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Bergamo

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I find it’s often the places that are closest that you don’t end up visiting, thinking “I’ll do that one day; I’ve got time for that” and then ending up with no time and no visit. I wanted to avoid that with Bergamo, just an hour by train from Milan, as I had heard it is very beautiful and easy to visit in a couple of hours.

The key attraction of Bergamo is it’s Citta Alta, the “high” part of the city which features cobblestone streets, Venetian walls and a number of historical and notable buildings. There is a funicular that takes visitors up from the lower city to the upper city, but by the time I arrived there were long queues snaking out of the funicular building. To the left I saw a path and series of steps go up the hill, indicating a path to the upper city. It wasn’t very hard to walk uphill, although apparently the views from the funicular are very good.

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Once in the upper city, it really doesn’t matter where you start your wanderings or in which direction. It’s not a big place and the real enjoyment lies in meandering at leisure through the streets and making new discoveries. My first stop was at Piazza Vecchia, where I had some lunch after finishing the sightseeing of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and the Capella Colleoni. Both are beautiful buildings and splendidly decorated, particularly on the inside.

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From there I walked through the city’s streets, past small artisan shops (cannoli anyone?!) until I popped out on the other side. I headed towards the Venetian walls and followed them back close to where I started from. After the obligatory gelato I walked to the Rocca di Bergamo from where you have great views over the Citta Alta and the surrounding mountains.

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I didn’t even get to do any of the museums this time, but there is always time for that, right…?

 

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Trieste and Murano

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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Time for Torino

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…