Rainy day in Venice

As the weather heats up in Queensland I am reminded of the rainy Autumn days that we spent in Venice in 2015. For the most part, the weather was cold and wet, a high tide was predicted and we could not have been happier. Protected by the covered passage of the Doges Palace we watched a parade of colourful umbrellas and plastic ponchos pass us by.




Weekly photo challenge: Variations on a theme

Variations on a theme is the choice for this week’s photo challenge and given my tendency to photography a subject numerous times from various angles it wasn’t a difficult task. The difficulty for me was deciding between the doors of Venice, dogs of Italy, street art in Melbourne,  The Rape of the Sabine in Florence, Notre Dame Cathedral and so on. Sorting through my catalogue of images, the Eiffel Tower in Paris seemed an obvious choice. There are not many places in Paris that provide little or no view of the Eiffel Tower and I don’t care whether it is touristy, a cliche or over represented. I love seeing the tower rising out of the fog, peering from behind trees or twinkling in the dark, it means I’m on holiday in Paris and that always makes me happy.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Silence

This week’s theme for the photo challenge is silence and whilst many images came to mind the ones that stuck were photos taken in the presence of sobering memorials to victims of the holocaust in WWII. In Paris we signed up for a guided walking tour of the Marais, there was probably 15 of us in attendance and we happily followed our guide through the streets and villages of the Marais district. Although only a small group, everyone was pretty chatty until our guide led us to the Shoah Memorial and Holocaust centre. Then there was silence.

The Wall of the Righteous, Paris.
The Wall of the Righteous, Paris.

The title “Righteous Among the Nations” is awarded to non-Jewish people who, at the risk of losing their lives and those of their family, helped save Jews during World War II. The Wall of the Righteous at the Shoah Memorial and Holocaust Centre is dedicated to 3,300 people in France who were awarded this title. Standing in front of the wall our group was speechless as we contemplated the heroic effort of these people and of the sorrow and suffering of who could not be saved.

Modern art in Florence

The historical city of Florence in Italy is famous for being the home of some of the most magnificent renaissance art and architecture in the world. Visitors to the city don’t have to venture into a museum or gallery to view great examples of renaissance art because you are literally surrounded by it in this UNESCO heritage listed city. However, if you like something a little more 21st century, look around and you will see modern art everywhere you walk. When we were in Florence in 2011 I never really noticed any street art, but in 2015 we saw plenty and the artwork varied greatly in style from cartoonish to realistic. This is a small selection of what can be seen as you walk around the city and as you can see, nowhere was off limits with art painted on metal utility boxes as well as on the walls of buildings.

For more examples of street art in Florence as well as information about the artists, check out the Girl in Florence blog post A Guide to Street Artists in Florence.

Wordless Wednesday: Dusk

Dusk in Rome
In awe of the light as the sun sets on ancient Rome

Cold noses and laughter in Berlin

Our local train station, Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse
Our local train station, Bahnhof Friedrichstrasse

The train trip from Innsbruck to Berlin was a long one, 8 hours sitting and wondering what Berlin would be like. Anyone we knew that had visited Berlin said it was amazing and awesome, I was worried that we wouldn’t like it as much as our favourite cities in Italy because it was so new in comparison. Little did I know how wrong I could be.

Our first full day was spent in the company of our Polish friend Tomasz, his girlfriend Barbara and Tomasz’ s family friend we called Boogie. Boogie had lived in Berlin for 40 years and she had lots to share, starting with a visit to her place of work: the Humboldt University library. We had woken up to a light sprinkling of snowflakes, the temperature and our noses got colder as we walked along the river to the Reichstag and our smiles got wider. As cold as it was, Marty and I were loving our walk in the snow and it seemed incredible to be standing under an umbrella, watching as snow fell one of the world’s most famous and modern, government buildings. Our friends were used to this inclement weather and our enjoyment amused them greatly. Tomasz did a bit of translating for Boogie, her English was good but she sometimes searched for the right word so Tomasz would help out and often he would add a little something extra and we would all end up having a good laugh.

Snow on the Reichstag
Snow on the Reichstag
Boogie's walking tour of Berlin
Boogie’s walking tour of Berlin

We didn’t spend the day doing all the typical things that tourists do in Berlin, Boogie wanted to open our eyes to what life was like during the cold war and when she first moved to Berlin so she took us to the “Palace of Tears” or  the Tränenpalast,the former border crossing at Berlin Friedrichstraße station where East Germans said goodbye to family and friends going back to West Germany. The Tränenpalast museum is now a modern history museum, the exhibits highlighting the division between east and west and how that impact the lives of Germans during the Cold War era. It is free to visit, but handbags have to be left in a locker which cost 1 or 2 euros. Adding to that experience was a visit to the DDR Museum. The DDR Museum is an interactive experience that gives the visitor the opportunity to see what daily life was like in East Berlin. Hubby had a simulated driving experience in a Trabant, a popular and cheap car for East Germans and apparently not that easy to ‘drive’ as the experience ended with a crash into a pole. I enjoyed exploring the living room and kitchen installations, the formica and colour scheme reminding me of some of the cheaper places I lived in as a university student.

Boogie also led us out of the centre of Berlin, several trains and buses later, to find a well known, popular vegetarian restaurant. I stopped counting how many changes we made after the first couple of stations and I had absolutely no idea where we were, thank goodness for Boogies. By the time we reached our destination, the smiles had worn off a little and our feet were cold and wet. As it turned out the restaurant was closed until later that day, feeling famished we entered the nearest open restaurant and proceeded to order a Chinese banquet. The food was fresh, tasty and very cheap and the time spent there allowed our shoes to dry a little and our feet to warm. Without Boogie we would never have found a delightful ‘village’ in the middle of Berlin, she took us to a restaurant that specialised in potato dishes and showed us beautifully decorated buildings. It was a truly wonderful introduction to Berlin, I’m not sure we would have loved this city as much without the Boogie walking tour and the company of our friends Tomasz and Barbara.

Travel theme: Late

Where’s my backpack has an interesting and challenging travel theme this week. Late is the theme and it is not an easy one for me to find suitable travel photos, but I hope you appreciate my effort anyway 🙂

People walking dogs in Turin, Italy
Too late getting my camera ready and all I could get was little Frenchie butts as they strolled through the galleries of Turin
Florence, Italy at night
Evening walk in Florence and the streets are almost empty.
Arch of Constantine at night, Rome.
Rome at night
Venice at night
Venice is a frenzy of tourists during the day but late at night very few are still out walking.

A walk in Verona

View of Ponte Pietra and Verona from the roman ruins
View of Ponte Pietra and Verona from the roman ruins

One of the best coffees I’ve ever had was an espresso from a little hole in the wall in Verona. The coffee beans were Guatemalan and as we downed our coffee a few people ducked in for a quick alcoholic beverage, it was late afternoon and wine o’clock for some. Hubby and I had been walking the streets since our arrival in Verona and needed a little something to pick us up. There was only one barista and he did it all, the cafe was a small place, perfect for just dropping in although if you wanted to stay for longer there were a few seats along the wall.

For people like me who enjoy looking at old stuff, a walk through the old town is a must. Castelvecchio is a former military structure on the Adige River, it now houses a museum and the medieval bridge is perfect for getting a bird’s eye view of the surrounds. On the other side of the Adige river, carved into the side of a hill is a first century B.C.E. roman theatre which was excavated in the 18th century. Above the theatre is an Archaeological Museum however it was closed for restoration so we settled for wandering through the roman ruins in the small area surrounding the theatre. If you are romantic you might enjoy a visit to Juliet’s House to see the balcony featured in Shakespeare’s tragedy ‘Romeo and Juliet’, the building itself dates back to the 13th or 14th century but the balcony is apparently a more recent addition. I wasn’t really enamoured with the attraction, lots of people rubbing the statue’s breast, a wall of graffiti and shops selling tacky souvenirs of love but it was worth taking a photo or two. Hubby and I preferred wandering through the quieter streets between Piazza della Erbe and Ponte Pietra with window displays of art and antiques, views of the river and the roman ruins on the other side.

The best sandwich menu ever
The best sandwich menu ever

Not far from Juliet’s house is a small and delightful chocolate shop where you can by delicious chocolate by the bite or in bulk. We stood at the bar at the end of the shop to consume our drinks, the hot chocolate they made me was divine, rich and thick, perfect for an afternoon pick me up. The food was good in Verona, we ate very well. The most delicious, value for money sandwiches or panuozzi were at the tiny Paninoteca Mordimi not far from Castelvecchio. Handwritten signs covered the walls, these were our menu options and it took longer to make a decision that it did to eat the sandwich which was like a cross between a pizza and a panini. For something less casual, the L’Osteria Dal Cavaliere serves dishes that are typical of the region as well as a few from other parts of Italy such as Insalata Caprese made with buffalo mozzarella. If you’re really brave you could try the donkey or horse, however I recommend the duck ragu with pappardelle and the veal cheeks with creamy polenta. The interior of the Osteria is cosy and inviting, the staff were friendly and extremely helpful especially when it came to translating the menu and helping us select a wine from the region.

We spent two nights in Verona and stayed at the lovely Hotel Giulietta e Romeo, a minute walk from the famous Arena and reasonably close to everything else that a visitor to Verona would want to see. For shoppers, Verona offers designer labels, antiques and art, but we spent most of our time browsing the stalls at the Christmas markets and drooling at the delicious treats for sales in chocolate shops and bakeries. With a drop in temperature, I couldn’t resist buying a couple of knitted beanies, they looked so cute with a fluffy little ball on top and they kept my ears and head warm of an evening. Walking around Verona at night seemed perfectly safe, people were very obliging when it came to helping us find our way around and like most of Italy the nights were popular for strolling the main streets and piazzas. I would happily return for a longer stay, if only to make it a base for exploring the surrounding towns and lakes.

Travel theme: Early

Possibly a tad late to participate in this week’s travel theme from Where’s My Backpack however I needed some motivation to start posting more often and this provided the perfect kick in the pants. Taken reasonably early for the time of year, but not quite sunrise, these photos are a selection from our trip to Europe in November last year. Our morning walks were always crowd free, we would see people heading off to work or school but generally there weren’t many people around and we had the streets and piazzas to ourselves.

Morning walk and high tide, Venice
Morning walk and high tide, Venice
Light peaking through the clouds as the sun rises in Venice
Light peaking through the clouds as the sun rises in Venice

Foggy Paris morning

Checking out my settings on an early morning walk along the Seine
Checking out my settings on an early morning walk along the Seine
Beautiful morning in Florence
Beautiful morning in Florence
Perseus' holding Medusa's head over a crowd free Piazza della Signoria, Florence
Perseus’ holding Medusa’s head over a crowd free Piazza della Signoria, Florence

Rain at breakfast, Paris

Morning hit of caffeine, Paris
Morning hit of caffeine, Paris

The Basilica Superga, Turin

Turin is a wonderful city to visit, the food is great and there is plenty to see and do regardless of the weather. On our last full day in Turin we decided to catch the funicular up the mountain to see the baroque Basilica Superga and to hopefully get a glimpse of the snow covered mountains that provided such a scenic backdrop for the city. To get to the Basilica from the city centre you can catch a tram from Piazza Castello and get off at the Sassi stop which is not far from the Superga Station. The ride up on the funicular takes about twenty minutes and offers a glimpse of the private residences of locals as it climbs to the summit of the Superga hill.

The Basilica was founded by Duke Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy in 1706 and is dedicated to our Lady of Grace. The design of the basilica was the work of a Sicilian architect, Filippo Juvarra and construction took 14 years to complete. On a day when the sun was shining and the sky a vibrant blue, the golden exterior glowed and I, along with a few others, went a little crazy taking numerous photos of this magnificent building. We entered the basilica for a brief visit, it was surprisingly still open because we had been told that the hours were limited at this time of year. Inside we found walls covered in graffiti dating back to World War II and a beautifully decorated interior of the dome situated over the main alter. Not long after entering we were given the signal that the basilica was closing so we were unable to climb the spiral staircase up to the balcony of the dome where you can apparently see a spectacular panoramic view of Turin and it’s surrounds.

We gave the Royal Tombs and the Royal Apartments a miss preferring to be outdoors and walk around the Basilica via a well trodden garden path. It is Autumn when we visit, the colours of the foliage range from green to golden and the temperature is just right for being outside. Some visitors are having a picnic in one of the parks, others are relaxing on park benches and taking pleasure in their surroundings. Instead of seeing the tombs of the princes and kings of the House of Savoy we saw the site where a plane crashed in 1949. On the plane was the legendary Grande Torino football team, the entire team was killed along with their management, technical staff and accompanying journalists. A monument sits to the side of the path which runs behind the basilica, flowers, pictures and memorabilia pay tribute to those who perished.

When it comes time to leave we discover that the next train down to Sassi is not due to leave for another hour or more. The small bar in the station offers freshly made panini to eat with your beverage of choice, you can sit at a table in the garden or on the balcony, both offer a good view. The weather was perfect and so we made the most of it and enjoyed a fresh salami and cheese panini and a glass of vino while waiting for the train. The views from the bar and the terrace above are wonderful even when it is hazy, I can only imagine how spectacular the alps and the city look on a clear and crisp day.