would not use the shower. There was gunk engrained in the folding shower door and the base of the shower had not been cleaned for some time.

The bedroom furniture was very functional. Again, not a problem with this – as long as the furniture is clean and does what it should do. One of the bedside lamps wasn’t working, meaning that in the whole apartment we had one working lamp. The bed cover was taken off immediately as again, it was stained, very old and looked distinctly beyond its best.

The walls are literally paper thin – the occupants next door were playing some kind of computer game and we could literally hear every beep. The flushing toilet was very audible, as was any moving of furniture – ie pulling a chair in & out.

Because we had booked this late, we did get a cheaper rate through Booking.com, but the overall dirtiness was horrible. I asked at reception if we could see another room as we weren’t very happy -Francesco advised that they were fully booked. It was past 9pm so we decided to stay for the evening and leave in the morning. We spoke to the receptionist the next morning, advising we would be leaving. We acknowledged that Booking.com have a no refund policy, but we requested that given the circumstances, we would pay for one night and would be obliged to have a refund on the three subsequent nights. By this time, we had already looked into other accommodation options in Tropea – both internet searches & walking into town and having a look around – and we were v fortunate that one room at Rocco della Sena was available. We booked it immediately.

The receptionist was GENUINELY perplexed by us stating we were leaving. She came up to the apartment – we showed her what we felt was lacking. She did show us that the air con was indeed working. We had not been told the previous evening that you first of all had to locate the switch behind the curtains before using the remote. Not a huge problem, and one that out of necessity we would have worked out as it was very hot, but quite a fundamental thing not to tell guests. The same with the hob – the ignition switch wasn’t working, so you had to use one of the lighters in the cutlery drawer. Again, we could have worked that out but possibly having a working ignition might have been the best solution. Upon seeing how dirty the bathroom was, and the bedding, she offered us a complimentary breakfast. We refused. She insisted. We refused. She insisted. She also offered to speak to her director to see what could be done. We decided to check out the dining area. The cracked plates and lack of food covers (therefore flies on the food) was enough for me and we walked out. (The dining area does have a lovely view over the sea – plus point). We took our already packed luggage to reception to check out. We weren’t holding out much hope for a refund, but we thought we’d try.
The receptionist was nothing if not very keen to get us to stay – I had to explain that we were so dissatisfied, we had actually made a booking elsewhere. She offered to show us another room. We refused. She said if she had been working on the previous evening, things would have been different and would we look at another room and stay? Again, NO. We asked to speak to the manager to register our complaint – unfortunately, we couldn’t as the director was at hospital with a “bad head”. There is an office, just outside of the main reception area, and this is clearly where the “director” was – the receptionist had frequent audible, animated conversations with someone who despite language barriers, was refusing to budge. Booking.com was called by the receptionist – although they wouldn’t budge in terms of a refund, they were extremely helpful. The receptionist kept reiterating the offer of another room – eventually we had to show her the photos we had taken. She was on the phone immediately, to her director, and we understood her to be mentioning photos/publicity etc etc. Booking.com were called again & we were put on to them – knowing that the “director” was in the office next to reception, we conducted our conversation with the booking company right outside the office & knocked on the door when the call was finished to return the phone. A call came through to reception as we were knocking – from the person inside. The Director…As we were going to get nowhere with speaking to anyone with any kind of authority we left, thankful we were going to another hotel. At the car we realised we still had the room keys and I returned them to reception – just at the right time to meet the “Director” coming out of the office.

This hotel still has our money. In the grand scheme of things, if we don’t get it back, we’ll get over it. But, we would like to advise people that if you want to stay in accommodation that is, at the very least clean, please do NOT make a booking here. It is truly the most awful place and clearly run by someone who is utterly inflexible and yet prepared to have their reception staff face guests who are very unhappy.

We have since spent three idyllic nights since in Hotel Rocca della Sena – if you can, spend a little bit extra here. We cannot tell you how different our experience has been here. Stunning. As is Tropea. And soon, Hotel Valemare, will be put down to a very bad decision.

 

villa mercede : frascati : lazio : italy

villa mercede : frascati : lazio : italy

Villa Mercede is a bit different to many of the hotels we choose to stay in on our travels. Personal choice, but we prefer quirky, boutique style (although not those with silly prices), old, traditional etc to modern and quite functional. Which is what Villa Mercede, set on the slopes of the Castelli Romani area in Frascati, is. However, we were only staying one night before embarking on a long drive south to Sicily and so wanted something that would enable us to have a guaranteed good night’s sleep and a big, hot shower. With a pool. And, within walking distance of Frascati.

The hotel, about 1km down the hill from Frascati historical centre, ticked all the boxes – and more. If you want something with a bit of character, first impressions as you pull into the car park. might be a bit disappointing. It looks very new (a plus point of you want modern) & does look as if it might lack character. However, once we checked in, we were delighted. Perfect for an overnight stay. Everything we had wanted was there – including a very big shower. The bed definitely stands out as one of the most comfortable on our current trip – and having travelled a lot in Italy over the last few weeks, we’ve slept in a lot of Italian beds.The hotel has a pool and an outside terrace – it was a hot afternoon in late September & we took advantage of the pool still being open, followed by an ice-cream & a vino from the bar located right next to the hotel. The gelateri had an extensive choice and is clearly a destination for locals, because as we sat relaxing, there was a steady stream of families & couples arriving, buying ice-cream & driving off. The hotel is about 1km from the centre of town – although it is uphill on the way there, it’s not steep and the compensation is that it’s downhill on the way back. All in all, a great find for a short stop over in a beautiful city in the hills above Rome.

Our stay in Frascati was made all the more special by a spectacular sunset over Rome. The centre of the town was packed with locals and holiday-makers, clearly making the most of the late summer, Sunday evening sunshine.

We found a very cool restaurant, with views down and across to Rome, which by the time we ate, was twinkling in the distance.

And then, as we were having a drink – frascati, obviously – out of nowhere, appeared a religious procession, followed by a fireworks. We’re not religious in any way, but somehow when you’re in Italy, the spectacle and theatre of religion, is just so *right*…