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.
Liquid this week’s topic for the weekly photo challenge instantly makes me think of Venice and waking up to a high tide which flooded St Mark’s Square. On this morning we went for a stroll before breakfast to see how the piazza and surrounding areas fared after a night of rain and a high tide. We had seen photos of flooding in Venice, but they were extreme and I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful Venice looked with a layer of water covering most of the piazza.
“Venice never quite seems real, but rather an ornate film set suspended on the water.”
To choose just one favourite place is not an easy task. My favourite place depends on my mood, the weather or what I am looking for in a favourite place at a specific time. For example, my favourite place for dark night skies, peace and quiet and the best sleep ever is my family home in rural New South Wales. If I am feeling sad and craving solitude my favourite place is curled up on the lounge with Bundy, watching old movies or reading a book. For this week’s photo challenge I have decided to go with a favourite travel destination, one I could happily return to again and again even though it is considered by many to be ‘too touristy’. I’m sure that you will recognise it without difficulty.
For me the pleasure in returning to Venice is watching the sun set over the lagoon, the golden light creates a warm glow that affects all it touches. The thousands of day trippers head back to their hotels and cruise ships, the streets are less chaotic and the soft light of glass lanterns makes everything seem so romantic. During the day I love exploring streets beyond St Mark’s Square, getting lost and finding little gems in which to enjoy an espresso or a bite to eat and a glass of wine.
Just over twelve months ago we spent three nights in the medieval centre of Bologna, heart of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy and the perfect location for meat loving gourmands. The Atlantic Hotel was home during our stay and it was well situated between the train station and the main piazza. It did take us a little while to find it, for some reason I lost all sense of direction and had us going the wrong way before Hubby stepped in to ask for directions. Each of us had a role on this trip, Hubby was languages and I was logistics, it worked really well most of the time. Once settled in our hotel we set off to find typical Bolognese food to eat. We had experienced illness on and off since arriving in Paris, it had affected our appetite and our energy levels and we were keen to use our time in Bologna to recover. The main reason we included Bologna on our itinerary was food, we’re not connoisseurs of gourmet food but we do like eating good food and exploring the medieval old town also had its appeal.
Tamburini deli is the most amazing shop to walk into, from floor to ceiling the shop is stacked with the most tantalising produce. I was in heaven. The choices were overwhelming so we asked them to recommend something suitable for a picnic in Piazza Maggiore. Unlike other Italian cities we were not discouraged from eating in the piazza, surrounded by like minded tourists and locals we devoured the selection of cheese and mortadella that had been prepared for us, delicious with chunks of fresh, crusty bread. That simple but tasty meal was the beginning of our food focused visit to Bologna. While enjoying the atmosphere of the piazza we got talking to a couple of university students, one of them was walking his neighbour’s dog, a cute French bulldog called Frati (I think that was his name). Sadly, Frati’s owners didn’t take him out much because he had wheels as a result of not being able to walk properly so this student kindly took him out for regular walks. Frati was extremely friendly and seemed to really appreciate the chance to be out of the apartment and say hello to random strangers. I certainly appreciated the opportunity to get some puppy cuddles and I tried taking a few photos but Frati was too busy and the lighting was poor. So typical of me to remember the name of the dog but I don’t remember the name of the students, both spoke english beautifully and were happy to chat with us about travel, Australia and the Paris attacks (which had happened a week before). They recommended checking out the part of Bologna where all the students go to eat and drink, there we would find good food and wine and good prices. We took their advice and spent an evening in that more lively part of town and we tried the wine, it was good and of course we could not help but indulge ourselves at one of the many gelaterias.
Eating out in Bologna was a bit like walking into Tamburini, so many choices that deciding where to dine was really hard. One night we seemed to walk around in circles before coming across a small, underground restaurant in the back streets and for lunches we returned to a busy little cafe situated in the old market in the Quadrilatero, the food was good and the prices were right for our budget. During our stay we tried all the typical dishes: tortellini in brodo, lasagna, antipasti platters of cheese and meat, meatballs, roast pork, grilled seasonal vegetables and little round bread called Tigelle. The narrow alleys of the old market was thriving, lots of noise and activity as shoppers and shop keepers went about their business. Dining alfresco provides the perfect opportunity for people watching however I tired of the beggars constantly hitting us up for money, at one sitting we were approached by at least 5 different beggars. The following day we sat indoors, the weather was much cooler so it didn’t take that much to convince Hubby. The begging in Bologna was constant or so it seemed, perhaps because the central historic area is smaller and more condensed than some of the other cities frequented by tourists. Hubby and I tended to buy dog food at the supermarket and give that to the beggars and homeless that were with their dogs, most seemed happy to have food for their furry companions.
The old markets in the Quadrilatero
A walk through one of Bologna’s markets
Fish market in the Quadrilatero
Tigelle, antipasti and meatballs for lunch
Museums and galleries weren’t a priority for us while in Bologna however we did venture into an old church, the Basilica di Santo Stefanowhich is known locally as the Sette Chiese or Seven Churches. Supposedly established in the 5th century over the top of a pagan site of worship, the church has been added to over the centuries. Even Hubby enjoyed walking through Benedictine cloister, Pilato’s courtyard and the chapels of varying ages. To one side is a small museum of paintings and sculptures, entry is free although a donation is welcome and it is well worth seeing. For the most part, we wandered through the city via the porticoeswhich make it easy to get around regardless of the weather. Medieval timber porticoes can still be found in the historical centre, the majority are made of stone, brick and concrete. In addition to tracking down the timber porticoes we searched for the hidden canals of Bolognaof which there is roughly 60km, mostly covered over. Two canals can be found near the edge of the historical centre where the Reno river enters the city, and the Moline canal we discovered by accident down a side street.
Bologna is an incredibly fascinating city and well worth including on an Italian itinerary, being there in November made it the perfect time to indulge in some of the more hearty dishes on the menu. Being the capital of the Emilia Romagna region, it is also centrally located making it easy to get to other food lover destinations such Modena and Parma. We did not venture to either of these cities, instead choosing to take it easy in Bologna and recover which was a wise decision.
One of the hidden canals
Beware of the dog
One of many porticoes
Medieval timber portico
Bubble is Piazza Maggiore
View of the Castello di Galliera ruins from the Park of Montagnola
Each time I’ve been to Rome there has been something new and different for me to see and experience and after three visits to this ancient city there is still so much more worth exploring. On our last trip in November 2015 I was hell bent of doing a walking tour of the Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere so I booked a private guided tour with expat Tiffany Parks, author of The Pines of Rome blog and contributor to The Bittersweet Life podcast to which I regularly listened in the lead up to our holiday. Tiffany is now an Italian citizen after living in Italy for ten years, she is a legitimate tour guide and in addition to sharing her knowledge and experience of Rome she has a relaxed manner and made us feel like welcome visitors, her walking tour was one of the highlights of our trip.
We met Tiffany near the ruins of Largo di Torre Argentina, a square that was home to Pompey’s theatre and is now home to a cat sanctuary. There were plenty of cats lazing about in the sun, although it was late autumn the temperature was mild and the skies were clear. Having only seen photos of Tiffany, I was worried that I would not recognise her however that wasn’t a problem and I am sure that we stood out among the locals. Neither of us had ever been through the Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere neighbourhoods, it was fascinating to come face to face with things that I had only read about or seen on travel shows. We started in Trastevere, it is very close to the Largo di Torre Argentina and at first I was a little overwhelmed and wanted to absorb everything Tiffany was saying so my camera stayed put in my bag. I also felt as though I was intruding on the local’s Sunday morning by toting a large camera around and taking photos of everything. That said, I eventually relaxed and managed to take a few shots as we walked through the Jewish Ghetto, across the Tiber and in to Trastevere.
The ancient ruins of Largo di Torre Argentina
One of the many cats looked after by volunteers at the cat sanctuary housed in the ruins of Largo di Torre Argentina
The late Italian Renaissance Turtle Fountain (Fontana delle Tartarughe) located in Piazza Mattei
The turtles on this fountain are copies of the originals which were added years after the fountain was originally constructed. Bernini apparently suggested the addition of the four turtles during a restoration commissioned by Pope Alexander VII in 1658
Small, cobblestone-sized memorials, placed in memory of the individual victims arrested or sent to concentrations camps during WWII when the Nazis occupied Rome
Stone reliefs mounted on a wall in Via Reginella alley in Rome’s Jewish Ghetto
Baghetto Milky, a restaurant serving arabic and kosher meals in the Jewish Ghetto neighbourhood
The ancient Theatre of Marcellus, still used to host classical concerts in the summer months
I will spare you the details of the tour, one, I can’t remember them all and two, there is plenty of information about these areas online including several posts on Tiffany’s blog. There were several memorable moments especially as we walked through the narrow alleyways in the Jewish Ghetto. As you look down at the cobblestones you will see memorials to the many victims of the Nazi occupation, look up to see the stone reliefs featuring the menorah and the Star of David on building walls. To see these things is an extremely sobering experience.
Once in Trastevere it is hard not to fall in love with the beautiful buildings covered in vines or the absence of thousands of tourists like us, the lack of heavy traffic is also a plus. Tiffany knows this area well and takes us to some of her favourite sights including well known churches such as Santa Cecilia and Santa Maria. Hubby isn’t a fan of churches but I love the art that is often contained within and these two churches are home to stunning mosaics and beautiful sculptures. Food is also very important to me when travelling, and Tiffany provided us with great tips for two lunch venues and a gelateria. It was a toss up between a pizzeria and Da Gildo for lunch, in the end the thought of eating authentic Roman gnocchi for lunch won us over followed by a visit to the gelateria for dessert before heading back across the river.
There are plenty of tour guides in Rome, some are legitimate and some are not. Tiffany was perfect for us and had I not been listening to the podcast she co-hosts then we probably would have settled for a small group tour. Both of us are so glad that we didn’t have to settle and if she is still doing private tours I recommend you consider booking some time with her when you’re in Rome.
The Basilica di San Bartolomeo all’Isola on Tiber Island
Crossing the Tiber River via Ponte Cestio
Trastevere is a labyrinth of narrow, cobblestone streets.
Beautiful buildings in Trastevere
The façade of a tenth century synagogue in Vicolo dell’Atleta (Athlete’s Alley), Trastevere
The church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere façade was built in 1725 by Ferdinando Fuga, the courtyard is decorated with ancient mosaics, columns and a large water vessel.
The church nave of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere
Famous baroque sculpture in the Santa Cecilia in Trastevere church, Martyrdom of Saint Cecilia by Stefano Maderno. On the floor in front of the statue is a marble slab declaring that Maderno sculpted the body as he saw it when it was discovered in 1599
Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere
The breathtaking apse calotte mosaics (1140-43) within the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere
On the wall outside the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere are fragments of gravestones of the early Christians from around third century AD.
The arch of Porta Settimiana, reputedly the onetime home of Raphael’s lady love, La Fornarina is nearby.
A view of Tiber Island from the Ponte Garibaldi as we leave Trastevere after our walking tour
Roman Gnocchi for lunch, delicious.
Our lunch venue in Trastevere, good food and filled with Italians on a Sunday
I have tried to put as much information as I can in the image captions. If I miss anything or get something wrong please let me know.
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.