Milan

61ED849F-BC59-44C6-B056-D83E564B417DOur final stop for this adventure is Milan, the fashion and financial capital of Italy, and home of the Duomo, pictured above. While we have spent a day before or after a flight here, we have never stayed for a longer period of time. So we rented an apartment in the center (views from our balcony below), invited Mom, and are ready to see the sites.

Our visit began with Easter Sunday, which begins with a delicious Colombo bread, shaped like a dove for peace. We then go to the Duomo for mass by the archbishop. The Duomo piazza is teeming with people, and security. A later visit to the rooftop and interior is also a “must do”.

We take in “Manon Lescaut” at La Scala, the famous opera house, and earlier toured its museum next door.

Seeing the di Vinci’s “Last Supper” at Santa Maria delle Grazie is a must in Milan. Visits are strictly limited to 15 minutes for this large wall painting, and tickets should be acquired well in advance. The cloister of the adjacent former monastery is a pretty place to visit.

We take a day trip to Lake Como,  and the charming town of Como at the bottom of the lake. A boat ride on the lake takes us past incredible villas (we wave to George and Amal), and we have lunch in Bellagio.

We visit with friends, old and new.

We shop, have our favorite Italian treat, and prepare to go home.

6B435002-E1D9-4A6C-AA18-4FF49D1DA420Bottom line, Milan is a destination in and of itself. Nearby Bergamo, which we saw on a prior visit, is also an easy and worthwhile day trip or overnight. After a grand adventure, we are ready for re-entry and catching up with family and friends. Thanks for sharing this visit with us. A presto e Arriverderci!

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Musings on Verona

4F6D7FC0-C78D-4C25-95A8-40CE93C95A1CBefore we turn to Milan, the final stop on our Italian adventure, we want to share a few final thoughts and photos from Verona. In addition to the castles, gardens and churches, on an extended stay, there are everyday things to accomplish. You can get a haircut either from a bulldog or a machete.  Cono choose the bulldog.

 

You can have a gelato (in a cono-cone, or cup), take a photo (look at that concentration) and attend a concert:

 

You can spend the day at nearby Lake Garda, which, in addition to a boat ride on the lake, has its own castle and the town of Sirmione to explore. Maria Callas was one of its famous residents.

 

Bottom line, Verona has so much more to offer than Romeo and Juliet.

 

A presto in Milano!

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Giardino Giusti

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The Giusti family of Verona in the 13-15th centuries made their money dying wool on a large tract of land bordered by the old city wall, part of which is a boundary of the current gardens. During the course of the 15th century, the land was converted into a large garden with an elegant palazzo.  You can visit both while in Verona; it is best to go on a clear day so you can truly enjoy the extensive gardens and expansive views.

The gardens have a number of different areas, with a formal garden on the lower part divided into nine square sections. The center is a cypress alle’e with towering specimens of the trees, some hundreds of years old, ending at a huge mask sculptured out of the rock face of the grotto behind it.  There is also an amazing and confusing labyrinth of box hedges, and the local lore holds – forget Romeo and Juliet, if you can find your love in the labyrinth, you love will be eternal!

 

You can climb up several stone paths towards the back of the garden to a much less formal upper garden, more of a slightly rugged wooded area. A set of stone stairs hidden in a little turret (during the climb you can view a 16 century grotto chapel) brings you to the top and some of the best vistas of Verona from a small platform.

Then there is the palazzo itself to tour.  Although not a lot of the furnishings remain, you can see its elegance and enormous size in the two large “apartments” (wings)  with a central reception room, and the wall and ceiling decorations.  The entrance hall and courtyard were originally used for theatrical performances.

A big thank you to the Giusti family for creating and preserving this lovely setting for us to visit.

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Verona’s Big Four

855B5978-AC85-4FEC-9A43-6A26CE1FC7F5After four days in Verona we have begun to have some fairly informed observations and opinions: Verona is not as big a city as Bologna, Verona has lots of beautiful piazzas tucked away in areas where they are least expected, people in Verona are very kind and helpful (as they have been in all of our Italy wanderings), there is hardly any graffiti in Verona, the city is very clean, and gelato and coffee bars are ubiquitous. Verona, like all other Italian cities, has many churches.

As we have mentioned this in the past, over many years of  travel, we have become “over-churched and over-museumed”. However, in light of the horrific Notre Dame fire, as well as their historical and religious significance,  we decided to visit Verona’s “Big Four” churches: The Basilica di San Zeno, Complesso del Duomo ( front pictured in header above), Basilica di Anastasia and Chiesa di San Fermo (our neighborhood church). These four churches are all very old;  the “youngest” having been constructed in the 1400s and the oldest dating back to the 4th and 5th centuries. It is hard to decide what to emphasize since each is stunning in its own way. Generally the stone work in all four is outstanding when you consider their age. The interiors are all in relatively good condition although many of the frescoes (and there are many, many frescos!) have some damage from moisture, age and other damage. Interestingly the two oldest churches both sustained earthquake damage in the 1100s and had renovations done shortly thereafter. Another treat is that the elaborately designed multi colored stone floors in two of the churches are original!

The ceilings of two of these huge buildings are beautifully and elaborately decorated. One “beautiful but unusual” ceiling decoration depicts a religious person with a sword stabbing him in the back and an axe striking him in the head! Another very poignant aspect of two of the churches is that the gigantic ceilings are constructed of exposed wooden beams in the design and appearance of the interior keel and ribs of a boat. We couldn’t help thinking and lamenting about the fire damage that started in the “forest” of  wooded trusses of the roof of Notre Dame. The other two church ceilings were barrel vaulted and frescoes with no exposed wood.

One or two final esoteric references are that the namesake of the  Basicilia of San Zeno is the patron saint of Verona. He was from Africa and is referred to and depicted as the “Black Bishop” (first photo below).  The Basicilia is also distinctive because of its lower (crypt) and upper churches (second photo below). In addition, tradition tells us that the crypt of the Basilica of San Zeno was the site of the marriage of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

The “hunchback” below is to depict the weight on the population building these churches, and the stain glass is the crest a donor family.

Some other favorite images (can you spot the author of this post; hence its accounting referenced title):

So when you visit Verona, in addition to the piazzas, cappuccinos, and gelatos, be sure to take time to visit some or all of the Big Four.  The walk between them is delightful and takes you on both sides of the Adige river (second longest in Italy after the Po).

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Verona Charms Us

D82CAF4B-A792-4751-9F00-F57811552C19Verona is charming, romantic and captivating. It has a surrounding wall, ramparts, a castle and a river with many bridges to cross, and a Roman arena where opera is still performed. It has churches galore (see upcoming post on the “Big Four”) that are historically as well as architecturally significant.  It helps that the weather has been glorious and the Spring flowers are in bloom, including dripping bougainvillea from many of its numerous balconies. There are wonderful piazzas, large and small, in which to relax and have a coffee or an apperitivo.

Verona of course also has its famous star-crossed lovers in Romeo and Juliet. Here you can see her balcony, his home, and her tomb. Our guidebook advised us to go to Juliet’s balcony, not so much to see the structure itself, but to see the wide diversity of tourists that visit the place. They were correct.


Our Verona apartment is conveniently located, and on the fifth floor (that’s sixth in the US) with a cozy terrace to gaze out over the tiled roofs and bell towers.

We quickly found a neighborhood bar to have our morning cappuccino (or two), tea, and brioche. This type of place is something that has gone by the wayside in many US neighborhoods.  Here we delight in the comfortable, small neighborhood establishment, and being quickly recognized and greeted by the proprietor.


Verona simply oozes charm with every twist and turn of its street, alleys and vicolos (small alleys). The food is good, the gelato and pastries fine as well. Although there are signs to its many sights, the atmosphere of Verona in best absorbed relaxing in the piazzas to wile away the day people watching, admiring the frescoed buildings, or simple enjoying joie de vivre (excuse the cultural appropriation of this phrase).

Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Spring to all!

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Bologna: Some Things are the Same…

 

Ah, our beloved Bologna, and the subject of so many posts from our extended first stay here in 2012 (Dreams 2 Memories Two-Vivere In Italia and forward). We are back,  have visited here many times now, and have a lot of terrific friends. A  significant amount of our time is spent socializing and catching up with friends. We have the pleasure of joining a special family for the confirmation of their daughter. We still enjoy our strolls around the center city, and especially appreciate the arched porticos on so many of the buildings in centro on a couple of rainy days.  The apartment where are staying is one we have stayed in the past; it is a delightful home and neighborhood, with all the amenities.

The old stall fresh food markets are still there as they have been for centuries:

and the shop windows are again elaborately decorated for Pasqua (Easter):

The cappuccino, pastries and gelato are as delicious as always:

Although several new sights disappoint:

Our special affiny for the city and our special friends there remains. A presto!

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Travel is not Always Glamorous

 

43792E95-629E-4625-9C70-0E4C68527B4FAlthough my good humored husband makes it look easy, this is not always the case.

 

Thankfully, this time everything worked, and this trip was relatively easy.  The taxi to the station was on time, and there was only one connection, which we made. A big bonus was that the connecting train was on the same track. In this case, we only had 10 minutes to make the connections-quite tight if you are delayed or have to change tracks. This can be a bit of an ordeal in smaller stations because there are usually no elevators or escalators to help with luggage (and no red cap porters that spoil New Yorkers). As a result, if you have to go to a non-adjacent track with heavy bags, ugh! We are good packers, and travel relatively light for the length of our stay, but still…we “shed” 22 lbs in Bologna.  No, not body weight, but shipping home clothes no longer needed.  More room to shop!

 

So we say arriverderci Perugia and ciao Bologna!

 

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Musings on Perugia

 

As we look back on our almost five weeks in Perugia, and move north, we wanted to share some thoughts on our stay and why we enjoyed and recommend it. This was our first trip to Umbria (although definitely not to Italy), and we found Perugia to be an excellent city in and of itself, as well as a centrally located base to explore the Umbrian region.  In some ways, we “lucked out” with a great apartment and very helpful landlord, as well as neighbor. This made up for a lack of social contacts, which we have in some other Italian cities. The city is smaller than many of its northern neighbors, but large enough to have plenty to do, including a University and good restaurants. The air is mountaintop fresh, there is less (almost no) graffiti than other University towns, and the city generally clean with its multi container, color coded recycling system, including compost (organics). There’s a huge amount for history buffs to discover, as many hilltop towns as you’d care to discover and plenty of green in between. Perugia is steep, but has a good system for getting around, including stairs, escalators, buses and even a mini metro. The food is very good, the cappuccinos and chocolate are excellent, and prices are not expensive.  All in all, a wonderful place to visit, and apparently to live. We met a number of American expatriates who have chosen to live in Perugia.  Some are Italian- American, others are not. We definitely recommend a visit if not an extended stay.  A presto, and stayed tuned for visits to cities in the north  (Bologna, Verona and Milan).

 

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Signs, Signs, Everywhere

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Signs are fascinating, especially in a foreign city. I remember a number from our prior visits to older cities in Europe. Some of the oldest signs were informative on the craft inside the store at that time (shoemaker, tailor (scissors, thread)).  Some are directional, but also creative:

Others are welcoming or saying goodbye (respectively):

Perugia has a wonderful, albeit somewhat confusing, series of walking tours based the areas that formed around the original five ports or gates in the wall(s). The tours  are confusing because as the five areas grew, in and outside the wall, they overlapped each other, and as a result, the current day routes routes criss-cross each other.  As you can see from the first photo below, the Porta San Pietro itinerary has 32 stops. Eventually we gave up on following a particular route, and we’re just happy to come across one of the tour marker signs (bilingual).

While some signs inform, others also tempt:

And still others are just fun, like the Solo Italiano (“Only Italian” is coming) one in the header above, and the ones below:

There are signs, signs everywhere!

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A Last, Special Weekend in Perugia!

.A4AE870A-179D-4D0C-91E7-BD89941445A4It is hard to believe that we have been in Perugia for over a month already, and on our last weekend here, we were delighted to show off our adopted city to our special cousin Patricia. Although born in the US, Patricia has lived in Zurich for decades, and we try to get to see each other when we are in the same time zone. Here was our opportunity in Europe, and we were happy she was able to make the trip. Just as Grace, our apartment neighbor, showed us the basics of the city when we arrived, just a month later doing the same with Patricia. We first strolled around  Piazza d’Italia, about which we previously wrote (Piazza d’Italia).The weather was glorious, and there was a monthly antique fair in the piazza that weekend. The views were as spectacular as always on a clear day. (As a PS to our post, I subsequently learned that Piazza d’Italia was built on top of the area of the former fortress Rocca Paolina. The fortress, built during papal rule was hated by the Perugians, and was destroyed as soon as that rule ended.  Piazza d’Italia was built on top of the the resulting gap.)

We also explored the two main streets/piazzas in centro: Vannucci and Matteotti, which both eventually spill into Piazza IV November.  These street and piazzas are the heart of the center, and are filled with outdoor cafes, shops, gelato, vendors, and various government buildings, particularly on Piazza Matteotti (the building below with the three arches in its entrance-way is the post office). On this particular weekend, the streets and piazzas were also teeming with people. The pedestrian traffic was noticeably larger than we had seen during our entire stay, which we speculated was due to weather, the Springtime calendar, and the upcoming journalism conference coming to town.

We shared our favorite cappuccino places:

And some of our regular restaurants (can you tell which dish was a home cooked meal?):

We helped the economy (no photos, but the rumor is there was some Swiss duty due), and kept calm:

A wonderful lovely weekend with family! Now we are physically onto Bologna, but have a couple of catch up posts on Perugia.  Plus there are many posts on Bologna from our prior stay (Dreams 2 Memories Two-Vivere In Italia and forward). A presto.

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