The Journey to the Past
Cock-a-Hoop moments in Rome
The Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi once said: “You may have the universe if I may have Italy”. I too second his thought after visiting this country. With a degree of candour, I intend to shower an insight into traveling this part of the world. Before chalking out any other European country in their bucket list, I would recommend all my traveller friends to begin their European odyssey with Italy. Knowing its hard to cover the whole of Italy at one go, I started my Italian journey from Rome, followed by Florence, Venice, Milan and all the way up north to Lake Como.
I couldn't agree more paying a visit to the architectural masterpieces of Rome, feasting on world-class art and gourmet Tuscan cuisines, waking up in Venice that springs unimaginative scenes of a city floating on water, you feel life is worth living.
The flamboyance of Milan is noteworthy, and the beauty of lake Como from dawn to dusk exudes an aura of enchantment, regardless of whether it bathed in sunlight or shrouded in mist.
Dotting with fairy-tale villages, narrow alleys, tiny hanging balconies beautifully accommodating flower pots exudes a feeling that such places actually exist in this world and it’s just not a mirage. Touring to such places is like starting a love affair with life all over again !!
The must-visit landmark of a lifetime is undoubtedly Colosseum, one of the most evocative sights I have ever seen.The fact that it was the largest amphitheatre bringing men to slay each other, even wild beast and the entire Roman folks used to cheer to this act of slaughter, was nothing sort of a film. When in Rome, one must pay a special tribute to this timeless reminder of the roman might, even getting some chills touring the entire Colosseum. I remained flabbergasted after seeing the frescoes of Raphael Santi and Michelangelo in the Vatican Museum. What brought to mind is how Michelangelo, a man in his life paint so intricately and create sculptures par excellence.
The Italian capital is an epic metropolis, an open museum that leaves you dumbfound. Its architectural masterpieces, buzzing piazzas, maze of stone streets, scooters zip through medieval alleyways and stylish drinkers sip at tables on baroque piazzas defines the Italian way of life. Some of the priceless treasures are Colosseum, Roman Forum, St.Peters Basilica, Vatican Museums, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and Spanish Steps.
I stayed 4 days in Rome and yet the feeling of missing out never actually leaves you. Other than the go by the books ones, you have a series of sight-seeing which can never take the status of 'optional visits' for passionate travellers or history buffs.
Starting your day with the famous Trevi and just in the vicinity is the Time Elevator,a fantastic show that people of all age will cherish. It is a 45 minutes virtual journey through 3,000 years of Roman history. The shows kicks off half past every hour, with an audience ranging from kids to armchair sightseers who loves the panoramic screens, flight stimulator technology and surround sound system.
Then comes the macabre Chiesa Di Santa Maria Della Conceizione, a church whose interior decorations comprise of human bones. The lovers of all kinds of ghoulish will find the place rewarding. A short walk to the north of Trevi is Tridante, which encompasses Piazza di Spagna. In the past luminaries ranging from the popular romantic poet John Keats to filmmaker Federico Fellini came to while away the hours. It is also home to the city’s shopping district, littered with fancy glittering designer boutiques.
Keep the afternoon to Villa Borghese, north of Tridenta, filled with sculptures, paintings and frescos all adorning the most picturesque public park in Rome. Don’t miss this extraordinary opportunity to experience Rome as not many do. Tick off the Roman countryside bike tour of the ancient Appian Way and Catacombs and cycle in a group of equally passionate travellers along a 2,300-year-old cobblestone road, past an ancient sepulcher and an Imperial palace, as well as ancient Roman aqueducts.
Finally, ride through Caffarella Park, a preserved strip of land in the Roman countryside that impressed 19th-century travellers like Byron, Goethe and Stendhal. The challenging route covers a distance of roughly 19 miles (30 kilometers) including some seven or eight hills and lots of off-road terrains, for this reason, the tour is aimed at experienced cyclists with a better-than-average level of fitness. For non-bikers you can go forward while indulging a segway ride for covering such a vast area. It's worth driving on the road for reasons clear, Appian Way is strategically the oldest motorable road since antiquity.
Now come the food and dining section : I dug out an off-the-raider restaurant named la forchetta d'oro in Santa Maria Maggiore area where I was staying in a B&B. The complementary Brochette with a blob of Mozzarella was to die for. The jolly restaurateur came to us as a food consultant guiding us about Italian flavours.
When you visit Rome, the most irresistible quality may be how its modern-day trattorias, coffee bars and Pizzerias happily co-exist with ancient treasures and make the city more lively with locals and travellers alike.
Get wowed by art in the Florentine air !!
My fourth day takes me to Florence. The city is synonymous with Renaissance. Home to Michelangelo's David, Leonardo's Annunciation, Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Raphael's staggering Madonnas, the city is indeed an art pilgrim's paradise.
The Duomo dominates the sky of Florence and the entire city wears pinkish hues during sunset. The Arno river is like the life line of Florence silently flowing under Ponte Vecchio (iconic bridge of Florence) dotting the glittering wares of jewellers since 16th century when Medici ordered them here to replace the smelly town butchers. No visit to Florence is justified without haggling for leather wallets, bags, belts at the San Lorenzo Market.
The must visits are : Piazza Del Duomo, Battistero, Galleria dell'Accademia, Museo dell'Opera dell Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, Uffizi Gallery, Ponte Vecchio and end your day experiencing the panoramic view of the city from the famous Piazzale Michelangelo.
Turn your back on the bevy of ticky-tacky souvenir stalls flogging david statues and boxer shorts and take in the spectacular city panorama from this vast square, pierced by one of Florence's two David copies.
Sunset here is particularly dramatic. It's a 10-minute uphill walk along the serpentine road, paths and steps that scale the hillside from the Arno and Piazza Giuseppe Poggi; from Piazza San Niccolò walk uphill and bear left up the long flight of steps signposted Viale Michelangelo. Or take bus 13 from Stazione di Santa Maria Novella. Start your morning bypassing the line with your skip-the-line ticket, enjoy a guided tour of the Accademia Gallery.
Check out Michelangelo's David, a magnificent 17 foot marble masterpiece -- easily the most famous statue in the world! Pass through the San Lorenzo Leather market and stop to rub the nose of Florence's piglet statue (Il Porcellino) for luck!. Head past the queues outside the Florence Duomo for a skip-the-line tour of this stunning building, officially known as Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Learn about the Duomo's history from your guide.
The ideal way to discover Florence is by walking at your own pace. Cross the Ponte Vecchio, a medieval bridge and experience the newest area of Florence, Oltrarno and be sure to set aside some amount of time seeing the varied art collection housed in the Pitti Palace. When you grow weary of Museums and monuments spend some time at the Baboli Gardens or climb the hill to church of San Miniato al Monte to soak in entire views of Florence.
Under the Tuscan Sun !!
Next day early morning we started for our trip under the Tuscan sun. The one day Tuscany tour was conducted by the Viator. Visited the medieval towns of Siena and San Gimignano. It was certainly one of my life changing experiences till date. The famous bareback Palio horse race dated from the middle ages takes place even today on the 2nd July and 16th Aug annually. Siena's 17 town districts compete for the coveted Palio i.e the silk banner.
San Gimignano, popularly called the Medieval Manhattan, has not changed much since the medieval age. The intact medieval streetscapes, its palpable sense of history and enchanting rural setting lure thousands of tourist. Possibly Italy’s most famous small town that evokes the atmosphere of medieval Toscana so precisely. Cobblestone alleys, high defensive walls, imposing towers, narrow streets to walk down and minimal automobile traffic create an illusion of timelessness. Famous towers date back to a period when prosperous families sought prestige by building towers to match the height of their status. So aggressive was the competition between families that the government made a law forbidding any tower taller than the tower on the Palazzo del Popolo, being the seat of the government.
Besides being symbols of status, the towers also served as defensive strongholds during the incessant family feuds that plagued the city, and were used to store grain for sieges and for dumping boiling oil on attacking enemies. A breathtakingly beautiful little town in almost every corner, is the view from the top of the Torre Grossa, a vantage point in San Gimignano.
Enjoy a stroll among Chianti vineyards, olive groves and wine cellars before indulging in a traditional Tuscan lunch amongst the Sienese hills. Surrounded by grapevines you'll have the opportunity to meet fellow travellers while feasting on the local lunch : Garlic Brochette, Pasta with Rich ragu, Tuscan ham, salami and local artisan sheep milk cheese, Garden Salad, Cantuccini (almond biscuits) to dip into Vin Santo (dessert wine). A wine-tasting class was held during lunch which includes some of the free samples of wine and olive oil (which are also available for purchase).
I came out with a great deal of knowledge about Chainti wines and Sangiovese, a variety of grape grown in the region, is in majority in the bottle. There are three genres of Chianti wine 1.Chainti Regular 2.Chainti Classico 3.Chinati Riserva. The Chianti Classico region is central to the region and arguably the most famous.
We ended our tour by visiting the vibrant university town that draws millions of day-trippers who come for a glimpse of Pisa’s tilted tower. Save your visit to the leaning tower of Pisa and Palazzo dei Miracoli. We reached this place in the evening and found out night casts a certain magic on the glistening white monuments. The photographers will be thrilled to capture some of the best frames of the trip.
Florence was so intoxicating that at the end of our Florence trip we really wanted to include another day in our travel itinerary For wine lovers wine festival in Greve in the chianti district takes place- every year on second weekend of September. Local merchants display their products, and wine tasting is offered for free. Olive oil is available for tasting, served on fresh sliced Italian bread. Local cheeses are also some of the staple here.
For all the culinary experts Viator has started with a Cooking class at a Tuscan Farm House with a local market tour from Florence. Indulge your love of Italian food in Tuscany, and enjoy a full-day tour that combines a market visit with a cooking class and 4-course meal with wine!
After scouting out quality local ingredients at a historical Florence food market, travel to a rustic farmhouse in Tuscany, surrounded by exquisite countryside. Then, prepare your feast of pasta, pizza and Tuscan roast pork, plus beloved desserts such as tiramisu and gelato, before savouring the creations with Tuscan wine. Up to four glasses of wine are included throughout the day, as well as a recipe book, a cooking diploma and souvenir apron. Highly Recommended for all home chefs.
Bubbly wine and Gondala traffic in Venice !!
A brief introduction to Venice begins near St Mark’s Square including the Byzantine architectural heritage of St Mark's Basilica and the adjoining prisons of Doge's Palace. Leaving the crowds behind, enter a labyrinth of narrow passageways and meandering canals punctuated by delicate bridges as you further explore the enchanting city with your guide. Following your guide catch a glimpse by the throngs of street musicians and pigeons who converge on the square, and stop for photos in front of its many monuments.
Explore the lively Campo Santa Maria Formosa with its outstanding Gothic palaces, and view Marco Polo's house as well as an old merchant's warehouse and the city’s most beautiful wellhead. Complete your walking tour near the smallest bridge in the world (that’s what I felt) Ponte Rialto, and enjoy free time before your Gondola tour of the Grand Canal begins. In addition to Venice’s big-name sights, your walking tour also takes in some city gems that many visitors miss.
Discover the calli, a labyrinthine web of narrow Venetian streets and canals, and learn about life in the city as a local. Indulge in the shopping lanes for Murano glass showpieces and Venetian mask to carry back home.
You can extent a day and go for a day trip to the Venetian islands : Murano has been home to glass blowers for centuries, Burano is famous for its lace-making, and Torcello is where the original Venetian settlers made their homes (one of Venice’s oldest churches still stands on Torcello). You can visit all three in a relaxed day trip, taking the vaporetto from island to island.
On reaching in the time of day the city looks overcrowded by boat traffic, water busses called Vapouratie, if something floats and it's in Venice, it moves along the Grand Canal. And by daylight it is one of the glories of the Earth. But at night, especially when the moon is full and the soft illumination reflects off the water and onto the palaces – it is like writing poetry. You can plan during the carnival ball if you love to see the spectacle.
But I strongly recommend to do a Venice food tour. Discover the locals’ favourite ‘cicchetti’ bars in Venice, enjoying the city’s famous tapas-style dishes with an expert guide! The exciting 3-hour food tour includes visits to five atmospheric wine bars, a walk around Rialto market and a short Traghetti (Traghetto) ride. Choose from a morning or evening tour and sample plates of the Venetian snacks – known as cicchetti – in each bar.
Try local specialties like marinated seafood with polenta, a plate of Carpaccio, a dish of thinly sliced raw beef topped with a generous drizzle of special sauce, but I just wasn't sure I could eat an entire plate of raw beef. It was invented in Venice and is popular worldwide, also try the regional wine and Prosecco – the Italian sparking wine. In the evening train we reached Milan, the last destination our trip.
There is an anecdote in the book ‘Travels of Marco Polo’ where Kublai Khan asked the Italian merchant traveller ‘ There is still one of which you never speak’ , the Khan said ‘Venice’ Marco smiled. 'What else do you believe I have been talking to you about?' The emperor did not turn a hair. 'And yet I have never heard you mention that name.' And Polo said: 'Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice.”
Similarly Venice appeared to me as a recurring dream, a place once visited and now fixed in memory like images on a photographer’s plates.
Explore this avant-garde blend of old and new in Milan
You can’t ignore this modern metropolis but beneath its urban cool lies the 2,000 year old city with the wealth of treasures to be excavated. The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, is housed at Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, and has earned a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
But there's plenty more to Milan than Leonardo's famous fresco! Take a half-day tour of Milan including a free walking tour to this stylish Italian city. Milan boasts plenty of superlatives: It's home to one of the world's oldest churches, a renowned opera house, the most fashionable city in Italy, and Da Vinci's The Last Supper.
Milan is the fashion world's design capital and rivals Paris as a leading fashion hub. Shopping here takes on an almost religious significance! But reserve your time for exploring intricate lace-like mountain of pearly white marble cathedral. Climb to the roof to see the bird's eye view of the entire city.
Visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of Santa Maria delle Grazie to admire 'The Last Supper' in situ. Demand is high and the queues get long to see this masterpiece; Explore Sforza Castle and the La Scala opera house with your guide. Explore the Galleria, Vittorio Emanuele shopping arcade, a highlight of Italy’s fashion capital.
Visiting the Lake Como you may ponder such places only existed in movies !!
A trip to lake Como is a must include in the itinerary. I explored the scenic Lake Como in Italy's beautiful Lake District on a day trip from Milan. Board the train from Milan Norde in the morning and relax on the 1-hour ride to Como De Lago. The fashionable lakeside town of Como is surrounded by snowcapped mountains.
After spending some time shopping and dining in Como, you'll take a one-hour panoramic small cruise on Lake Como to the enchanting village of Bellagio. This side of the world is simply a fairy-tale believe me when i say that.
The classiness of this pocket of Northern Italy, which Wordsworth described as a 'treasure which the earth keeps to itself', comes from the unspoilt little villages that hug the shore, the beautiful villas in their lush, green gardens, the mountainous hinterland (snow-capped even in late spring) and the well-dressed, courteous locals who seem to measure progress by how much things remain the same.
Lake Como has been a popular retreat for aristocrats and wealthy people since Roman times, and a very popular tourist attraction with many artistic and cultural gems. Home to lake side villas and palaces such as Villa Olmo, Villa Serbelloni, and Villa Carlotta). Many famous people have or have had homes on the shores of Lake Como, such as Matthew Bellamy, Madonna, George Clooney,Gianni Versace, Ronaldinho, Sylvester Stallone, Julian Lennon, Richard Branson, Ben Spies, and Pierina Legnani.
Sad I didn’t locate George Clooney yet I had it all. Dining is a fine art in fashionable Milan with many a Michelin –starred restaurant playing host to celebrities. Dont leave before sampling some Milanese classiscs :the risotto ala Milanese( delicately flavoured saffron) and a legendary Panettone ( cake with candid fruits).I found a good deal of 16 Euros in a fine dining restaurant for a 3 coarse meal ending my last day of the trip.To finish off, what can beat a gelato followed by a shot of world's best coffee.
Its like a Cookery show !! Flinger-Licking Yum delicacies
My Italian affair comes to an end !!
Italy is a soft drug peddled in predictable packages, such as hills in the sunset, olive groves, lemon trees, white wine, and raven-haired girls. Italia, on the other hand, is a maze. It's alluring, but complicated. It's the kind of place that can have you fuming and then purring in the space of a hundred meters, or in the course of ten minutes. Italy is the only workshop in the world that can turn out both Botticellis and Berlusconis. I wish Italy could kick its bad habit of wanting to eat pasta everywhere. Though I follow all the episodes of celebrity Italian chef the charming David Rocco cooking various recipes of pasta on Fox traveller. I found Italians in general are fashionable, sociable and passionate about enjoying life and cutting a fine figure (la bella figura) but much like Indians they are afflicted with nepotism and unemployment. My trip ends here but there is another big chunk left that is south of Italy that needs to be explored in my lifetime till then as Italian’s would say Ciao !!.
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