Trieste and Murano


You plan ahead for a long weekend, book train tickets and hotels, pay everything in advance and then you get sick a few days before. I was not exactly in sightseeing form, but was determined not to lose what I had organised and so I went, with a pared back expectation of what I would be able to cram into three days. More rest than running around.

Trieste is on the other side, the eastern side, of Italy and so this trip started with a four-hour train trip from Milan to Trieste on the Friday night. From the station I made my way to L’Albero Nascosto, which is a very nice small, boutique hotel with every room filled with beautiful antique furniture, giving it a very authentic and cosy feel.


The next morning, after the rain had stopped and I had indulged in a great breakfast, I walked around the city, which has a very manageable size. I headed uphill first to the Cattedrale di San Giusto Martire, that is home to some beautiful mosaics and had a distinctly Byzantine feel about it, mixed in with Roman arches. The church was being prepared for a wedding, with guests milling outside, so I didn’t linger and left them to their vows.

I descended a series of steps that led down from the Cattedrale with views over Trieste to arrive in the centre of the city. I had a coffee on the Canal Grande (not to be confused with that of Venice) and then made my way to the Piazza Unita d’Italia, famous for its expansive views over the Gulf of Trieste. I had already seen the night before when I arrived that the piazza’s famous views were blocked by temporary constructions for the Barcolana. Again incredible how my timing always hits these events and not a Coldiretti event this time, but a boat race. Still it’s a beautiful rectangular square and, having to take it easy, I settled in for some lunch at the Caffe degli Specchi, one of the grand old coffee houses lining the Piazza. And there I sat and watched the citizens of Trieste go about their Saturday business.


The next morning was dry and I headed out before dawn to have a chance to photograph Piazza Unita d’Italia at sunrise, capturing the buildings in soft light, which was definitely worth it. A walk down the Molo Audace, one of the main piers of the city also gave an opportunity to shoot some seascapes and afterwards slowly watch the city waking up and coming to life. It’s always a struggle to get out of bed before dawn, but I’ve never once regretted doing it because the light is just the best at that time.


After breakfast I checked out of the hotel and explored the local Eataly before heading to the station to catch the train to Venice, which takes a leisurely two hours. From the St Lucia station I took the vaporetto to the island of Murano where I had booked into a private apartment for the night. I arrived just on dusk and after settling in, headed out in the chilly wind to find an aperitivo nearby and walk along the atmospheric canals.


The next morning I was up at dawn again to explore Murano before the arrival of tourists and to get my bearings on where I wanted to go for glass shopping. In the 13th century all Venetian glass workers were forced to move to Murano due to the risk of fires. Since then, Murano is known for its glass blowing and these days a lot of tourists visit the island. But in the early morning it is still quiet, with only a few people about and a cat who was seeking to get back into its home and was visibly getting irritated when the window remained shut, despite the lights being on at home. Not happy, Jan.


I was keen to buy some glass from Murano as a memento of this time in Italy. I had in mind a set of coloured wine glasses perhaps or a nice vase. When I started seeing the prices for individual wine glasses, I quickly switched the objective to a vase! And I found mine at Archimede Seguso, one of the old masters of Venetian glass blowing (so well captured in John Behrendt’s City of Angels). Buyers beware, you might initially be captivated by something small and affordable and find yourself walking away with something much grander and obviously far more expensive! But I do love the vase I got and it is made in the colour of the Venetian lagoon, and changes pending on how the light falls on it.


I spent hours walking through Murano and eventually took the vaporetto that goes the long way around to the station to sit and relax and see some parts of Venice that I had not seen before. Another two and a half hour train trip took me back to Milan and reality, but I had managed to pull off my long weekend away, despite not being 100% health wise.



Time for Torino


This one is out of sequence; I had so many blog posts to catch up on that I lost track of the timeline. I went to Torino at the end of August on a weekend that the temperatures descended to normal levels for the first time that summer.

Torino is another one of those places that is accessible by Frecciarossa train in an hour from Milan. One of the key reasons to go was to visit the outstanding Museo Egizio (Egyptian Museum). What I didn’t expect was to find, in addition to that, a delightful city with many piazzas, coffeeshops and covered walkways that was very enjoyable to walk around.


From the train station (Porta Nuova) I started by walking towards the centre and soon found myself on the large and beautiful Piazza San Carlo, that is flanked by terraces and arcaded walkways. From there I meandered on until I got to yet another piazza, one smaller in size, facing the Palazzo Carignano. By then I was well and truly wanting a coffee, so I sat down at Farmacia del Cambio cafe and took in the surroundings for a while.

Duly caffeinated I continued my meanderings, towards Piazza Castello, Palazzo Madama and the Palazzo Reale. Yet another lofty square lined by magnificent buildings. It’s as if the city pulls open all registers.


A left turn took me to the Cathedral di San Giovanni Battista where the Shroud of Turin is kept (or what’s left of it) and from there I walked over to the Mole Antonelliana, estimated the queues as too long and instead went to the Egyptian Museum, which was after all one of the prime reasons to come to Turin. My advice is to leave enough hours to take the museum in and even then you will struggle to see most of it. You could spend a week in there and still not see everything in detail. It is a remarkable collection, beautifully presented and a real immersion in Egyptian history. If you can’t make it to Cairo, this museum is your next largest collection of Egyptian artefacts in the world.


After that my feet were sore and my stomach was rumbling, so I went in search of some food before taking the train back to Milan, which I found on Piazza San Carlo. A sightseeing day in Italy wouldn’t be complete without a gelato and where else to get one in Torino but at Alberto Marchetti?! Best ice cream I have ever had and in amazing flavours (zabaglione and torrone anyone?).

I still haven’t seen all of Torino, so I’ll have to go there another time, perhaps getting off the train at Porta Susa and walking into town from there to see the bits I missed on this first visit. And have another gelato at Alberto Marchetti, of course…

Back to Bologna


Thirty years ago I spent almost a year studying in Bologna under the Erasmus Programme, a student exchange programme that was then entering its second year. I had spent a year taking Italian classes to prepare myself and was going to do research for my subthesis. It was a fascinating time with many challenges, the making of new friends and alliances. I spent most of my time getting books out of the library and studying them in our favourite cafe, where you could count on always seeing one of the gang at any point in time. For most of us it was our first time living overseas and so it was a formative time.

I had held off returning to my old “home” until the summer madness had settled down but by late September it was time to return and see if it still looked like in those heady days of 1988-89. Since I’ve been here I seem to have a particular knack for always picking the weekend that some major event is taking place in the location I’m visiting and Bologna was no exception. In this case it was the Coldiretti that had taken over the entire centre of Bologna with their white tents.

It takes only an hour to get to Bologna from Milan on the Frecciarossa and once I made my way out of the caverns of the station (the high speed station is about three floors down from the ground) I steered towards Via Irnerio to find my old “way” to university. Thirty years may have passed, but the city itself hasn’t changed and the university area is still full of graffiti as it was back then and as is any student area in any city. It felt surreal to be walking the streets, having moments of recognition, moments of feeling lost, trying to remember if it was this corner, or whether it was further on, walking past the library where I spent so many hours and then suddenly, when I had given up on finding it, I walked straight to Bar Piccolo – my cafe! (now called Piccolo & Sublime and still looking the same yet different. Admittedly, nothing special to look at, but for me it holds special meaning). I had to stop there and have a coffee and a spremuta for old times, memories flooding back. I wonder where everyone is now and what they’ve done since those days that we shared these experiences in this particular location.


Fortified by coffee I made my way to the Due Torri, the two towers of Garisenda and Asinelli, where I found large tourist groups milling around them. It was a shock to the system; Bologna had been a quiet place, undiscovered by tourism back when I was studying here. The place where the Due Torri stand was quiet, somewhere you passed on your way to somewhere else. Now it is a sight in itself.


From there it wasn’t far to the Santo Stefano complex, seven churches all connected together. I remember going there once with one of my UK friends who was studying art history and who made me see the paintings there in a different way; an experience I’ll never forget. Now it is a stop on the tourist trail with many people visiting. And I find it difficult to see many visitors snapping photographs non-stop, to hear them talking loudly. I’m not religious, but I can still respect someone’s house of worship and I will generally not take any photographs inside churches or other places of worship. These places should remain sacred to their users.


Dodging the Santo Stefano crowds for other crowds I made my way to Piazza Maggiore and the San Petronio church. Coldiretti had taken over Piazza Maggiore and I sought refuge in San Petronio, still as beautiful as ever. From there I walked around the back streets, in search of a lunch spot. Over lunch I contemplated the best course of action for the afternoon and decided to opt for the walk up to the Basilica di San Luca. Duly fortified by tortellini in brodo I set out for the long walk uphill.


First I made my way to Porta Saragozza and from there followed the covered walkways leading out of the city and finally commencing the climb uphill, steep in part (paying forward for sins to come like gelato). When I did it years ago it was mainly old men, priests and nuns who walked up here. Now the lycra clad fitness crowd had adopted it as their workout of choice. I worked myself into a sweat walking uphill, feeling old and old-fashioned, but when I got to the basilica it was such a joy to arrive, take in the views and enjoy the restorative coolness inside of the basilica. Once I had cooled off I slowly made my way down the steps again, returning to the Piazza Maggiore, Neptune’s fountain and finally Via Indipendenza for an aperol spritz before heading back to the station and that gelato en route.


I still feel I only had a fleeting visit to Bologna and really want to go back another time to explore the areas I did not go this time to avoid the crowds. I’m thinking mid-winter could be a perfect time for that. The tourists will be gone and it might remind me of those winter days in Bologna during my student days. It is lovely to revisit the past, but also a slightly melancholy exercise. I don’t know who said this, but “Some days I wish I could go back in life, not to change things, just to feel a few things twice” sums it up nicely for me.