Polaroid Of The Week: Charming Trastevere, Rome

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week italy rome trastevereI was beyond excited to return to Rome at the end of my Italy trip last week – a city I hadn’t been to in many years but that I had truly loved during my previous visits. Since I didn’t have much time, I decided to spend most of my time in Trastevere, my favorite neighborhood in Rome. Located on the west bank of the river (Trastevere translates to across the Tiber (river) ), it has become a favorite with many Rome fans over the years, yet it doesn’t see as many visitors as the part of town on the east bank. Why is that? Because all of Rome’s famous sights, like the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon… are located on the east bank of the Tiber, and most people don’t make it on the other side of the river during their visit to Rome – except for the obligatory stop in Vatican City, which is also on the west bank.

What I love about Trastevere is that is the neighborhood in Rome where not only can you find typical Italian architecture, charming piazzas (squares), cobble stone streets (many of which are pedestrianized), many outdoor cafes and restaurants, but also plenty of street art, which gives the neighborhood a bit of an edge.

I love to simply wander around the labyrinth of narrow streets while marveling at the ivy-covered facades, the new street art and check out cute cafes. On this visit, I noticed though that there were more tourists than during previous visits – Trastevere is definitely not a hidden gem anymore – but it hasn’t lost any of its charming character. If you are visiting Rome, definitely head over to Trastevere – Lonely Planet has a great 1-day itinerary with all the spots you shouldn’t miss.

My wanderings brought me back to the east bank of the river eventually, because there is one stop that has to happen every time I’m in Rome: The Trevi Fountain. This famous fountain is not only the most spectacular and elaborate fountain in the city, but also plays a significant role in ensuring your next trip to Rome: Legend says that a coin thrown over your shoulder into the fountain will guarantee a return to Rome, a tradition that dates back to the ancient Romans who often threw coins in water to make the gods of water favor their journey or help them get back home safely.

Well, for me it has worked every time, and I am already looking forward to my next visit to Rome 🙂

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Polaroid Of The Week: Hiking The Via Amerina In Italy

Polaroid of the week

polaroid of the week italy umbria via amerinaWhat a week it has been! My rather spontaneous journey to Italy was such a whirlwind trip that I am still processing everything I’ve experienced during my eight days of walking through Umbria and Lazio into Rome. (For those of you who haven’t read my September round-up: I walked parts of the historic Via Amerina pilgrims path from Assisi to Rome).

I don’t even know where to begin… but let’s just say that this has easily been one of the highlights of my entire year, and when I finally took off my walking shoes (to be precise, my running shoes, in lieu of actual hiking shoes) on the very last day, my emotions were torn between substantial relief about not having to put these shoes back on and the desire to keep walking.

Umbria was a region that I hadn’t known very well prior to this trip, and I was once again amazed by the beauty of this country. Is there any region in Italy that is not absolutely stunning?! I felt the same way about Lombardy last year. The scenery reminded me of Tuscany initially, with rolling hills, olive groves and vineyards, but later on it changed into a much greener, forest-y landscape with gorges and waterfalls. No matter where we were walking – everywhere it felt like a scene straight out of a painting.

One thing we saw over and over again? Picturesque medieval hilltop towns. It seems like every town in Italy is sitting on top of a hill, and every town dates back to medieval times. Whenever we walked through one of the ancient gates into the historic town center, I was mesmerized by the centuries-old stone walls, the cobble stones, the aura of medieval merchants, monks, ladies and lords, thinking to myself repeatedly ‘If walks could talk…’

I would be lying if I said this walking trip was NOT physically challenging – but the rewards it offered made more than up for the blisters and hurting legs. And I haven’t even mentioned the food yet..

Stay tuned for full articles about my trip – for now, head over to Facebook to see more photos of the trip as I keep updating my Via Amerina photo album..

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Lignano: the perfect beach vacation in Northern Italy

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When people think beach vacation in Italy, places like Tuscany, Sicily or Sardinia come to mind first. And then there’s the Adriatic coast, with Rimini being an old-time favorite, but too crowded for many.

So why not look further north? Lignano Sabbiadoro, about an hour north of Venice. You can even combine a beach getaway with a city break to Venice and Trieste! I’ll share more information on how to get to Venice from Lignano further below, but first let me introduce you to Lignano.L'Alba al Solito Faro di Lignano - Dawn over LighthouseLignano has an 8km (over 5 miles) long stretch of a wide, sandy beach. It is regarded one of the most stunning beach resorts in the upper Adriatic Sea. The city is a perfect family destination, too, with a zoo, tennis courts, spas and golf courses.

Its unique Terrazza a Mare, a pier housing shops and a bar, makes for inviting evening strolls, and Lignano’s marina is not one of the largest in all of Italy, but in all of Europe. Lignano’s old town is lovely and has plenty of excellent restaurants where you can enjoy fresh sea food and typical Italian dishes. Shell Island, a 7 kilometer long island which forms a natural boundary between the Marano Lagoon, in which Lignano is located, and the Adriatic Sea, makes for a lovely day trip by boat.

If you want to combine your beach vacation with city trips, both Trieste and Venice are easy to get to by car and public transportation. Spend a day in cosmopolitan Trieste or tour the canals in Venice in a gondola for a day without having to worry about sky-high hotel rates.

How to get to Lignano

Lignano is located halfway between Venice and Trieste. If you are not traveling by car, the closest train station is in Latisana (20km away). You can get from Latisana to Lignano by public bus for only €2.55. Trieste and Venice are both about 75 mins by car from Lignano, or about an hour from Latisana by train. Note that train tickets are cheaper than parking in Venice – a return ticket is €11.90.

The closest airports are Trieste-Ronchi dei Legionari TRS, Venice Marco Polo VCE and Venice-Treviso TSF. All have public transportation to Lignano.

If you arrive by car, take the A4 Venice-Trieste motorway and exit in Latisana. Then continue on road SS 354 towards Lignano for about 18 kilometers (11 miles).


Where to stay in Lignano

For your stay in Lignano I recommend Hotel Mimosa, a small 3-star hotel right in the city center of Lignano, just 400 meters from the beach and close to Hemingway Park. It is conveniently located in the center of it all – close to golf courses, shopping, attractions and restaurants. Rooms are equipped with elegant, wooden furniture, and each room has a balcony and AC. A buffet style breakfast is included in the room rate, and the hotel’s restaurant also serves Mediterranean lunch and dinner specialties. With only 20 rooms, every guest is given extra attention and Hotel Mimosa prides itself for its intimate, cozy atmosphere.hotel mimosa

Photo credit: (used under Flickr’s creative commons license) Lignano sunset by Stròlic Furlàn – Davide Gabino; Lignano by Marlo;
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Venice fun facts & my top five travel tips for Venice

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I love Venice. And in my opinion, it’s a place you should visit at least once in your lifetime, no matter if you dislike crowds or not. Remember that it’s popular for a reason, hence the high number of tourists.venice afternoon sunFor me, Venice is magical. Some people I meet are more jaded, complain about Venice being too touristy, too crowded, and too expensive. And yes, all of these things are true, and yet, it is a city that doesn’t compare to any other city in the world, in its beauty, the way it is set up with its canals and surrounded by waters on all sides, its stunning architecture, and the often aristocratic and elegant, sometimes crumbling and deteriorating buildings.Venice ItalyWhen I was in Milan last fall, I realized that Venice was only 2 hours away – on Italy’s high speed train. I knew I was going to leave Milan on a Monday, which is the day Venice sees the least tourists (and it was off-season). And so I booked a train to Venice on a whim – I was so close, how could I not go? It had been years since my last visit, and I was looking forward to a couple of days of simply wandering the streets and taking photos.venice grand canalI’m sharing my favorite pictures with you today, plus some fun facts about Venice you might not know, and last but not least: my top five travel tips for Venice. venice love locks italy

Fun facts about Venice:

There are no cars in Venice

No cars whatsoever – all you hear when you walk the empty streets at night is the clicking sound of high heels.venice coupleVenice has 170 canals   Instead of streets, Venice is interspersed by canals – 170 of them. venice canal

Over 400 bridges

To cross these canals, inhabitants have over 400 bridges connecting the different parts of the island.venice kayakVenice is made up of 115 little islands

To be exact, I should say islands or archipelago instead of island, because Venice is made up by 115 (give or take) tiny little islands.venice island

Venice has over 200 churches

This is an amazing fact considering the compact size of Venice.venice at nightThe city of chimneys

The number of churches might not be all that surprising considering Italy is a strictly Catholic country, but did you know that there are 7,000 chimneys in all forms and sizes in Venice?venice sculptures

Almost as many bell towers as churches

And then there are the bell towers – a whopping 170 of them! San Marco is the most famous one, and you can enjoy vistas over Venice from the top. Well worth the €8 admission, in my opinion!venice from st marco campanileSan Marco Campanile is a replica

Speaking of the famous bell tower: this is actually a replica of the original one! The first one collapsed in 1902. The current one was built to look like exactly like the original one.   venice love locks18 million visitors per year

Venice attracts an insane amount of people every year – 15 million! During the summer, Venice sees 50,000 people in addition to its inhabitants every single day! Take into consideration that Venice only has 60,000 inhabitants and you realize how crazy this number is! Many of these tourists arrive on cruise ships, and the steadily rising number of cruise ships that dock in the lagoon city are posing many problems for the city.
venice grande canale before sunset400 gondoliers are offering their services

For the 400 gondoliers the visitor numbers are great – they never have to worry about losing their job! except for one female gondolier, who was allowed to join the male gondoliers not all that long ago, in 2010 – the world of gondoliering is a men’s world. It’s one of the hardest to get jobs, by the way: only 3 to 4 new licenses are issued every year.venice canale grande gondoliers

Venice travel tips

Use ShareVenice to get from the airport to the city

ShareVenice is a shared shuttle service, which groups you with other passengers and thus makes your transfer from the airport to Venice much cheaper. The ticket is €19, instead of the pricey water taxis which cost anything between €100 to €160 (for 4 people with luggage) from Marco Polo Airport to Venice City Center. Venice’s water taxis also offer to share the boats with other passengers, but still charge €35 per person – booking online with ShareVenice is your cheapest option. The boats are capped at 10 passengers, and the journey takes between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on which dock in Venice you get off at. ShareVenice also offers very affordable tours of the Grand Canal and a glass factory tour to Murano, by the way.Venice ItalyBuy a travelcard  If you want to make the most of your time in Venice, use the vaporetti (water buses) and water taxis. You’ll get the best value for money by buying a travel card (€18 for 12 hours, €20 for 24 hours, €25 for 36 hours, €30 for 48 hours, €40 for 72 hours or €60 for 7 days). A single ride is €7, so if you’re taking 3 or more trips in a day, it’s already worth it. The best value for money is the 7 days card. A travel card will allow you to experience Venice from the water for much less than a gondola ride (they start at €80), and it’s well worth to tour the canals via boat. Bonus tip: take a golden hour/ sunset ride!venice grand canal before sunset

Where to eat

Sadly, Venice has the reputation to have some of the worst food in Italy, which makes sense, considering most of the people who work in the city don’t actually live in Venice but in Mestre on the mainland. So the people who are actually eating in Venice are tourists who probably won’t return, so why put a lot of effort into making the food. My main tip: Eat as far away from Piazza San Marco as possible. The closer you get to the piazza, the worse (and the pricier!) the food gets, it seems. On the upside: Pizzeria Antico Forno is so good that it made it on Conde Nast Traveler’s list of the best ten pizzas in all of Italy (!), and the recently opened i Tre Mercanti is an amazing food gallery with all kinds of Italian specialties and wine. The best way to make sure you’ll have a decent meal in Venice? Check Tripadvisor. Scroll through the list of best restaurants in Venice, read through the last few reviews, and mark down the place that sounds best to you in your map. Also: don’t leave Venice without trying a Spritz, a typical Venetian drink with Campari (or Aperol), Prosecco and sparkling water. If you find a local place, you can get it for as little as €2, but even €4 is still a good price (if Spritz’s are on the menu for €8 or more, you’re probably sitting in a tourist trap).venice aperol spritzExplore more of the lagoon Venice is amazing, yes, but there are a couple of other islands nearby that are well worth a visit, too, and they are easy to get to from Venice via water bus. Burano, a little island (actually four islands, so you still have canals and boats here) is famous for its colorful pastel houses; Murano is famous for its glass art but is also incredibly picturesque, Torcello is a tranquil little island with a famous ancient church. San Michele Cemetery Island is also a welcome escape from the crowds and has some beautiful tomb stones and graves.venice from above

Don’t sit down

Well of course you can sit down and take a break (and you should – you’ll be on your feet a lot!) but if you want to sit down in a cafe to sip a cappuccino, be aware that it’ll cost you a lot of money. Venice’s cafes are notorious for their overpriced coffees and unexpected surcharges – a €6 surcharge for a live band playing nearby is not uncommon, and with tip and the already pricey drink you can easily end up with a €15 bill for a cup of coffee, so be aware of that. The safest way to make sure you’re not overpaying for a coffee is to drink it like the locals: standing up at the counter. That way, you’ll avoid the service charge and other possible surcharges, and shouldn’t pay more than €2 for a cappuccino or €1 for an espresso.milan brioche breakfast

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Eating my way through Northern Italy


One of the things I was most exciting about when I got on the train to Italy? The food, of course! I boarded the train in Germany in the morning knowing that I’d get off the train in Milan a few hours later, and all I could think about was what I’d be eating for my first meal in Italy. I love Italian food – the pastas, pizzas, breads and pastries, risotto and pretty much everything that I can eat as a vegetarian (I am always told I am missing out because the meat dishes and seafood are amazing, apparently).milan breakfast pan au chocolateSo while I’m inviting you to join me on a culinary tour of Lombardy and Veneto, the regions I traveled to on my recent visit, be warned: this is only a small fraction of all the good food Northern Italy has to offer, and it is the meat free version.lombardy ravioliI quickly noticed that the food in Lombardy was distinctively different than the food I had in the regions further south. Here, I found that dishes like polenta and risotto were much more prevalent than in other regions and much more common than pasta, for example. You’ll notice in my photos that the color yellow is almost always present – and that’s, as I was told later, because in medieval times, hosts would usually coat the food they were serving guests with gold, which was believed to heal sicknesses and was a sign for good health.

lombardy pumpkin risotto
Pumpkin risotto – not the most photogenic food, but so delicious!

When this decadent customs wasn’t feasible anymore because of rising gold prices, Lombardians still wanted their food to look as if gold was used, which is why the color yellow is omnipresent – in the most iconic dish of the region for example, Risotto Alla Milanese. The color comes from the saffron, which is the most expensive spice in the world – did you know that? In addition to saffron, lots of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and butter are used. As you can see in the picture below, ‘Alla Milanese’ can also be made with pasta, not just with risotto.milan spaghetti milanesaSpeaking of butter – Lombardians are not afraid to use butter and lard, especially in the polenta dishes. Polenta, a corn meal based dish is together with risotto the most common dish in the region, and is usually served with meat or vegetables.

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Polenta with mushrooms

I was told that the food in northern Italy was much more similar to Austrian or Central European food, and I think this asparagus egg dish is a good example for that – even though I’d say the truffle on top is distinctively Italian: lombardy asparagus with egg and truffleWhen I heard that meat (especially poultry) played a big role in the cuisine of this region, I was worried about vegetarian options, but I always found something scrumptious on the menu – like this amazing zucchini starter, which was heavenly:italian food zuccini starterOne of my favorite Italian dishes is pasta with sage butter – burro e salvia -, but I never tried gnocchi (dumplings made from potatoes, eggs, flour and semolina) with sage butter. I was delighted to find out that this dish is just as good with gnocchi as it is with ravioli, for example, and now I am keen on learning how to make gnocchi myself – the home made version is just so much better than the gnocchi you can buy at the store. lombardy gnocci sirmione lombardyI also learned that there are quite a few different variations of gnocchi – some are made with semolina, some without, some are made with eggs, others without. But the most important thing for the perfect gnocchi? The right potato – it makes all the difference! You can see here how different these gnocchi look from the ones above:lombardy gnocciLombardy also has its own version of stuffed pasta, similar to ravioli, called casoncelli. They are usually stuffed with cheese or meat, but you can also find more unusual fillings such as spinach, raisins and pears. And much to my delight, they’re also typically served with burro e salvia, sage butter.casoncelli lombardyTortelli di Zucca, pumpkin filled ravioli or tortelli, is another pasta specialty of Lombardy. Again, they are usually served in a very simple way, with melted butter and Parmesan cheese.lombardy ravioloAnd speaking of cheese: like most of Italy, Lombardy has amazing cheeses. Grana Padano, one of the world’s most famous hard cheeses, was created by Cistercian monks over 900 years ago in the Chiaravalle Abbey near Milan, and the famous Gorgonzola cheese as well as mascarpone also originate from the Lombardy region. That’s not it though – there are many more less known cheeses that are made in this region, Cookipedia lists over 100 cheeses for Lombardy! So do yourself a favor and order a cheese board of local cheeses when you visit Lombardy.milan cheeseAnother excellent option for a cheese appetizer? Burrata mozzarella with tomatoes. I love mozzarella, but nothing beats burrata, which is basically a deluxe version of mozzarella – it is filled with panna (cream) and mozzarella strings.. absolutely divine. And Italian burrata is the best I’ve tried anywhere in the world – these days, it is also produced in the U.S. for example, but it’s just not the same.milan burata mozzarellaYou can get pretty much anything with burrata – pasta, pizza, salads.. and sandwiches! The burrata adds so much to a ‘regular’ mozzarella sandwich, just thinking about it makes my mouth water.milan mozzarella paniniAnd while we’re talking about sandwiches – In Milan, I stumbled across a sandwich, or a panini, to be precise, that I thought was a great combination: shredded zucchini mixed with hard boiled egg pieces and topped with tomatoes. To die for!milan zuccini paniniAnd then there’s pizza, of course. I can’t talk about food in Lombardy without mentioning pizza, which is a staple food in pretty much all of Italy. Even though pizza originates from southern Italy, you can also find good Neapolitan-style pizza in the north, and two of the top ten pizza places in all of Italy (according to Conde Nast Traveler) are in the north: Pizzeria Spontini in Milan and Pizzeria Antico Forno in Venice.milan pizzaThis pizza topped with fresh arugula (rocket), over which olive oil is drizzled, is one of my favorite pizzas – and I’ve been told that the carnivore version, with prosciutto and large pieces of grated Grana Padano, is even better. milan pizza arugalaThe olive oil that is used (generously) for all kinds of dishes comes from Lake Garda, which is known as some of the best olive oil in the country. Wine is another local specialty from Lake Garda – especially the Chiaretto rosé gets a lot of praise. But there are also wines from Bonrada, Riesling and Barbera grapes that are grown mainly in the Oltrepò Pavese region in the northwest of Lombardy, and highly ranked sparkling wines from the same region as well as Valtellina, a breathtakingly beautiful (and off-the-beaten-path) wine region in the Alps close to Switzerland.Wine of LombardyThe Veneto region, to which Venice belongs, is another important wine producer in the north of Italy, and it is also the birthplace of the popular Aperol Spritz cocktail (albeit Trieste and Padua are fighting with Venice over this title). The simple, yet tasty cocktail with aperol, soda water and prosecco has become hugely popular beyond the borders of Italy in recent years, and can be found on every menu in Venice. I also discovered ‘Aperol Spritz happy hour’ during which a buffet of antipasti is offered in bars, and it is completely FREE with the purchase of an aperol spritz (which is usually less than 5). I don’t know if that’s a Venice thing or something that is done throughout Italy, but I basically had free dinner one night thanks to ‘Aperol Spritz Happy Hour’!venice aperol spritzNow I’ve talked about lunch and dinner dishes, you might be wondering: What about breakfast? Breakfast is a pretty unspectacular meal, and most Lombardians who I asked what they had for breakfast told me that they only had a cup of coffee or cappuccino. If they have something to eat with their coffee, it is a brioche, or cornetto as it is known as in the south of Italy, a type of croissant. italy cappuccino and briocheThese are served either plain or filled with chocolate, jam or honey. I always went for chocolate, of course!lake garda breakfastAnd if you have a sweet tooth, like me, you’ll be happy to hear that you’re never far from a bakery in Lombardy, and they are filled with delicious pastries like cannoli (different than the Sicilian cannoli, by the way!)…bergamo cannoli lombardy…shortbread, cakes, cookies, and all sorts of sweet treats.lombardy pan dolceAnd of course you can find Meringues here, a beloved Italian dessert made of egg whites and sugar. lombardy merengueCakes, fruit cakes in particular, are also very popular in northern Italy, much to my delight. I have to say that I prefer a tart with fresh fruits or berries over chocolate cake. cakes lombardyMy kind of dessert!italian food cakeI can’t write about pastries in Lombardy and not mention Polenta e Osei, which I’ve already mentioned as one reason why you should visit Lombardy. These little cakes that look like perfectly mounded polenta have little marzipan birds (birds = osei in Italian) on top and are a specialty from Bergamo.polenta e osei bergamo LombardyAnd then there’s tiramisu, the most iconic Italian desert, which is made with local mascarpone here, and let me tell you: it makes all the difference! lombardy tiramisu1Last but not least – no article about food in Italy, no matter what region, is complete without the mention of gelato. Don’t make the mistake of calling it ice cream, because it’s not ice cream. Gelato has less fat and more milk, and it is much denser, making it more flavorful, and because it is served at a slightly higher temperature, its consistency is silkier than that of ice cream. When you arrive in Italy and see a gelateria, do yourself a favor and walk inside straight away. But wait – it’s not as simple as that. There are just as many ‘tourist trap’ gelaterias in Italy as there are decent ones, so read these tips on how to tell the good from the bad gelaterias first.

Gelato in Lombardy
And they’re not skimping on their portions in Italy!

Now tell me – what’s your favorite Italian dish?

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Why You Need To Visit Lombardy, In 20 Photos

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Had it really been four years? This question ran through my mind as I was watching the familiar sights of sprawling vineyards and tall cypress trees from the train. Yes, it had really been four years since I last went to Italy, a country that I list as one of my favorite countries in the world every time when asked to name my most beloved countries.bergamo pizzaAnd yet, my travels didn’t bring me here for years before my last visit in 2011, and again it had taken me nearly half a decade to return, even though after my last visit, I had vouched to visit more often again. Because if I know one country well, it is Italy, with about a dozen visits under my belt. Thinking about it, it is probably the country I’ve visited more often than any other country. lake garda saloThe Amalfi Coast, Tuscany, Rome and Liguria – I know them all so well. And yet, even after so many visits, I still have many regions in Italy to see: Puglia, Emilia Romagna, Calabria, Abruzzo, Sicily and Sardinia, to name just a few, are all places I have yet to explore. And the north, which I passed through so many times when driving down from Germany – somehow I never stopped there, despite glorious tales of beautiful alpine mountain trails and famous lakes like Garda and Como. lake garda view over salosirmione lake garda italySo when I was invited to get to know Milan and Lombardy, a region in northern Italy, I jumped at the chance. And when I finally laid eyes on Lake Garda, I couldn’t help but ask myself: What took me so long? Why didn’t I come here earlier?

I am not sure why the north doesn’t get as much attention as famous regions further south, because every place I went to was gorgeous and had something special to it.

Which is why I thought I’d introduce you to Lombardy with the favorite pictures of my trip, showing you why this part of Italy is well worth a visit.

1 Quaint lake shore towns

Lombardy might not have any access to the Mediterranean, but now that I spent some time there, I say: it doesn’t really need it! With famous lakes like Como and Garda, and lesser known but not less stunning lakes like Maggiore or Iseo, Lombardy still has plenty of beaches. I loved the small towns that dot the lake shores – they usually come with a picturesque promenade, colorful buildings, plenty of sidewalk cafes and lots of gelaterias.lake garda sirmione

2 Lake Garda sunsets

Who needs beach sunsets when you can have sunsets like this?! Lake Garda really showed off while I was visiting, coloring the sky in some the most vivid colors possible – none of the tourists who were meandering up and down the promenade could simply walk by – everybody pulled out their camera or cell phone to take pictures. A true show stopper!lake garda sunset2  

3 Hidden gem #1: Brescia

I had never heard of Brescia before I visited the city, which turned out to be home to the most significant Roman ruins in all of Lombardy (see below)! The big university city still manages to feel like a small town in its historic core, and there are enough architectural highlights to fill a photo essay on their own: striking churches, beautiful piazzas, grand mansions, castles and the famous Santa Giulia monastery. The best part? There were barely any tourists in town!brescia town square

4 History alive

Brescia’s historical heritage is among the most significant in all of Italy. There’s the 8th century Santa Giulia monastery which now houses a museum of epic proportions: here, you find a collection of over 11,000 items spanning artifacts from prehistoric times, antiquity, the Lombard Age, the Carolingian Age and Venetian ages. You could spend an entire day wandering the 12,000 square meter large museum, but wait.. there’s more! Brescia is also home to the oldest Roman ruins in northern Italy, and wandering the streets you’ll stumble across a well-preserved Roman Capitolium (Roman temple), forum and theater. I was lucky enough to be one of the first visitors who got to try out brand new multimedia glasses (ArtGlass) at the museum, which transformed the ruins into the magnificent buildings they once were. It made me wish I would’ve had glasses like those when I hopped from ruin to ruin in Rome and Pompeji – what a spectacular feature and way to bring a place back to life!brescia museum 

5 The scrumptious regional cuisine

I ate so much good food in Lombardy that I was seriously concerned about fitting in my dirndl – I was heading straight to Oktoberfest in Munich from here (in case you’re wondering: the zipper just closed and I tried not to breath all day). I could easily post 20 photos of the meals I devoured, but the food in Lombardy deserves its own post – stay tuned for mouth-watering photos of all the ravioli, gnocchi, pizza, polenta, risotto and pastries I stuffed myself with. Pictured below are some of the best gnocchi I ever had – topped with truffles!lombardy gnocci

6 Hidden gem #2: Bergamo

Bergamo, another town I’d heard of before coming to Lombardy, charmed me with its Citta Alta, the Upper Town, which sits on a hilltop overlooking the plains around the Lower City and offering fantastic views all the way to the Alps and even to Milan which sits southeast of Bergamo. Historic Renaissance and Baroque architecture is plentiful here, and I loved the distinctly medieval feel of the Upper Town.bergamo italy

7 Roman ruins with a view

The Grottoes of Catullus are the remains of a massive Roman villa, which belonged to the Latin poet Gaius Valerius Catullus. He sure knew to picked one of the best spots along the shores of Lake Garda, the Sirmione peninsula which The vast complex consists of the criptoportico hall (famous for its sixty pillars), there is a triple window grotto, many well preserved pillars and arches and baths, plus a collection of items found on the site. lake garda ruins

8 Olives fresh from the tree

To be honest, I had no idea olives still grew that far north – but you can find olive orchids throughout Lombardy and I loved having some fresh olives from the region with a glass of wine at night.lake garda olive tree

 9 Breakfast brioches

Italian breakfasts may seem small and unassuming – a cup of coffee and something sweet with it, usually a freshly baked pastry, like a brioche (known as cornetto in the south of Italy), but these brioches are just to die for! I’m usually not a croissant person, but these heavenly, buttery, crisp on the outside and cake-y on the inside. Speaking of croissants – I shouldn’t have mentioned that word, because brioches don’t like to be compared to their French counterparts. While similar, they’re not made the same way, and brioches can come simple (without filling), or filled with jam, honey, custard or nutella. What a great way to start the day!italy cappuccino and brioche

10 Milan’s many faces: The bohemian face

One of the reasons I wanted to go on this trip was because it’d give me the chance to spend an extended period of time in Milan. I’ll be honest here: I wasn’t all too fussed about Milan when I first visited Italy’s second biggest city in 2011, but heard glowing reviews of Milan from other travelers. I knew that Milan deserved a second chance – and I am glad I gave it another shot. I loved Milan the second time around, but telling you about all the things I discovered this time around would go beyond the scope of this post, so I’ll bring you a full article on the different faces of Milan I got to see. But let me at least mention a few of the things I loved about Milan: for one, its bohemian side in the Isola neighborhood, where the tree-lined boulevards and the grand buildings reminded me of Buenos Aires.milan isola district

11 Milan’s many faces: The hipster face

And the Navigli District with its terrific street art, flea markets and hipster hangouts.Milan mosaic house

12 Milan’s many faces: The historic face

And the historic side of the city, with remarkable columns, churches and of course the magnificent cathedral.milan columns

13 Pastel colored towns and villages

This is one thing I love about Italy in general, and Lombardy was no different than the rest of the country: all of its towns have narrow streets lined with pastel colored houses and green or blue wooden window shutters. So pretty!lombardy colors

14 UNESCO World Heritage (lots of it!)

Lombardy is home to only 6% of Italy’s population, but it is home to 8 of the country’s 51 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which is quite impressive and makes Lombardy in fact the region with the highest concentration of UNESCO sites in the country! From the rock drawings in Valcamonica and the Sacri Montichapels to the combined site of the Longobord’s Places Of Power In Italy (including  Brescia’s monastic complex of San Salvatore and Santa Giulia) or the workers’ village of Crespi d’Adda, there are some really interesting UNESCO sites to be explored in Lombardy. brescia roman ruins

15 Lakes meeting Alpine mountains

Tuscany might have rolling hills, but Lombardy has Alpine mountains that meet azure blue lakes! Being on or by these lakes, surrounded by green mountains, some of them with snow-capped peaks, is a stunning sight. And different from the Alpine lakes further north, the lakes here benefit from a more Mediterranean climate, which means the water gets really warm here during the summer months. Lombardy’s landscapes definitely stand out. lake garda island

16 Medieval castles

If you are a history buff and can’t get enough of ancient castles, Lombardy is the right place for you! With its many strategically placed hilltop towns, naturally there are lots of medieval castles that were built to protect the cities during the times when Italy’s regions weren’t as friendly with each other as they are today. I was impressed to see how well preserved most of them are! brescia castle

17 Medieval towns 

This goes with #16 above – it’s not just castles, cathedrals, palazzos and mansions that are well preserved in Lombardy – you can find entire ‘Old Towns’ all over Lomardy that still look pretty much what they used to look like hundreds of years ago. I often felt like I was stepping back in time – and I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s true.bergamo architecture

18 Charming red roofs everywhere

I love getting a bird’s eye’s view of a city, and in Italy I am usually in luck, since there seems to be a tower that can be climbed. Red tile roofs just have a special charm, don’t you agree? brescia views

19 A French Riviera vibe

Like I said – Lombard doesn’t even have access to the Mediterranean, and yet, in several of its lake side towns, I felt a Cote D’Azur vibe. Maybe George Clooney felt that way too, and that’s why he bought a house on the shores of Lake Como? Anyway – I loved the sophisticated flair when I strolled down the wide, palm tree lined promenades, passing yachts in the water and elegant ladies with big sunglasses and hand fans in the cafes. The main difference between here and the French Riviera? It is much less pretentious and much less expensive. lake garda salo

20 Polenta e osei

This pastry alone is worth a trip to Bergamo, where this local specialty is from. Funnily enough it doesn’t have any polenta in it, despite being named polenta e osei, but that’s because it looks like a perfectly mounded polenta. It’s topped with marzipan and the black topppings resemble the osei, which means birds.polenta e osei bergamo

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Polaroid of the week: Charmed by Venice

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polaroid italy veniceVenice was the last stop on my little tour of northern Italy, and it is safe to say that I picked the perfect place for a truly grand finale.

My last visit to Venice was way before the era of digital cameras, and so I was dying to go out with my dSLR camera to photograph the city which is without a doubt one of the most photogenic cities in the world, and I had two amazing days in the lagoon city – definitely a highlight of my September travels.

Of course it’s impossible for me to share only one photo of my time in Venice, so expect a big photo essay which will show you more of my days which were spent walking along the canals, heading up on top of St Mark’s Campanile (bell tower) to enjoy the views, braving the tourist hordes around Piazza San Marcos, enjoying spritzes (the aperitivo Venice is famous for) and enjoying the peace and quiet of the little squares and narrow streets once you cross the Grand Canal and enter the less touristy parts of the city.

Yes, Venice has become considerably busier since the last time I visited, especially considering I arrived on a Monday in late September, when most cruise ships have already stopped their Med cruise summer terms. I didn’t want to think about how crowded the city must be during high season and remembered an article I had read a few years ago about Venice not being able with the amount of visitors anymore, especially since the number of cruise ships that dock in Venice every day had gotten out of control, spitting out 30,000 tourists every single day.

But it wasn’t difficult to escape the crowds and I loved rediscovering the magic of Venice – the narrow canals, the gondola singers, the countless bridges, the historic buildings and remarkable churches. Venice is one of those places I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of returning to – even though the city has changed so little over the centuries. But that’s what I find so enchanting: that most of the buildings have been around for over 600 years, and that walking through the city at night,when I had most of the city to myself, must have not felt much different from what it feels like now.

Sidenote: If you are subscribed to my newsletter and haven’t gotten anything in your mail last week, check your spam folder. GoogleMail decided that my emails were spam, and some other email providers might have done the same.

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Polaroid of the week: A picturesque town on Lake Garda

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polaroid italy lake garda saloLast week I thought it was hard to select one picture out of the 1,500 I took in Iceland, but did I think it was going to be easier to pick one shot out of equally as many photos I’ve taken in the past seven days here in Italy? Once again, it seemed like an impossible task. I finally chose a picture of Lake Garda, where I spent a day exploring Sirmione and the nearby Roman ruins Grotte di Catullo before taking a boat over to Salò, a small town on the southwestern shore of the lake. I took the photo when our boat was approaching the town, laying in front of us like the picture-perfect lakeside resort town you imagine in Italy.

I’ve been to Italy so many times, but I have to admit that other than a quick visit to Milan and a day in the Cinque Terre a few year’s ago, I’ve always blissfully ignored the north, driving straight through it to hit destinations further south, like Tuscany or the Amalfi Coast. After my week here in Lombardy, I am not sure why I didn’t visit the region earlier – and a week was way too short to properly explore it; I am already pondering a return trip. I used Milan as a base for day trips around the area – and there’s so much to see around here, from the vineyards around Brescia, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the famous lakes like Como and Garda, and the many Alpine ski resorts close to the Swiss border, which are superb hiking destinations during the summer months.

I managed to visit the towns of Bergamo, Brescia and the aforementioned towns on Lake Garda and used the rest of my time to get to know Milan, a widely underrated destination in Italy. After feeling pretty ‘meh’ about it after my first visit, I finally got to see what’s underneath the surface, ie. beyond the tourist sights. I visit several neighborhoods, bar hopped in the evenings and ate my way around town; visited the popular Sunday antiques market, strolled along the canals, biked around the city, had gelato in the park, joined the cool kids for some street food at Mercato Metropolitano, took a ridiculous amount of photos of cool street art, I even made it to a famous jazz club. I could easily spend a month because I feel like there are many more layers to uncover here, but for now, it’s time to say goodbye and to head to my next stop: Venice!

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7 Surprising Facts About Venice

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Call me cheesy, but I love Venice. For many travelers the city has lost its charm, now that it is more than overrun with tourists and cruise ship day trippers, but the magic of Venice is still working on me. Every time I visit, I fall in love with the lagoon city again, and keep discovering new hidden gems on my aimless strolls around the narrow lanes. All you have to do is plan your visit right: To me, that means to stay overnight (that way you’ll have the city almost to yourself once the cruisers have left – and I love the deserted lanes and plazas especially in the morning. Make sure to take your camera out for a stroll before breakfast), and to avoid busy months like July and August and busy holidays such as Easter.

Because I am lucky enough to return to Venice later this year – I don’t think you can go on too many city breaks to Venice! -, I wanted to share 7 surprising and quirky facts about Venice with you – let’s see how many of these things you’ve heard before:

1) Venice hasn’t changed in 600 years

Of course there have been smaller changes in restaurants, shops and other institutions in the lagoon, but the city itself is still pretty much exactly the way it was 600 years ago, which is one of the reasons why Venice is such a special place. Taking a gondola through the canals and gliding by the centuries-old buildings feels almost surreal, as if you were on a movie set instead of a real, functioning place.

two realities
Venice by MorBCN on

2) You can’t ride a bike in Venice

It is strictly forbidden to ride a bike in any part of Venice- if you’re caught on a bike, expect to pay a hefty fine. So if you’re on a bicycle trip through Italy: make sure to lock up your bike before you cross the bridge to the lagoon city. There are also absolutely no cars in Venice.

3) 177 canals, 400 bridges and 118 islands

Venice comprises of 118 islands which are connected by 400 bridges and intervened by 177 canals. Remember that these are all footbridges – the most famous ones are the Rialto Bridge and the Bridge Of Sighs.

4) The main entrances to the houses are on the canal side

While walking through the city, you might see that the entrance doors to the houses, even the majestic palace-like ones, are never as lavish as one might suspect for houses that big and pompous. That’s because the actual entrances of the houses in Venice is located on the canal side – the canals used to be the real streets of Venice, and that’s where the proper entrance doors where built.

On a canal in Vencie [Explore #455]
Venice by Joakim Berndes on

5) Venice is sinking

The city has been steadily sinking over the past few centuries. Only at a rate of 1 to 2 millimeters per year, but those millimeters add up. Every decade, the city sits 10 centimeters (about 4 inches) lower – that’s 40 inches in a century!

6) There is only one female gondolier

That lucky lady has been working as a gondolier since 2010 and fought hard to become the first woman to do this job. Considering that only 3 to 4 new gondolier licenses are issued per year, you can see why that was such a big deal! In total, 400 gondoliers are operating in Venice today, compared to 10,000 in the 16th century. You have to have a license to operate one of the 350 gondolas in the city.

7) 20 million tourists vs. 56,000 Venetians

The amount of tourists who visit Venice every year is insane: nearly 20,000 people flock to the lagoon city! They outnumber the 56,000 inhabitants by far, especially during the summer months. In the Golden Days of Venice, the city had 140,000 inhabitants, by the way, but because it isn’t particularly easy to live in a city surrounded by water and annual flooding and to maintain the buildings, which is why many people have left over the centuries.

Venice - Rio di San Barnaba - Dorsoduro
Venice by MorBCN on
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The best reasons to visit Milan

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Resting in the North-West part of Italy sits Milan. A city brimming with life, beauty and character; a city who’s grace and splendour hits you hard directly upon arrival. The Milanese are not quite the pizza-loving-spaghetti-eating-wildly gesticulating stereotype of Italians – but they are incredibly welcoming and open in more of a cosmopolitan style. If you don’t trust my word, consider that the city recently featured high on Lonely Planet’s list of the top cities to visit in 2015.Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II milan inside

The calmer part…

The Duomo di Milano is the crowning jewel of this gorgeous metropolis. Situated in the center of the city, the Duomo is an awe-inspiring and breath-taking cathedral that took nearly 600 years to build, only being completed in 1965. White marble brick carved into eloquent statues and impressive spires cover the cathedral, which is the largest in Italy. On the ground floor visitors are completely free to roam around and gaze at the wonders inside.milan cathedral1Not far from the Duomo itself is the Parco Sempione, a haven for picnics and lounging in the sun. By no means the biggest park in the world; it is however ideally located and a beautiful refuge for a lunch break or grandiose get-together. The front door to Parco Sempione is naturally found past a splendid fountain and then through the epic gates of Sforza Castle, a 15th century fortress that is a joy to behold.

The canals and restaurants of the Navigli district offer a vibrant slice of the Milan lifestyle – classy, sumptuous and always lively. Here you’ll find many of the leading bars that offer aperitivo; essentially a two hour window for an all-you-can-eat buffet when purchasing any glasses

…and the wild side

Obviously synonymous with exquisite fashion tastes, Milan showcases its boldest and brightest attire at Milan Fashion Week. A great summary of the designers and the city’s fashion fascination can be found on the blog of Peter Hahn, in their article Fashion in Milan – Trends in Bella Italia.milan plaza del duomoFor those wanting to let their hair down and hear the beats drop should look to the curiously titled Old Fashion, a famous club which contains an open-air dance floor that is perfect for those hot summer nights. Previous to this however, one should – no, must – visit the Colonne in the evening. A magnet for all that partying and celebrating embodies, Colonne is where the cool kids hang out. Affordable bars surround the square, where you can buy a drink in a plastic cup (no glass allowed) and sit on the floor or the benches. Laughter, light, music and merriment will be your guides for this area –typically as good on a Tuesday as it is on a Saturday.

Slightly less festival-looking in appearance but no less entertaining is Ostello Bello. This hostel also serves as a bar and café to the general public. Whether you are travelers in a large group or a solo adventurer; Ostello Bello often contains as many Milanese as there are internationals. Most importantly, the welcoming is always warm and the drink portions consistently generous.milan pizzas

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