Walking through Italy: Highlights from the Via Amerina, Part II

historic via amerina

…continued from Walking Through Italy: Highlights From The Via Amerina, Part I

After the first big leg of the hike along the Via Amerina, from Castel dell’Aquila to Amelia, and a good night’s sleep (we were all so tired that we fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow), and a typical Italian breakfast (a cappuccino and a sweet pastry), we started the walk to our next destination: Orte, around 10 miles (17 kilometers) south of Amelia.umbria breakfastLike the day before, we traversed vineyards and fields, huffing and puffing as we climbed the hills. On this part of the Via, we also passed an open-air chapel, a reminder that we weren’t just on a random hike through the countryside, but on a pilgrimage.via amerina church

Orte: Another Enchanting Medieval Hilltop Town

The last part of the hike was the most challenging: We could see Orte majestically crowning the top of a tuff cliff front of us, and with a lot of moaning, our legs eventually carried us up the hill, reaching our first stop in the Latium region.orte medieval welcomeWe entered another stunning medieval town through one of several massive stone gates, hundreds of years old, and rested at the town square for a while, watching another flag-twirling performance, before we explored Orte’s well-preserved ‘underground’.orte lazioBecause the town sits on top of a cliff, the Romans built many tunnels, caverns and cisterns underneath the city, some of which can be visited with a tour guide.orte undergroundOrte is not just worth a visit for its underground relics though – the town itself is stunning. Just like with medieval churches, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of wandering through medieval towns, marvel at the imposing stone buildings, follow the narrow lanes to see where they lead me, and imagining what life must have been like here in medieval times. It seems like not much has changed since then, at least on the outside.OrteOnly five miles south of Orte, we passed through Vasanello, another quaint medieval town with a small castle and a beautiful 13th century Romanesque bell tower, which was built with stones that were taken from the Via Amerina.Vasanello Italy1Another highlight of the Via was the leg between Morticelli, where we passed a small necropolis, the Necropoli di Morticelli, where tombs have been carved into the tuff, and Corchiano, where we traversed the Forre di Corchiano, a narrow gorge that follows the Rio Fratta.forre di corchiano italyOn that stretch of the path, we passed a beautiful arched Roman Bridge which was still intact, and several caves with Byzantine graves and tombs. The scenery here is completely different from what we’d seen in Umbria.via amerina bridge

The Natural Monuments Of Latium

Instead of rolling hills, we were walking through thick forest, and we learned that the Forre Di Corchiano is part of the WWF L’Oasi di Pian Sant’Angelo, a 254-hectare large natural monument, rewarded this title thanks to its outstanding natural beauty and unique archeological finds.via amerina daniWe left the Via for a quick visit to Civita Castellana, about 4 miles (6 kilometers) east of Falerii Novi, a town also founded by the Falisci, who called it Falerii. Civita Castellana is worth a visit not only for its charming town center, but for its attractive Cathedral, also known as Il Duomo, which has some remarkable geometrical floor mosaics and which has a unique Cosmatesque façade (signed and dated in gold mosaic tiles, dating back to 1210), and Forte Sangallo, the fortress, which was built by Pope Alexander VI. The fortress houses an Etruscan Museum with a considerable collection.civita castellana duomo inside1After spending the night in Civita Castellana, we continued our walk southwards the next morning – 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) to the town of Nepi.via amerinaWe started the day on a particularly lovely section of the route, which led us through hazelnut orchards, the ground filled with hazelnuts that were going to be used for one of Ferrero’s irresistible hazelnut chocolate creations, until we reached the ruins of the walled settlement of Falerii Novi.via amerina hazelnutsCreated by the Romans, the stone entrance gate of Falerii Novi is still intact, and the striking church of Santa Maria of Falerii is still in great condition next to the ruins of Falerii Novi.Falerii Novi Gate and Faleria Church

The Original Via Amerina: Walking on a Roman Road

After that, we continued our hike on one of the best known parts of the Via Amerina: Cavo degli Zucchi, a stretch of the road that is flanked by a series of tombs which are carved directly out of the tall tuff cliff.historica via amerina italyThis part of the road has been excavated over the past 30+ years, uncovering the original basalt rocks that were put down by the Romans to pave the road. The exposed road is so well preserved that you can even see imprints from the wagons that were rolling down the Via Amerina hundreds of years ago.via amerina Necropoli dei Tre PontiThe cliffs that line the road for about 1.3 miles (2 kilometers) house 196 graves between Cavo degli Zucchi and Cava Foce Tre Ponti (also known as Necropoli dei Tre Ponti). This area is known to be inhabited by the Falisci, an ethnic group said to have been of Greek origin, who also inhabited Falerii and Falerii Novi.via amerina Necropoli dei Tre PontiBefore reaching Nepi, we stopped at Castel Sant’Elia, a small town that sits on the ridge of the Suppetonia Valley, a gorge that winds between Civita Castellana and Nepi, up to 656 feet (200 meters) deep and 2,300 feet (700 meters) wide. The Basilica, a medieval church built into the cliff over an ancient temple of Diana, features several mosaics and frescoes that are worth peeking inside for.italy st elia church mosaicsWe made our way up the mountain to the top of the cliff, where we found an old monastery, the Sanctuary of Santa Maria ad Rupes, which houses the Shrine of St Maria ‘ad Rupes’. The shrine is connected to the surface by a tunnel by 144 steps carved by hand by a local hermit, an endeavor that took him 14 years to finish.italy st elia monastery and suppetonia valley

Catacombs and a Fortress in Nepi

And then we arrived in Nepi, another small medieval town with cobblestone streets and a 12th century cathedral, where there were two other sights worth stopping for, the first being Castello Borgia. We were able to climb to the top of one of the circular towers of this 16th century fortress, an effort that was rewarded with breathtaking views over the city and the surrounding countryside, including the Monte Sorrate mountain ridge.nepi view italyThe other unmissable sight in Nepi is the Santa Savinilla Catacombs, an underground cemetery that dates back to the 5th century. The excavated graves are exceptionally well preserved, some of them still housing the bones and skulls of the deceased.nepi catacombsI’ve seen a number of catacombs throughout Europe, but Santa Savinilla, albeit small, was among the most impressive underground graveyards I have been to.

Calcata: Italy’s Most Artsy Village

After our afternoon in Nepi, we ventured off the path, away from the Via, and made a little detour to Calcata, another small hilltop village that is close enough to Rome to visit on a day trip, reminding us that we were not far from our final destination now.calcata italyI fell in love with the village the minute it came into sight: a tiny fortified settlement perched atop a stump of volcanic rock, a small castle jutting out of the stone roofs of the medieval houses, surrounded by lush green forest on all sides.Calcata LaziumCalcata almost ended up as a ghost town when the Italian government declared the village as unsafe in the 1930s, saying the cliffs it was sitting on were crumbling. The majority of the people who lived in Calcata moved half a mile up the road, where they built a new town, Calcata Nuova, which left the village nearly deserted.calcata italyIn the 60s and 70s artists and hippies discovered the little village, drawn by the mythical energy that supposedly emanates from the volcanic stump it sits on, but also by the fairy-tale like feel and the enchanting atmosphere in the village with its crooked streets and maze of cobblestone alleyways.calcata italyToday, the village is home to over 100 artists, New Age types who are selling jewelry, display their paintings and sculptures in little galleries, and run charming little tea and coffee shops. Calcata gets overrun by day trippers from Rome and other nearby towns, especially on weekends, and it is easy to see why – I could’ve wandered the little streets for hours, visiting all the tiny galleries, gorging on homemade cakes while enjoying the views over the surrounding countryside. If I were to go back to Calcata, I would stay in one of the stone houses right in town for a couple of nights, or even take up a month-long artists’ residency.Calcata Italy LaziumThis detour left me feel invigorated, feeding me enough energy for the last part of the trek. Sadly, due to time constraints, I didn’t get to walk the entire last part from Nepi to Rome via Campagno di Roma (17km) and La Storta (20km from Campagno di Roma), with a final 12.5 mile (20 kilometers) day that eventually brings you to Rome and Piazza St Pietro (St Peter’s Square).via francigena hikers

The Final Stretch to Rome

Instead, we started at the trail head for the alternative route which leads through the Insugherata Nature Park. Walking this way means you are not following the traffic-heavy Via Cassia, which meets the Via Amerina on its final stretch to Rome, alternatively walking through beautiful nature for 4 miles (6 kilometers) right into Rome, where the path rejoins the original route near Piazza Igea.via francigenaThe entire walk is 8.7 miles (14 kilometers) and was very pleasant – I preferred walking through the park rather than following the road, especially because I knew we would be walking through the busy streets of Rome later on.historic via amerina italy

The Papal Audience in St Peter’s Square

Getting a first glimpse of St Peter’s Cathedral from Monte Mario was spectacular – at last seeing that the end was near, and that we had nearly reached our final destination.rome viewMost pilgrims plan their arrival in Rome for a Tuesday so that they can attend the papal audience that is held in St Peter’s Square every Wednesday. Even as a non-religious person, I couldn’t deny the special aura in the square, filled with thousands of pilgrims from all over the world who were listening to the Pope’s speech and receiving his apostolic blessing.rome papal audienceNo matter if you are Catholic or not, ending a walk through Italy at the papal audience makes it feel even more extraordinary: you have done something that only very few people do. Going to Rome? Easy. But walking to Rome? An exceptional achievement.rome castell st angelo

The Walk Continues: Wandering The Streets Of Rome

Most of my fellow hikers were tired from the long days of walking and skipped sightseeing in Rome, but I love this city so much, I couldn’t leave without spending at least one day in the city.romeI wandered the streets of Trastevere, my favorite neighborhood, and revisited the majestic landmarks of the city that made such an impression on me when I came to Rome for the first time, back when I was a teenager – the Collosseum, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum and the Fontana di Trevi.rome collosseoIf you walk the Via Amerina or another pilgrims’ route and this is your first time in Rome, I recommend taking a rest day and then spending a few days exploring the city. Even though the walk is a journey in itself, your final destination is too sensational to be left out.rome gelatoI could have spent another week in Rome, but sadly I was pressed for time. I threw a coin over my left shoulder at Trevi Fountain though, the one thing I’ve done on all my visits to Rome, because legend says that throwing a coin over your shoulder into the fountain guarantees a return to Rome.rome fontana di treviSo far, it’s worked for me – I’ll be back.


read more

Walking through Italy: Highlights from the Via Amerina, Part I

italy umbria

It was a special moment when I was handed my pilgrim’s pass in the Papal Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi – even though I am not religious. But it made it official: I would be walking along the Via Amerina, a historic pilgrim’s route, for the next six days, until we would reach Rome, the ultimate destination for a pilgrim.assisi pilgrims passport

Assisi is an important sacred place for pilgrims because St Francis, the founder of the Order of Friars Minor, the women’s Order of Saint Clare, the Third Order of Saint Francis and the Custody of the Holy Land, and one of the most venerated religious figures in history, was born and died here.Assisi papal basilica of saint francisSeveral pilgrims’ trails start or pass through Assisi, inspired by the life and the travels of St Francis – most famously the St Francis Way, a 340 miles (550km) pilgrimage from Florence through Assisi to Rome through Central Italy, visiting key sites from the saint’s life.via amerina umbriaThe Via Amerina may include several spiritual sites, like churches and monasteries, but of course you don’t have to be religious to enjoy the walk through the Italian countryside. Just like on the Camino De Santiago, Spain’s famous pilgrim’s route, you find people of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds, and everyone is walking for a different reason. Some are at a crossroads in their life, looking for a sign of which way to take. Some are walking to process a dramatic event in their lives. Some are walking to focus on spiritual virtues, of course, and others walk simply because they enjoy walking.via amerina walkWhatever the reason, the one thing we all share is the journey. The dirt roads across the Umbrian hills, the paths along the vineyards, where vines heavy with ripe grapes are waiting to be harvested. The walk along deserted country roads, through grain fields, and through little Italian villages that barely get any tourists, save the few pilgrims that walk this ancient trail.umbria cat

The Via Amerina: An Ancient Roman Road

The Via Amerina dates back to Roman times, when it was built following the route of an ancient Etruscan trading trail. The Romans paved the entire road with big basalt rocks, some of which are still there today. Several times along the way I found myself walking on the original basalt rocks.

dani via amerinaWhat made the road so important during medieval times was the fact that it was the only route that was open between Rome and Ravenna, which was the capital of the Byzantine Empire at the time.via amerinaThe trail also has a connection to other European roads: the Via Francigena meets the Via Amerina just outside of Rome, combining the two ancient routes on their last miles to the Vatican.via francigena signAnd there are many more than just these two medieval roads – there’s a number of Roman roads that lead to Rome, all of which were important trading routes in Roman and medieval times, connecting major religious and commercial hubs, like Rome with Jerusalem. Five routes that are particularly noteworthy in Italy are the Way of St Francis, Benedict’s Path, the Via Lauretana, the aforementioned Via Francigena and Via Amerina, parts of which I walked.via amerina italyDay after day, we got up, put on our walking shoes and faced the challenge of another long and strenuous section of the path. I was surprised that we didn’t pass any other hikers, but the Via Amerina, despite its historic significance, isn’t among the most popular multi-day walking routes in Europe. The Camino, the Pilgrim Way to Canterbury or the Via Francigena, a longer version of the Via Amerina that goes from France to Rome, are much more popular.dani and dog via amerina

Italy Beyond The Major Cities

The little towns we stopped in along the way are towns that most visitors to Italy would never set foot in – towns like Nepi, Gallese or Orte aren’t places you find on your typical Italy itinerary. There’s no Florence, no Venice, no Milan. Instead, you get a glimpse into what small-town life looks like in Italy, where the food and wine in the trattorias comes right from the fields surrounding the town. Places where people know each other and stop for a chat in the town square, have a quick espresso in one of the ever-present espresso bars.Amelia wine UmbriaThat’s what I loved most about this walk, getting a deeper insight into the real Italy, the country beyond landmarks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the Colosseum. This walk is a spiritual journey for pilgrims, but for me, it was a cultural and culinary pilgrimage, in search of authentic dishes of Umbria and Latium, the regions I traversed, and in search of cultural treasures that are overlooked by most guide books.umbria townThe total distance between Rome and the town of Amelia, after which the route was named (Amelia was known as Ameria in Roman times) was 59 miles (95 kilometers).
umbria sceneryJust north of Amelia, the Via converges with two other ancient routes, the Via Flaminia, which continues to the Adriatic Coast, and the Via Cassia. Eventually, the Via Flaminia was extended all the way to Rome, and with a better surface, it led to the decline of the Via Amerina, which was consequently less used.umbria via amerina fieldsHowever, the Via is now seeing a revival, and is becoming increasingly popular again with hikers and cyclists. And you don’t have to walk the entire length of it, you could also base yourself in Amelia or Civita Castellana or another town along the route, and walk sections of it.via amerina hikersBut before I tell you the practical aspects on how you can walk the Via Amerina yourself, I wanted to share some of my personal highlights along the way.dani vineyard via amerina

Assisi: Where it all Begins

I wish we would have had more time in Assisi to also see the famous Papal Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, which is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Order of Friars Minor Conventual and a UNESCO World Heritage site, but with a long walk ahead of us, we only got to stop briefly in Assisi, receive our pilgrims passports and visit the Papal Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels.assisi church

While this church might not have the stunning views of the more famous Papal Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, what makes this church special is the fact that it is the seventh largest Christian church and it was here that the young Francis of Assisi understood his vocation and renounced the world in order to live in poverty among the poor, consequently starting the Franciscan movement.Papal Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi

Another thing that makes the church stand out: The chiesetta (little church) of Porziuncola (Italian for “little portion”) which is the most sacred place for Franciscans. Benedictine monks gave this little church, dating from the 9th century, to St Francis.assisi PorziuncolaWhile we received our pilgrims’ passes in Assisi, the actual start of the walk for us was Castel dell’Aquila, where we left the old town through the remarkable medieval Porta Amerina and started our walk south, towards Rome.Castel dell'aquila umbria

Scenic Umbria

Umbria is a region I had only passed through on previous visits to Italy, but never really explored. I was surprised to see that its natural beauty compared very much to neighboring Tuscany, which has always been my favorite part of Italy.umbria landscape

The leg of the walk between the quaint village of Castel dell’Aquila and Amelia, just under 10 miles (15.4km) was possibly the most picturesque day of the hike, but in all honesty, I would be hard pressed picking a favorite. Italy is always just ridiculously scenic, no matter what part of the country you find yourself in.via amerina vineyard

On our walk through the hilly countryside we would see tiny sandstone villages perched on the hillsides, always with a campanile, a bell tower, sticking out.umbrian village

We walked through fields, through vineyards, we passed olive orchards and small farms. I felt like the saying ‘It is about the journey, not the destination’ never held more true than here, where every time we turned a corner, we were rewarded with new breathtaking vistas.umbria countryside

Amelia: Sweeping Views Over The Tiber Valley

Amelia, (formerly America), sits, like most towns in Umbria, on top of a hill, overlooking the surrounding Tiber Valley. A group of local flag-twirlers dressed in period costumes welcomed us with a traditional musical performance and we learn that many of Umbria’s flag-twirlers are so good that they participate in competitions around the world.amelia italyI love that all the medieval towns still have traditional contrade groups – a contrada is a district, or a ward, within an Italian city – and during medieval festivals which are usually held in the summer, members of the various contrade dress in ceremonial garb and parade through the cities.amelia flag twirlersLike most Baroque churches in Italy, Amelia’s cathedral was impressive, with intricate paintings and lots of gold. I may not be religious, but I do have an appreciation for elaborate churches that are hundreds of years old – and I never tired of walking into another house of worship on our way to Rome.amelia church insideAmelia was so delightful that I could have easily spent another day here, but the Via called, and so we marched onward instead, to Orte, around 10 miles (17 kilometers) south of Amelia.Amelia Italy Umbria

Continue here: Walking Through Italy: Highlights From The Via Amerina, Part II


read more

Roaming in Rome: 7 Tips from Experts


History, culture, religion, and architecture – these are just some of the reasons why Rome is a favorite destination among many discerning travelers. If you are planning to explore this in your next trip, keep on reading and learn from some of the tips that we will be sharing.rome st peters square columns

Plan the Right Time

If you ask travel experts, they will most probably be in concurrence noting that timing is indeed key. Summer is not a good time to visit. It can be hot, and worst, many of the attractions can be full. This is peak season and even hotel rates will be too high compared to off-peak seasons. Spare yourself of the hassle by visiting during off or shoulder season. Once you’ve booked your flights, you can also book your taxi from the airport.rome piazza

Stay Hydrated

Weather in Rome can be hot. For some people, especially those from countries with a cooler climate may find it hard to adjust. It is best to always bring a bottle of water with you. You will most probably be doing a lot of walking, which can make you more exhausted. Bringing a water bottle and having it refilled when you have the chance can help you save money.

rome castell st angelo

Take Advantage of Free Art

Rome will be a wonderful choice for art lovers. Art is thriving almost everywhere and the good news is that you do not have to pay to enjoy a visual feast. There are many art pieces that you can see free of charge. Seeing the Sistine Chapel, Santa Maria del Polpolo, and Santa Maria della Vittoria are just some of the things that should be included in your itinerary.rome trastevere street art

Bring Your ID

If you are a student and if you are visiting Rome on a budget, make sure to bring a valid student ID wherever you go in the city. There are many places wherein you can enjoy significant discounts. From shopping to different attractions, you will be able to realize how powerful your ID is.rome collosseo

Do Not Buy a RomaPass in Advance

With RomaPass, you will gain two free entries to various sites, and you can enjoy significant discounts in other attractions. However, before buying, you should first plot your itinerary and consider which ones will be worth it. There are some attractions wherein cutting the line will be unnecessary. Research thoroughly to know where it can be used and if it will indeed be worth your money.rome pantheon

Learn how to Say No

Expect to see salesmen roaming on the streets of Rome, chasing tourists, and persistently asking you to buy something that you may not actually need. They will insist, but you should do your best to resist. Some might even offer you free roses, but in the end, you will be surprised that you still have to pay for it!rome gelato

Skip Accommodation in the City Centre

Hotels in the center of Rome can be expensive. They can offer accessibility, but they are dreaded by budget-conscious travelers. With this, head a bit further out of the city. There are plenty of affordable choices, and the best thing is that they are easily connected to the center. With the Rome metro, it will be easier to reach more places.

read more

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 🙂

read more

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..

read more

Venice fun facts & my top five travel tips for Venice

no thumb

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

read more

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.

italian food polenta
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?


Highlights of a food tour through Northern Italy

read more

Why You Need To Visit Lombardy, In 20 Photos

brescia italy

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


Why you can't miss Lombardy Italy

read more

Polaroid of the week: Charmed by Venice

no thumb

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.

read more

Polaroid of the week: A picturesque town on Lake Garda

no thumb

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!

read more
1 2 3
Page 1 of 3