travel diary : an italian trip on a budget by sourabh datta gupta

This is the diary by Sourabh Datta Gupta of his trip to Italy on a budget.

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Roman Holiday in 2016

Tour diary

9.10.16.  Rome
10.10.16. Rome
11.10.16. Rome-Vatican
12.10.16  Rome/Florence
13.10.16  Florence
14.10.16. Florence – Chianti
15.10.16  Florence-Pisa/Venice
16.10.16. Venice
17.10.16. Venice-Murano-Burano
18.10.16. Venice/Milan

09/10/2016

We (Mohua and I) took 10.00 am Air India flight (from Dum Dum Airport, Kolkata) to reach Rome via Delhi. Today is Ashtami of Durga Pujo. We reached Delhi at around 12 05 pm. Our next connecting flight is at 2.20 pm. When I reached Rome it is 6 pm local time. I considered myself quite lucky to get the direct flight from Kolkata. The price I paid is only Rs 35,500/-  return fare, per person. Of course I bought the ticket almost a year back! In the Calcutta airport, I met a group of 9 people from a travel agency from S P Mukherjee Road (near Kalighat Metro). I have been told that almost 10 people of their group has been denied visa ! They don’t even know, where is their hotel ! Somebody will come to pick up at the airport. They are without their tour guide.

Before reaching Rome, I have heard that in Italy, you need to know only two languages: Italian and Bengali. I never knew it is not a joke ! It is actually true !

I got to know from the Italian driver (after reaching Rome) of the travel company that, their hotel is not near Roma Termini. So I cannot get a lift ! I was sensing the opportunity, that I might get a free lift , since many seats are vacant! After getting down at the airport, I met a Bangladeshi who dropped somebody at the airport. Since they were going back, I made a deal, they will drop us at the hotel at the fare I would have paid to the Roma Metro rail. I paid them 20 Euro for two of us ! Our hotel in Via Calatafimi is around 7-8 minutes walk from Via Marshala (Via or phonetically Veeaa means road) exit of Roma Termini (Rail station cum Metro rail station).

After getting down from the Taxi, after some effort we found our hostel. To our surprise we found, the song “Coffee house er sei addata ar nei ” by Manna Dey, is being played there !! The hostel is owned by  Bangladeshis !! We were put up in a room two blocks away from that building. There is a kitchen too. We were told that there are some Bangladeshi restaurants nearby – where we can have reasonably cheap food for the dinner.

On the way to the restaurant we saw a departmental store owned by Bangladeshis. Nayeem and Milan sit at night. We bought some food for tomorrow’s breakfast. It is open till 1 am.

Then we went to have dinner at a restaurant owned by an Egyptian – where Pizza were sold by weight – 10 Euro per kg (called Pizza by slice). For me 300 gm is enough. His helper is a Bangladeshi !

Understand the History

Italy’s great food, beautiful countryside, fabulous wine and long history make it most exceptional country to visit. No life is complete without a trip to Italy. The vineyards in Florence, the ancient streets in Rome, the laid back nature of Southern Italy (Napoli), the gorgeous Cinque Terre, romance by the Lake district of Como and romantic Venice and Pisa near Florence makes it a tourist magnet. Italy leaves no one underwhelmed. There’s so much to do in Italy that it would take a lifetime to finish. Don’t rush it in just one visit.

Get in 

By plane

Rome has two main international airports. However Leonardo da Vinci /FCO is the main airport, – Rome’s main airport is modern, large and well connected to the city centre by public transport. 

Rome’s Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport is also called Fiumicino (fee-yoo-mee-chee-no) airport simply because it is located in a town called Fiumicino 35 kms from Roma. It is a large and a very busy airport and the town of Fiumicino itself is a coastal town – just beside Tyrrhenian sea.    

Once we got out of the Jet Bridge, we started following the crowd hoping they would lead us directly to immigration or baggage collection but surprisingly the crowd led us into a “room”… We followed (we were lost really cause English had suddenly become almost non-existent) and then the doors of the “room” closed and the room started moving! The “room” was actually a very fast train….So yeah the Fiumicino Airport has a train running between the “Arrival area” of the airport and the “real” part of the Airport. We alighted from the train and we were immediately in front of the baggage claim belt. 

By now loud Ciaos and Ciao Belles could be heard and I made a mental note of finding out the difference between the two.

Note:

Ciao-Hello or Goodbye
Ciao Belle – Hello/Goodbye Beautiful

After baggage collection, we got our immigration done and we were finally on our own…

Since Fiumicino is a little distance away from Rome, there are a couple of ways of getting to the Roma Termini. You could take a bus (70 – 90 mins travel time) OR a regional train (includes a train change) or take the Leonardo Express (dedicated, non-stop, fast train that runs between the Airport and Roma Termini). 

By train, public and private bus

  1. From the Leonardo da Vinci/Fiumicino airport, there are two train lines that will get you into Rome. The Leonardo Expressleaves every 30 minutes to Roma Termini(Rome’s central train station) (35 minute trip). Tickets cost €14 . So if you are 3, it is possibly cheaper to take a taxi and you get delivered to your door. Get your ticket stamped in a yellow validation machine just before boarding the train: it will expire 90 minutes after the validation. It is important to validate the ticket: otherwise, the train conductor could fine you a substantial sum.


## Leonardo Express is a First Class Compartments and hence if you are carrying a 2nd Class Euro Rail Pass, it will not work and you will still have to buy tickets for the train.


## There is one manned ticket counter and 2 self-help kiosks at the Airport from where you can buy tickets for the regional trains and for Leonardo Express. The manned ticket counter was closed when we landed as all shops and manual counters close by 6:30 to 7:00 pm in Italy.

## Binari (bee-naa-ri) means platforms in Italian. This word will be useful while travelling on your own in Italy. If somebody  tells you Binari Ocho that means your the train will leave from Platform 8.

2.The Regional or suburban train  does not stop at Termini. Get off at Tiburtina , where you can connect to line B of the Metro to go to Termini. Tickets are €8, plus €1.50 for a bus-tram-Metro combo. The extra cost of the Leonardo Express is for the convenience of a direct ride to Termini.

3.Terravision bus is probably the easiest and cheapest ( €6) connection between Fiumicino airport and Rome city centre, but the journey takes 55 minutes. However you may have to wait more than 2 hours to catch one. The online “reservation” does not guarantee a seat. The bus departs near Terminal 3 of the airport and arrives at Roma Termini station

4.From Leonardo da Vinci/Fiumicino, the public bus stop is located outdoors at ground level, at the bottom of the Terminal 1 (Domestic Arrivals). You can buy tickets at the tobacco shop in the Terminal 1 baggage area, with the blue sign (Tabaccheria).

Get around

Roma Pass 

If you’ll be staying in Rome for at least 3 days, consider purchasing the Roma Pass. It costs €36 (or €28 for a 48 hour pass) and entitles holders to free admission to the first 2 museums and/or archaeological sites visited, full access to public transportation, reduced tickets and discounts for any other following museums (that are included in the programme – e.g., the Vatican Museums are not included). Considering everything (since I stayed only 3 days) I decided not to buy the Roma pass.

We purchased Bus/ Metro pass from tobacco shop (Tabaccheria) on the side walks.

Tickets  

Tickets must be bought from a tobacco shop – look for the big ‘T’ sign, these shops are plentiful , or from a news stand before you board the bus, Metro or tram. Metro stops and bus terminals all have automated ticket kiosks, and major Metro stations have clerked ticket windows. But we bought everything from the Tabaccheria. Please note that the whole public transportation network uses the same kind of tickets. A single-ride ticket costs – € 1.50 : you can change buses, trams on one journey; valid for 100 minutes. When you board the bus or Metro you must time-stamp your ticket in the little yellow machine For a daily ticket (€6) to be worth it, you would have to make 5 or more trips at intervals greater than 100 minutes apart on a single day. 

Night buses could be useful due to the closing of the Metro stations at 23:30 and the stopping of regular lines of buses and trams at midnight. 

HO-HO Buses

A popular alternative to city and pre-planned tour buses are the hop-on/hop-off buses; open-top double-deckers. There are apparently seven different companies. An all-day ticket runs about €18/20, can be purchased as you board at any stop. After lot of discussion with my wife, I decided not to buy it, since it won’t be economic for our short stay.

Tram

In Rome, there are 6 tram lines. These are the remnants of a much bigger network (in fact, the biggest in Italy) which opened in 1877 but was largely dismantled during the 1960s in favour of bus system.

Metro

There are 3-and-a-half Metro lines:  A , B , B1 and the new C line.

Lines A and B cross at Termini, while line C doesn’t reach the city centre yet.

Line A runs Northwest past the Vatican, and then southeast. It has convenient stops for Termini station (“Termini”), Trevi fountain (“Barberini – Fontana di Trevi”), the Spanish Steps (“Spagna”), piazza del Popolo (“Flaminio – Piazza del Popolo”) and the Vatican Museums (“Ottaviano – San Pietro – Musei Vaticani”).

 Line B runs Southwest past the Colosseum and northeast in one direction, but it also splits – this is the B1 branch – at the “Bologna” stop to go north to “Jonio”. This line has convenient stops for the Tiburtina (“Tiburtina”) and Termini train stations, the Colosseum (“Colosseo”), the Circus Maximus and the Aventine (“Circo Massimo”), the Pyramid of Cestius (“Piramide”) and the catacombs of S. Agnese (“S. Agnese/Annibaliano”, on B1 branch).

The most important station is of course Roma Termini. Roma Termini is a landmark in the centre of the city. It houses the main train station, the metro station and even the bus station. You can imagine how huge it is and how invariably convenient for anyone and everyone trying to avail any of the public transports that Roma has to offer to its citizens. If that wasn’t enough, it has a fabulous shopping area replete with outlets for Sephora, Kiko Milano and other fabulous brands… We later learnt that all major train stations of big cities in Italy have huge shopping arcades. Florence even had Mango and Victoria’s Secret while the Genova train station additionally boasted of a MAC Cosmetics outlet.

There are also some Regional train lines connecting Rome with other Italian cities and towns. But they take more time to reach the destination because of the number of stops where they stop. I used this train from Venice to Milan.

Tip:

In Italy, they add ‘-eteria’ or ‘-eria’ to the noun that they are selling. A place selling Gelato is called a Gelateria, you know a pizzeria, a cafeteria… Same way a place or kiosk sellingBiglietto (tickets) is called a Biglietteria.

Italy has multiple police forces, the ones that I know of and came across are:

  1. Polizia di Stato (State police)
    2. Carabinieri (Military trained police to fight organized crimes)
    3. Guardia Di Finanza (Military trained police under the ministry of finances, part of Europol, used as riot police and anti-fraud police)
    4. Polizia Di Municipale (generally regulate traffic and also work again petty crimes like pick-pocketing etc)
    Non so Italiano(I’m not Italian) is an useful word to know in Italy{Almost all the Italicized texts here under “Get In and Get around” are taken from a wonderful site : isimplylovemakeup.com}

Operating hours

Sunday to Thursday: Metro lines A, B and C operate from 05:30 to 23:30.

Friday to Saturday: Metro lines A and B operate from 05:30 to 1:30

Line C operates from 05:30 to 23:30.


Orientation in Rome

Rome can be divided into several districts: the so-called historical centre is quite small – only around 4% of the city area – but it’s the place in which most of the tourist attraction are located. It is home to Trevi fountain (famous for Fellini’s movie) , Piazza Barberini, and Piazza della Repubblica.

Old Rome 

The Renaissance-era centre of the city, with beautiful squares/piazza, cathedrals, the Pantheon includes piazza Navona, piazza Campo de’ Fiori, and the (former) Jewish Ghetto.

Vatican 

The independent Vatican City and its endless treasure troves of sights, relics and the Vatican Museums.

Colosseo

The heart of ancient Rome, the Colosseum, the Capitoline hill and its museums.

North Centre 

Situated in the northern part of Rome, it is home to the Villa Borghese, the Spanish Steps.

Trastevere 

The charming district south of the Vatican, on the west bank of the Tiber, full of narrow cobbled streets and lonely squares that served as the inspiration for artists such as Giorgio de Chirico. Now arguably the centre of Rome’s artistic life.

South 

Home to the Appian Way park, several catacombs, Fascist monumental architecture.

Ostia

A Roman district (not a separate town!) with a view to the sea and several beach resorts. Home to the ruins of Ostia antica, ancient Rome’s harbour. It is one of the best kept secrets in all of Italy. It is not very far from Fiumicino airport.

Much of the attraction of Rome is in just wandering around the old city. You can quickly escape from the major tourist routes and feel as if you are in a small medieval village, not a capital city.  Please remember in Rome, some of the best art isn’t in museums, but in churches or in public and is free. There are more than 900 churches in Rome. Probably one third would be well worth a visit! You’ll find the richness and range of decor astonishing.

Churches in Rome deny admission to people who are dressed inappropriately; you will find “fashion police” at the most visited churches (“knees and shoulders” are the main problem – especially female ones). Bare shoulders, short skirts, and shorts are officially not allowed, but long shorts and skirts reaching just above the knee should generally be no problem…however, it’s always safer to wear longer pants or skirts that go below the knee; St. Peter’s in particular is known for rejecting tourists for uncovered knees, shoulders, midriffs, etc.

Take a stroll in the area between Piazza Navona and the Tiber river in Old Rome where artisans continue to ply their trade from small shops. 

Flea markets

There are many flea market in Italy. The one at Porta Portese (located near the Roma Trastevere train station) is the biggest in city, and takes place every Sunday from 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM . Always remember that flea fairs are the only place in Italy where haggling is allowed (to a certain degree).

 Eat

Rome is full of good restaurants. Eat like a Roman. In Rome you can ask for:

  • Cappuccino
  • Panino – Generic word for a stuffed sandwich
  • Pizza al taglio- Pizza by the slice.
  •       Spaghetti (or rigatoni) alla carbonara – A sauce made with egg and pancetta(bacon).


Pizza

Roman pizzas are very thin crusted, quite different from the classical pizza made in Naples; they’re also crunchier and have far less pizza topping. Most restaurants serve pizza only in the evening. You’ll have to cut your round pizza (in Italy, the cook doesn’t do that for you) with fork and knife, which can then be eaten with one’s hands; contrary to some travel myths, there’s absolutely no stigma whatsoever to doing it.

Pizza al taglio is pizza with a thicker crust and cooked in a large pan. It is served by the piece – usually to take away – and is a good, cheap way to get something to fill you up: point to the one you want and indicate if you want more or less than your server is indicating with the knife. Unlike Naples, pizza al taglio here is sold by weight (the listed price is usually per 100 gm, known in Italian as an un etto, a hectogram). Pizzerie al taglio (places selling pizza by the slice) are the city’s very own equivalent of a fast-food joint and pretty much like the fish and chips shops in the UK, they’re a cornerstone of Roman life. Lasagne is another thing which is found everywhere.Pizza al taglio helped us to keep our expense within budget and was our saviour !  

.Ice cream

Ice cream parlour or gelato are world famous . Another Italian dessert tiramisù is world famous. We did not have much of these in Rome. We had it in Florence almost everyday.

Pricing

You can get cheap food in Rome, Travellers, beware! The “coperto” and “servizio” charges as per Regional Law  are illegal in Rome and the Lazio region. It is the charge for sitting on chair ! So always ask, before eating, if there is coperto ? I have paid it 3 times, during my stay in Italy.

Drink

  Coffee

What foreigners erroneously call “espresso” is just plain coffee, and is more commonly just referred to as caffè. Cappuccino is well known outside of Italy, but it is considered very un-classy and quite disgusting to order one after 11 AM (and certainly during or after a meal).

 Wine and water

House wines (vini della casa) are almost always drinkable and inexpensive (unlike, say, in the UK). Italians don’t usually sit outside cafés drinking a glass of wine and watching the world go by – this is actually something foreign tourists do! Wine is supposed to be served along with (usually, important) meals: it’s not something you’d drink everyday. Also – when eating pizza Italians prefer drinking beer or a Coke or just a glass of water.

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Water is free at countless fountains in the city. Not only the water’s very fresh and good, but it comes from the famous springs scattered throughout the Lazio region – it is perfectly safe to drink. If you carry an empty bottle, fill it up for the rest of the day; look for the drinking fountain and you save money by refilling your bottle.That is what we did precisely and never had any health problem.

Sleep

Near Termini there are many small, fairly inexpensive, hotels that are popular with individual travellers. We stayed near Termini.

Talk

 In Rome, English is widely spoken . Most Romans, however, always try to be helpful with the tourists by giving some basic indications – , it is wise to speak slowly and simply.

 Romans regularly interact with foreigners and tourists – it shouldn’t be hard to find friendly help, provided you know some Italian; as for most every place in Italy, just be polite and you won’t have much trouble.If you hit someone with your luggage or shoulder while walking on a street, say “sorry” (mi-s-cusi )

Pickpocketing

 Rome is generally a safe place, even for women travelling alone. There is very little violent crime, but plenty of scams and pickpockets that target tourists. Since Rome is incredibly popular as a tourist destination, a great deal of pickpocketing and/or bag or purse snatching takes place – especially in crowded locations – and pickpocketers can get pretty crafty. A 2010 study found that Rome was second only to Barcelona for pickpocketing of tourists. Many people lost their belonging even near Pisa (near Florence)

As a rule, you should pretty much never carry anything very valuable in any outside pocket . As in any other big city, it is better if you don’t look like a tourist as far as possible. Though I was scared of pickpockets nothing of that sort happened to me !  Also, beware of thieves — they will use the old trick of one person trying to distract you (asking for a cigarette or doing a strange dance) while another thief picks your pockets from behind. Bands of kids will sometimes crowd you and reach for your pockets under the cover of newspapers or cardboard sheets. It is generally a good idea to be extremely wary of any strange person who gets too close to you. If someone is in your personal space, shove the person away. Termini (the main railway station), the central stops of the Metro and Trevi fountain are well-known for pickpockets, so take extra care in these areas.

Remember that hotel rooms are not safe places for valuables. You don’t need to be paranoid, just keep your eyes open and use your common sense! But since I am from India, we are always on our toes and it is better to assume, that you are in India.

10/10/2016

We had a nice kitchen in our apartment with stove, and free salt and oil. We had breakfast at our apartment with bread, egg and butter.Today our plan is to go to Roman forum and Colosseum.With the help of a Bangladeshi, we bought the metro tickets from the Tobacco shop on the sidewalk and took a metro to go to Colosseo metro station. Always start at the Roman Forum instead of the Colosseum. There is rarely a line at the Roman Forum. Pick up or purchase your tickets there and when you are done with Roman forum, you can skip the line at the Colosseum, since you already have your ticket (One ticket entitles you to visit both the places). The Roman Forum has no shade, so bring an umbrella or hat in the summer.

The Seven Hills of Rome, East of the river Tiber form the geographical heart of Rome.To the modern visitor, the Seven Hills of Rome can be rather difficult to identify. In the first place, generations of buildings constructed on top of each other and the construction of tall buildings in the valleys have tended to make the hills less pronounced than they originally were.

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The seven hills were first occupied by small settlements. Rome came into being as these settlements acted together and turn them into markets and forum. The Roman Forum used to be a swamp.

Seven_Hills_of_Rome.png

The Roman Forum were the most powerful seat of government in the world. The Forum is much less crowded than the Colosseum and, from a historical perspective, much more interesting. To stand in the political, legal and religious centre of the whole Roman Empire brings shivers down one’s spine. It is the best way of imagining the splendour and glory of ancient Rome.

Located in a small valley between the Capitoline and Palatine hills, access to the Forum is by foot only just in front of Colosseum. The Forum is often less crowded than the neighbouring Colosseum, but holds even more history. It is open from 09:00 and closes depending upon winter/summer time. The ticket costs €12 and is valid for two days and includes entrance to the Colosseum and Palatine Hill as well. It is possible to hire an audio guide for €4, just like any other important place in Italy.

The important structures inside the Roman Forum are : 1.the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina (Tempio di Antonio e Faustina) – built in 141 AD 2. the Basilica Aemilia – completed in 179 BC the Curia (Senate House)         3. the Lapis Niger (Black Stone)   4. the Arch of Septimius Severus     5. the Temple of Saturn (Tempio di Saturno)    6. the Temple of Julius Caesar (Tempio di Giulio Caesar) – finished in 29 BC, marks the spot of Caesar’s spontaneous cremation and Mark Antony’s funeral speech, made famous by Shakespeare in his play Julius Caesar (“Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears….” )      7. the Arch of Titus – built in 81 AD by the emperor Domition in dedication to his brother Titus, who died earlier that year and reigned as emperor from 79-81, overseeing the opening of the Colosseum in 80 and the eruption of Mt Vesuvius the previous year.

After spending around 3 hours, we left for Colosseum. It is just beside Roman Forum. But even if you skip the line because you are already having the ticket bought from Roman Forum, still there is big queue because of security check (read ISIS) for entering Colosseum.

Colosseum or Colosseo :

It was originally known as Flavian Amphitheatre. Originally capable of seating some 50,000 spectators for animal fights and gladiatorial combats, the amphitheatre was a project started by the Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD and completed by his son Titus in the 80 AD (124 years after the death of Julius Caesar). The Colosseum when completed measured 48 m high, 188 m in length, and 156 m in width. The wooden arena floor was 86 m by 54 m, and covered by sand. Expect a long queue and an even longer wait.

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Honestly speaking I did not find Colosseum that great – since it is not in a good condition. Moreover I have seen thousands of pictures of it. So the novelty element was not there for me ! Many Bangladeshi people were selling tickets of Colosseum.

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When we finished the Colosseum tour it is already late. Just in front of Colosseum or Colosseo is Arch of Constantine. This well-preserved monumental arch was erected to commemorate the victory of
Constantine, the first Christian emperor, over his rival Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312.

We bought some souvenirs of Colosseo from the Bangladeshis. They guided us towards the metro. We took the metro from Colosseo Metro station to go to Termini Station, near our hotel.

Today we ate Pizza by slice from the same restaurant.

11/10/2016

Today our plan is to go to Vatican and Vatican museum. Just in front of our hostel there is a road where a morning market takes place. There we met a Bengali from West Bengal – who incidentally knows famous Tabla player Sanjay Kangshabanki, who stays in Rome ( whom I met in Kolkata just before our tour to Italy).

Again Bangladeshi bhai (brother) helped us to reach the museum in no time. You have to get down at Take Metro line A to the “Ottaviano – S. Pietro – Musei Vaticani”. First we went to see Vatican museum. There is a reason for that. You must buy the ticket online to skip the line. I did not buy it. Basically I was guided by some blogs which says during off season time there wont be a queue. Actually we stood in the line for more than 2 hours. So don’t do it !  If you find yourself in
Rome without a reservation for the Vatican Museums and facing the typical 3-hour line, don’t worry you can pay (double the normal entry fee) to skip the line. You will find many Bangladeshis hawking tours and a “skip the line” pass. They sell them for double the price. They were charging only 29 Euro from us instead of customary 33 Euro for “skip the line”- but it is still better than wasting 3 hours of your day. But I
decided not to buy it at 58 Euro, for two people, at the beginning of my Italian tour. I chatted with the Bangladeshi Bhai while we were waiting in the line.

The main problem with online booking is, it is for a particular day and time – I was not sure about my  exact date when I will go to Vatican, I like to keep everything open ended.

Non-guided visitors should join the queue. Always check if there is actually a queue before getting a guide on the street to skip it; many guides will tell you that there is a huge queue ahead even when there is none or a short one. Two hour English tours cost €33 and includes museum admission.

The Vatican Museum and St Peter Basilica

One of the greatest art galleries in the world, the museum is most famous for the Raphael Rooms and the exquisitely decorated Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo’s frescoes. It’s organised in such a way that the visitor has to follow a one-way route; Entry fee is €16.

You cannot miss any part of it, such as the tapestries, the maps and the rooms painted by Rafael as they are en route to the Sistine Chapel – but there is much, much more to explore, including a stunning Egyptian collection and the Pinacoteca, which includes painting by Leonardo da Vinci and paintings by Giotto, Perugino, Raphael, Veronese and Caravaggio, to name just a few. Not to mention the countless, ancient statues.

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Accessing the Sistine Chapel requires walking through many other (spectacular) halls and buildings (including the Raphael’s Rooms). Sistine chapel comes last. Normal it starts with the section with Statutes.

Also, be aware that it is not allowed to take pictures or to talk loudly in the Sistine Chapel . After that you have to come out and again stand in the queue to enter the St Peter’s Basilica for another 3 hours line !

But one can also Sneak into St. Peter’s Basilica (Shhh!). If you are not on a guided tour but want to visit the basilica without waiting in another 3-hour line, you can “sneak” in. There are two ways to exit the Sistine Chapel (the end of the Vatican Museum tour). If you take the door in the back right corner (if your back is to the Last Judgment) you will head straight to the church without exiting the complex. This is how all the guides do it, so just blend in and if anyone asks, say you’re on a tour. This l learnt from one of the fellow bloggers and reproduced that part here.

So without any hassle we got into the St Peter’s Basilica. 

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After spending some time in St Peter’s Basilica we left for the metro station.

Trevi Fountain

After I am done with the Basilica, Mohua (being very tired) left for the hotel and I went to see the famous Trevi Fountain. For that I got down at Barberini – Fontana di Trevi underground station on Line A of the Rome Metro. There are an endless supply of fountains in Rome and seeing them will cost you nothing. No one comes to Rome without making a stop at the Fontana di Trevi. Whether it be day or night, it’s hard not to admire the sheer beauty of the fountain that Federico Fellini chose as his backdrop for his masterpiece La Dolce Vita.

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It is completed in 1762 to a design by Nicola Salvi, this spectacular Baroque fountain features a mythological sculptural composition of Neptune, god of the seas, flanked by two tritons (mythological Greek god, the messenger of the sea) : one triton is struggling to control a violent sea-horse, the other controls a pacified creature, both symbolising the dual nature of the world’s oceans.

The Trevi fountain is indeed very special.

Pantheon

My next stop is Pantheon. It is walking distance from Trevi fountain. It is amazingly well preserved considering it dates back to 125 AD.

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The Pantheonpiazza della Rotonda (in front of the Pantheon – now I know what is the meaning of Rotunda in Writers Building !) was built by emperor Hadrian on the site of an earlier temple created by Augustus’ right-hand man, Marcus Agrippa. It’s a marvel of ancient architecture; the ancient temple is celebrated for its large dome and its fine proportions, and was as dedicated to all the gods of the Roman state religion. However, it has served as a Christian church since the 7th century; this is also the only building from the Graeco-Roman world which has remained substantially intact and in continuous use throughout to the present day and, as it is still a functioning church. From inside of the Pantheon, you’ll see traces of the former bronze ceiling, melted down during the reign of Pope Urban VIII .The dome is now the third largest masonry dome in the world (the first one is St. Peter’s while the second is Hagia Sophia in Istanbul).

Piazza Navona

My next plan was to go to Trastevere. For that I have to take Tram no 8. Although police misguided me, Bangladeshi bhai Giyasuddin who works as Chef, nearby, for last 23 years, guided me correctly. He said to me before going to Trastevere , why don’t you go to Piazza Novona.

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It is not very far from here. On his advice I went to Piazza Novona. It is built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian, built in 1st century AD, and follows the form of the open space of the stadium. It is quite spectacular. I found the concept of Piazza or square very fascinating with rows of coffee shops.

Trastevere

Then I came back from Navona to Pantheon and proceed towards Trastevere. I took Tram no. 8. I faced lot of problem to buy the bus/metro/tram pass (my passes has exhausted) since most of the tobacco shops were closed. Again a Bangladeshi bhai came to my rescue and  bought the pass from the only shop (which was not visible to me). The reason behind going to Trastevere at night is to experience typical Roman life, away from the tourist crowds. It offers cheap food, great little bars, and tiny winding streets few tourists venture to.

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Trastevere is a district in Rome. The district’s name derives from the Latin words “Trans Tiberim”: beyond the Tiber River. Today. Santa Maria in Trastevere, is one of the oldest churches in the city. founded in 222.  When I went there some music was played. I sat for some time listening to the music and watching at the apse or semi dome covered in gold mosaics from the 13th century, one of  the finest mosaics in the city.

After spending some time at Trastevere I left for home by a combo of Tram and bus. I got down from Tram near Altare della Patria / Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II or National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II  built in honour of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy, The eclectic structure was designed by Giuseppe Sacconi in 1885. It looked really grand. I never planned to see this. I wondered there are so many places like this, for which I have no  clue.

nationalmou.jpg

Then I took a bus to reach Termini. Today I had dinner at a nice restaurant. I had Pasta Carbonara. But it was not that good. After coming back to our hostel I saw Mohua already there, long back.

12/10/2016

Today we have a train to Florence at 11.35 am. We don’t have much time left in Rome. So we went to see the  nearby church Santa Maria degli Angeli . It was a pleasant surprise for us that it is very near to our hotel, beside the beautiful Piazza della Repubblica. After spending some time we went back to our hotel.

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Due to lack of time we could not go to Jewish Ghetto (Ghetto di Roma). We also could not see the best sunset view overlooking the Saint Peter’s Basilica. A short walk back towards the centre brings you to Piazza di Spagna at the foot of the Spanish Steps. Yet another fascinating fountain here. The area was much used as backdrop for the 1953 film “Roman Holiday” with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. We missed that too ! So there is always a next time !! One can also see a game of football at the Olympic Stadium. Rome has two rival football teams, A.S. Roma and S.S. Lazio and they both play there. There’s a long history of conflict, and even rioting, between the two. Never wear anything that shows that you support either of them during the Derby . Just like our East Bengal vs Mohun Bagan. There is a Left Luggage facility at Termini. It costs about €4 per bag (of any size) for the first 5 hours, €0.80 per bag for each hour thereafter.

A day trip to Pompeii is very doable. From Rome, it will take about 3 hours with the “slower” train and 1 hour or so with fast train.Both depart from “Termini”. You’ll save a decent amount of money by buying the tickets at least 24 hours in advance.One can also go to the hill side villages of Castelli Romani, or the ruins of Ostia Antica (one of the best kept secrets in all of Italy – not very far from the Airport).

We went to the Termini walking. My train (fast) is at 11.35 am and my scheduled arrival in Firenze (that is how  Italians refer to Florence) – Santa Maria Novella Station (Main station) is at 1.07 pm. But our train was late by 1 hour !  Even we had to change the scheduled Binario (as told by an Italian – Binario otto) or Platform no. 8, at the last moment. The word binario is very important if you are travelling by train. My little knowledge of Spanish also helped. The slow train would have taken double the time at a lower fare. I paid 24.90 Euro. Again at the station a Bangladeshi vendor helped us to reach the platform in no time. Like India I had to wait for the electronics board to announce the platform. It was bilingual.

Book these tickets well in advance for the lowest prices (from €17!) directly from Trenitalia,  the national railway. (By the way, don’t be confused, if you type “Florence” into the search and nothing comes up. You need to search for “Roma” to “Firenze”.)

Rome: 21 free things to see and do

  1. Churches

 Some of Rome’s finest artwork and architectural design on display can’t only be found in museums. In fact, 

the creative masterpieces of some of the Bel Paese’s finest, Michelangelo, Bernini, Borromini and many 

others are actually found inside the churches of Rome and can be visited for free.

  1. Fountains

There are an endless supply of fountains in Rome and seeing them will cost you nothing (unless you toss some 

coins in, of course)! Some favorites are the Fontana di Trevi, the Fontana di Quattro Fiumi (Piazza 

Navona), Fontana delle Tartarughe (Piazza Mattei), Fontana del Tritone (Piazza Barberini) and Fontana delle 

Api (Via Veneto).

A special note about the Trevi FountainNo one comes to Rome without making a stop at the grandiose 

Fontana di Trevi. Whether it be day or night, it’s hard not to admire the sheer beauty of the fountain that Federico 

Fellini chose as his backdrop for his masterpiece La Dolce Vita.

  1. Piazzas

A favorite Italian pastime is to meet up with your friends in the piazza and shoot the breeze. Some of the more popular piazzas with both tourists and locals alike also happen to be very picturesque. These are at the top of 

your must-see list: Piazza di SpagnaPiazza Novona, Santa Maria in Trastevere, Piazza Venezia, Piazza del Popolo and Piazza della Repubblica.

  1. Obelisks

There are a number of Ancient Egyptian and Roman relics scattered in piazzas around the city. The most famous obelisks are those located in Piazza San Giovanni in Lateranno, Piazza Minerva, Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Navona.

  1. Ruins

Wander up the Via dei Fori Imperiali and see Trajan’s Market (Mercati di Traiano), Arch of Constantine (Arco di Costantino), Roman Forum (Foro Romano) and the Palatine Hill (Palatino). This is the heart of what is left of Ancient Rome.

  1. St. Peter’s Basilica

There’s nothing quite as remarkable in all of Rome as St. Peter’s Basilica. The road and square leading up to the church is just as magnificent. Though there’s no cost to get inside, there is a dress code that is strictly enforced.

Be sure to check out the Vatican Grottoes underneath the church, where several Popes (including Pope John Paul 

  1. II) and St. Peter are buried. Don’t forget to snap a picture with one of the Swiss Guards standing outside as well!
  1. Parks

Believe it or not, Rome has lots of green space hidden behind its monuments and ruins. Some famous parks are Villa Pamphilli (Monteverde) and Villa Ada (Corso Trieste).

  1. Villa Borghese

Dubbed the “Central Park of Rome”, Villa Borghese is one of the few green spaces in the Ancient City where you can truly relax, take a stroll and plan a picnic away from all of the hustle and bustle of the city. Hike up to the spot called the “Pincio” for a bird’s eye view of Piazza del Popolo and the Roman skyline. Paradiso!

  1. Villa Torlonia

A beautiful villa and garden that was also the Mussolini family residence, the Villa Torlonia then fell into disrepair and is now being restored. The garden contains many exotic plants and large trees. There’s also a nice museum called the Casina dellle Civette that’s remarkable for its stained glass windows. Open daily 7 a.m. – 8:30 p.m., Via Nomentana, 70.

  1. Appia Antica

All roads lead to Rome and what better way to enjoy a peaceful stroll than taking the old path to Rome on a Sunday when all cars are banned? The Appian Antica way makes for a lovely walk with (literally) tons of  ancient ruins to see along the way. The park has detailed routes with maps for the best walking routes.

  1. Street Markets

 Experience first hand how Romans shop for fresh fruits and vegetables, or how they bargain down the price of  that shirt they always wanted! Rome’s street markets are absolutely free to visit, unless you buy something of course!

 The best open-air food markets are: Mercato di Trionfale (Via Andrea Doria), Campo de’ Fiori (Centro Storico)  and Piazza San Giovanni di Dio (Monteverde).

Best flea markets are: Via Sannio Market (San Giovanni) and Porta Portese Market (Trestevere).

  1. Gianicolo Hill

For breathtaking views of the city, head up the Gianicolo Hill from Trastevere. At the top of the hill, there is also a lovely 17th century fountain and a statue of the Italian national military hero Giuseppe Garibaldi.

  1. The Teatro di Pulcinella in Rome

Casa di Pulcinnella is home to wonderful open-air puppet shows. The shows are free (although a small donation is appreciated). What’s more, the Gianicolo Hill, home to the theater, provides fantastic views of the city.

  1. Galleria Nazionale di San Luca

 Located near the Trevi Fountain at Piazza dell’Accademia di San Luca #77, the Galleria Nazionale di San Luca is  open on select days, but always free. Bernini famously got his start at this academy. Browse works by famous  and not so famous artists here (Van Dyck and Raphael to name a few).

  1. Trastevere

Wander the streets and lose yourself in the winding cobble-stoned alleyways that make Trastevere.

Rome’s oldest neighborhood, so charming. Don’t miss a chance to meander these streets. Remember, a passeggiata won’t cost you a thing!

  1. Piramide (Pyramid)

Believe it or not, Rome has a pyramid. The piramide was originally built as a tomb for for Gaius Cestius in 12 BC, and is located in bustling piazza right near the Piramide Metro stop (Line B). While it’s free to visit, you can only appreciate the outside of the pyramid.

  1.  Art Galleries on Via Margutta

 The small, tucked away art market on Via Margutta has held a reputation since the 17th century of being a notorious haunt for bohemians and starving artists. In the 1950s, its studios and bars were frequented by the likes of Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando. Why not drop by? It’s free!

  1. Crypts and Bones

 Creepy for some, yet cool for others, the Santa Maria della Immocalata Concezione church, or best known as the “Rome’s Capuchin Crypt has a tiny crypt underneath it where the skulls and bones of more than 4,000 Capuchin monks have been artfully arranged to decorate the walls of several tiny chapels. It’s located on Via Veneto near Piazza Barberini.

  1. Aula Octagona

Considered to be one of Rome’s hidden treasures, the Aula Octagona is a well-kept secret in Piazza della Repubblica that houses ancient Roman sculptures. The room was part of the Baths of Diocletian, and is today the only part of the Roman National Museum that is free to visit.

  1. Pantheon

Along with the Colosseum, the Pantheon is one of Rome’s best preserved ancient buildings. Originally constructed as a pagan temple, the Pantheon was later converted into a church. The immense monument located in Piazza della Rotonda, is a historian’s (and photographer’s) paradise, and costs nothing to visit.

The piazza also happens to be a favourite hangout for young people and becomes quite lively with its outdoor cafés and street performers.

http://www.eurocheapo.com/blog/rome-25-free-things-to-do.html

Florence

Tuscany is a region in central Italy. Its capital, Florence, unarguably, Tuscany’s most famous city, is home to some of the world’s most recognizable Renaissance art and architecture, including Michelangelo’s “David” statue, Botticelli’s works in the Uffizi Gallery and the Duomo Basilica (Duomo is a term for an Italian cathedral / Church. Similarly Basilica is a church to whom special privilege has been granted by Pope). Its diverse natural landscape encompasses the rugged Apennine Mountains, the Tyrrhenian Sea, Chianti’s Olive groves and Vineyards. Every year, millions of people visit the cradle of the Renaissance, visiting its main museums and strolling through its streets to gaze and admire its monuments, churches, palazzos and more.

The language they speak in Italy is also largely the language of Florence. Dante,who is from Florence, is often considered as the father of modern Italian language. Dante wrote Divine comedy in local Florentine language spoken by the residents of Florence (instead of Latin and shocked the world) ,which language became the basis of modern Italian language.He considered Latin an elitist language. It is often said that Italian language is the most beautiful language since the Italian intellectuals handpicked the most beautiful of all the local dialects and crowned it Italian…for the longest time Italy wasn’t even a country. It was unified in 1861. Parts of Italy belonged to France, parts to Spain, parts to church. So a scientist in Florence could barely communicate with a poet in Sicily or a merchant in Venice (except Latin of course, which was considered a national language). The reason being there was no one Italian language during the time of Dante.Today what we call French is essentially medieval Parisian, Portuguese is Lisboan and Spanish is Madrileno. That is not the case in case of Italian (Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert). 

The train was very nice. Like airplane, foods are served to the passengers by a food trolley. We had a coffee for 1 Euro.

After reaching the station, we walked for 8-10 minutes to reach our hostel. While walking  you can admire the recently renovated square with its beautiful Santa Maria Novella Church very near to the Train Station. The church’s facade in white and green marble was designed by Leon Battista Alberti while the stunning Tornabuoni Chapel inside has frescoes by Ghirlandaio – a must see!

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In Florence we met a wonderful person called Ubai Kamal from Khartoum, Sudan. We were late by at least an hour because of our train.We left together from the hostel. Ubai bought some cheese and multi grain bread from a departmental store – Conard , just beside our hostel and offered some to us. Our first destination was Palazzo (means palace) de Pitti. Since he has only one day at his disposal , he decided to skip Pitti palace. It is walking distance from our hostel.

Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens

Pitti Palace, is a vast, mainly Renaissance, palace in Florence, Italy. It is quite different from what we saw in Vatican museum. It is situated on the south side of the River Arno, a short distance from the Ponte Vecchio.

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The core of the present palazzo dates from 1458 and was originally the town residence of Luca Pitti, an ambitious Florentine banker. The building was sold in 1549 by uonaccorso Pitti, a descendant of Luca Pitti to the Medici family and became the chief residence of the ruling families of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. It grew as a great treasure house as later generations amassed paintings, plates, jewelry and luxurious possessions.In the late 18th century, the palazzo was used as a power base by Napoleon,and later served for a brief period as the principal royal palace of the newly united Italy. The palazzo is now the largest museum complex in Florence.The construction of this building was commissioned in 1458 by the Florentine banker Luca Pitti, a principal supporter and friend of Cosimo de’ Medici.

At the Pitti Palace stands magnificently the Palatine Gallery and the Modern Art Gallery, with the impressive Boboli Gardens as its backyard.

We skipped the garden due to lack of time and extra entry fees that needs to be paid for that.

After that we left for Ponte Vecchio. It is near Pitti Palace. It is Florence’s most celebrated landmark.

ponte

The Ponte Vecchio or literally, the “old bridge” connected the Arno river banks exactly at this point since the 12th century! During World War II, it was the only bridge across the Arno that the fleeing Germans did not destroy. The Ponte Vecchio is lined with shops, traditionally mostly jewellers, since the days of the Medici. Butchers initially occupied the shops.

Then we left for Piazza della Signoria – which is an L-shaped square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, Italy.  It is the focal point of the origin and of the history of the Florentine Republic and still maintains its reputation as the political hub of the city. It is the meeting place of Florentines as well as the numerous tourists, located near Plazzo Vecchio and Piazza del Duomo and gateway to  Uffizi Gallery. Home to the “Fake David”, Piazza Signoria (previously called Palazzo Signoria) is definitely a sight to see. What makes Piazza Signoria special is the abundance of statues within the plaza. The statues represent antique renaissance art including a copy of Michaelangelo’s David. In this square you can also visit the Florence Town Hall, also known as, Palazzo Vecchio. This Romanesque Fortress is one of most significant public places in Italy.

In the piazza itself one can admire Neptune’s Fountain by Ammannati and the equestrian statue of Cosimo I by Giambologna.

Unfortunately we could not enter Museum of Palazzo Vecchio. It was late.

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While we were sitting there in the Piazza della Signoria –  we met Ubai on his way back  from Uffizi gallery. We chatted for quite some time. People from Sudan (like Sub Saharan part) are quite different from South Sudan. After a long war South Sudan became a nation in 2011. North of Sudan is Egypt. He is a dentist by profession and came to Bologna for learning dental implant. On his way back he decided to see Florence. His wife (also a dentist) is a great fan of India and Bollywood. She has some Turkish blood also. Ubai told me she is very modern and does not wear hijab. Ubai himself is very modern and left minded. I learnt on 28th January his wife delivered a baby. We are still in touch. He invited me to his home in Sudan. May be some time ! Khartoum is a very modern city. To know more of Sudan click here :

https://www.youtube.com

Then we had some gelato together. Mohua gave us the treat ! On the way we saw some programme to held today, for Vivaldi’s classical music. The minimum ticket is around 30 Euro. So we skipped it this time. We had our dinner in a nearby restaurant.

13/10/2016

Today we started our day with the famous Piazza del DuomoPiazza del Duomo is in the heart of Florence. The majestic Duomo or Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, with its famous cupola or dome by Brunelleschi, is an engineering feat of the Renaissance. The Campanile or Bell Tower, in Florence, is part of the Duomo complex, which includes the (Duomo) and the Baptistery. After the Duomo, the Campanile is one of the most recognizable buildings in Florence. It is 278 feet high and offers fine views of the Duomo and of Florence.

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From the top of bell tower or Campanile one can admire an incredible view of the city. Since our time was limited, I went up to the top of Duomo/cathedral . Climbing so many stares is not such an easy thing. It is pretty exhausting to be  honest.

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After taking some Pizza by slice (while walking) for lunch, we went to Piazza San Lorenzo. In the San Lorenzo Church here, the Medici family worshipped. 

After going inside the church, I got to know why Italian marble is so famous and why wife’s grandmother used to boast ” we have Italian Marble ” !!

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Since we were running short of time we quickly left for Academia Gallery. It is on everyone’s list, since the Accademia Gallery houses Michelangelo’s original marble statue David, created between 1501 and 1504. The statue measures 5.17 meters tall and it is a marble figure of the biblical hero named David. A copy of it in front of Palazzo Vecchio. We were late. There was a long queue and academia closes by 6.00 pm. Somehow we gatecrashed into the Gallery. While Mohua was standing in the line I bought the ticket for tomorrow’s Tuscany Tour from a local agent. Honestly the prices were not much different from what I saw in Internet from India. I did not find too many travel agents on my way to Duomo or Medici chapel or Academia. So I could not compare. David’s statue is considered a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture. It is also famous for statue of Rape of the Sabines.

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David  depicted the young David before he went on to his battle with the mighty Goliath. Hence, the figure’s face appeared tensed and set for combat. “No other artwork is equal to it in any respect, with such just proportion, beauty and excellence …..”. 

I considered myself quite lucky to be present there.

Due to lack of time we could not go to Uffizi gallery. Right next to Palazzo Vecchio is the Uffizi Gallery, It is one of Italy’s top museums and one of the most important in the world with its large collection of Renaissance masterpieces such as the Allegory of Spring and the Birth of Venus by Botticelli, just to name two of its incredible collection. If you want to go to the Uffizi Gallery, you should buy Uffizi tickets online ahead of time, as there is most often a long line outside. 

I was the last one to be out of the gallery. Then went to have to famous Aperitivo. Literally, aperitivo is a pre-meal drink, whose  scope is to stimulate appetite. Italian bars serve a wide variety of food during aperitivo time, which is typically from 6 pm to 9 pm. A standard pre-dinner drink becomes an aperitivo when it is accompanied by more than just nuts or crisps. Maybe a small starter of goats cheese, olives or something like that. You can be sure, you’re at an apericena or aperitivo , when your drink is accompanied by dinner in the form of an all-you-can-eat buffet. Confusingly, the word aperitivo is often used to describe this too,which will probably annoy the traditionalists . I ordered vin santo (sweet wine) as suggested by my friend and Mohua had Pina colada. The spread was really lavish. One can read following blogs to know more :

  1. http://www.msadventuresinitaly.com
  2. https://www.thelocal.it
  3. http://www.fodors.com

The panorama from the steps outside San Miniato al Monte, south of the Arno, is better than any paid-for viewing point in the city. You can bag a free art guided tour, sometimes in English, from Ars et Fides ( arsetfidesfirenze.it). The website has a timetable.

14/10/2016

 Today we went near Santa Novella Rail station, where our bus is waiting for the conducted tour. I have made all the calculation and concluded that going to San Gimignano , Chianti , wine tour in one day and that too at 80 Euro is impossible and with that comes free wine tasting with snacks and some entry tickets.

One of the famous companies which conducts this tour is https://www.viator.com

Our first stop is San Gimignano. It is a very nice quaint town.  San Gimignano, renowned for its “medieval skyscrapers”, high walls and narrow streets that typify most peoples image of a Tuscan hill town. San Gimignano is unique in the preservation of about a dozen of its tower houses, which, with its hilltop setting and encircling walls, form an unforgettable skyline.

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The church of Sant’Agostino in the northeastern part of the city contains a set of great frescoes on the life of St. Augustine by Benozzo Gozzoli.  The Torre Grossa, the tallest of San Gim’s towers, has great views. But if you walk uphill behind the Collegiata, opposite, to the ruined Rocca (fortress), you get the same sublime views – out over vine-clad hills . Contemporary Galleria Continua ( galleriacontinua.com) is free. We had some famous Biscotti at San Gimignano. It is little more expensive than Florence since it is overtly touristic city.

From there our next tour is to Siena. Siena is a medieval city in the region of Tuscany, located in the north of Italy some 70 km south of Florence. It is probably best known for a colourful horse race, Il Palio, conducted twice each year in the summer.

siena

Siena was a wealthy independent city-state during the Middle Ages, until its final defeat by Florence. Medieval Sienese art (painting, sculpture, architecture, etc.) is unique and of great historical importance. The Palio, is all about neighborhood pride and rivalry and also constitutes the unbroken continuation of a Medieval tradition .

It is taken very seriously and is in no way a put-on for tourists; in fact, you are likely to be less welcomed during the Palio than at any other time,

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Siena became a very poor little city for a few hundred years after its defeat, which is the main reason that its lovely Medieval buildings were never torn down and replaced with modern structures.

After reaching Siena the first thing we did, was to have a light lunch. We had a guided tour here and visited the following :

  • The Piazza del Campo, the unique shell shaped piazza at the centre of the city  and the racetrack for the Palio
  • The Duomo, Siena’s magnificent black and white Italian Romanesque cathedral including the Baptistery  and an attached Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
  • The Palazzo Salimbeni, built in 1472, is the world headquarters of Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank. Inside, there are interesting documents showing the history of banking plus a collection of paintings and other artwork.
  • But the interesting thing in Siena is Contrade. Currently there are 17 Contrade in Siena, considerably reduced from the original 54. Each Contrada is like a small state within the city and manages its own recreational activities, administration, its archives, a museum containing works of art and the costumes for the processions and a Sala delle Vittorie containing all the Palio banners won through the centuries. Some of these banners date back to the 17th century. Each Contrada also has its own church as well as a stable for keeping the horse before the Palio.Each Contrada is governed by a Council, which is democratically elected every two, three and sometimes four years. The Council is called Seggio or Sedia. The most senior member of the Council is called the Priore Capo della  Contrada and he is assisted by a secretary known as the Vicario Generale. All matters concerning the Palio are managed by an elected Capitano, who is assisted by two Tenenti or Mangini.

It is generally agreed that the Contrade are a derivation of the Compagnie Militari in which the city was divided for the organisation of its militia. Each Contrada took part in the public events held in Piazza del Campo with a procession and allegorical carts representing exotic animals such as the panther, the giraffe, the eagle, the leocorn etc.

The existing boundaries between the Contrade were laid down in an edict issued in 1730 by the then governor of Siena, Beatrice Violante of Baviera. This was an important step in that within its boundaries each Contrada is empowered to conduct the so-called questua to gather funds for the public feasts in Piazza del Campo.

It is important to understand that every Sienese is first of all a member of his Contrada, which becomes a second family and the place where he conducts all his everyday activities.

Our guide took us inside the office of one of the Contrada’s. Then we went on to see the Basilica Caterniana, where we saw a picture of Mother Teresa. Mind it when we went there, Mother Teresa had not become Saint yet.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contrade_of_Siena

http://www.sienaonline.com/palio_of_siena_contrade.html

http://www.initaly.com/regions/museums/palio.htm

Our next stop is unique location in the Chianti (pronounced as Keeanti) countryside to enjoy wine tastings. Chianti is an area of Tuscany, Italy made famous by the red wine of the same name.

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It has much to offer for a visitor interested in wine, food and natural beauty. Many of the wineries are open for a tour and a tasting and some offer accommodation services as well. Once we hop off the bus, we were be guided to the splendid estate ; here we were introduced to the estate’s fascinating history and background inside the wine cellar. Then we tasted Chianti Classico wine and some snacks (salami and Cheese). We had tasted three types of wine. After the tasting we were escorted to the counter where you can buy some wine, salami and cheese. You can pay with your cards. The estates is in the middle of nowhere. I went inside the vineyard to take some photo. Unfortunately grapes were already plucked few days back. We were the only Indians in that tour. The guide in the estate speaks very good English and really knows how to present everything. We read there are many Airbnb homestays here. We plan to stay here someday for a fortnight !

On the way back we got down at a market in Greaves, Chianti region to have our snacks. At that place I saw the statue of Giovanni da Verrazzano – he was an Italian explorer who charted the Atlantic coast of North America between the Carolinas and Newfoundland, including New York Harbor in 1524. The Verrazano – Narrows Bridge in New York was named after him. 

explorer

The market turned out to be an amazing expereince. We saw different types of marinated pork,boar  hanging form the ceiling. Some of them are aged more than 1 year. Initially Mohua thought it was for show. Then we met an Australian. He said he has never seen anything like this. I thought since I am from India, I have no clue about this. I felt relieved that I am not alone ! We had some snacks there. In the basement there is a cheese cellar !! I had no knowledge about cheese cellar before coming here.

It would not be out of place to include my Italian friend Isabella’s detailed dos and don’t of Italian food here. It helped me a lot and used it as a bible throughout my tour. I am reproducing it in verbatim

Tuscany wines:Chianti, Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino, Tignanello, Bolgheri, Montecucco, Ansonica (all red) and the white Vernaccia. A typical sweet red dark tuscan wine is Vin Santo, which people drink it with very dry biscuits called Cantucci or phonetically Kaankuchhi ( I had Vin Santo – which is nice).

Wines from Veneto (the region of Venice), which are for my (Isabella) taste very good: Bardolino, Soave, Valpolicella, Lugana, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot. And the sparkling wines from Veneto: Spumante whose upscale brands are Ferrari & Berlucchi. (But in the supermarket you can get cheaper brands like Cinzano and they always have the Secco, Demi – Secco & Dolce versions – dry, semi-dry and sweet).

In the supermarkets there is a lot of choice, spend at least 4 Euro for a bottle.

Cheese: There are loads of cheese; very typical in Tuscany are the cheese made with goat and sheep milk, called Caprino and Pecorino respectively (which you find in other regions as well) with many different types.

On a national level, very well known cheeses are: Gorgonzola, Taleggio, Asiago, Caciotta  just to name a few, which are from other regions, but you should try them. In a small grocery shop or in a supermarket where there is the cheese counter, you can get small slices of many cheeses. (I had small slices of cheese in Milan and Florence).

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Food: the Primo will fill you up and is generally the least expensive dish, pasta of all sorts with different sauces (pasta type and sauce can vary according to the region, but you always find the best-sellers on every menu, like pasta con Pomodoro e basilico, Pasta alla carbonara, Pasta All’amatriciana, Pasta alla Bolognese). I had almost all of them.(Note that on the menu you generally do not see Pasta but the specific type of it, like spaghetti, fusilli, conchiglie, linguine etc)

Primo can also be a Risotto, that is rice cooked with a sauce (very very different from the Indian rice), definitely try it once, the Venetians make very good Risotto. (In fact I,yours truly, had one in Venice – which is nice)

Also you should try Polenta (made with corn flour), the Venetians use it a lot, it will be presented with some meat, so it will be more in the Secondi section (second dish, that is meat or fish with vegs). [I, yours truly, had Polenta in Florence. I did not find it exceptional – but interesting. In fact the meat which I had with Polenta [ I thought it is free !] was quite expensive )]

Have a look at this website in english, they offer tours, but give fairly good explanations about food in Florence, Rome and Venice, naming some typical regional dishes you might want to try eatingitalyfoodtours.com

As I told you already, in the grocery shops and supermarkets you will find food to eat while visiting, and also to take back to your room if you want to spare on restaurants; it is better you go to a Trattoria than a restaurant, they are normally cheaper.

Salami or Affe-ttati (these words describe all sorts of ham, salami etc. that are made of pork meat and are sold in slices – Fette in italian)

Prosciutto is ham, the 2 main categories are Prosciutto cotto (cooked ham, of a rose colour) or   Prosciutto crudo (literally raw ham, though it is sort of cooked through the seasoning for many months. In other words Crudo has a stronger taste than the cotto and is usually more expensive, it is my favourite salami)

Salame Mortadella (this is typical of a region called Emilia -Romagna) –  but as all others salami you find it everywhere in Italy

Culatello

Coppa

All affettati are cut and served in thin slices, you also find them packed in supermarkets, though it is best to have them cut fresh either in the supermarket or in the Negozio di Alimentari  (general term for shops selling food only ).

Then it is time to come back to Florence. It was already dark. We returned with an unforgettable experience. Today we planned to have some special dinner at a Trattoria. A trattoria is an Italian-style eating establishment, less formal than a ristorante, but more formal than an osteria. There are generally no printed menus, the service is casual, wine is sold by the decanter rather than the bottle, prices are low, and the emphasis is on a steady clientele rather than on haute cuisine. The food is modest but plentiful (mostly following regional and local recipes) and in some instances is even served family-style (i.e. at common tables).

Trattoria faithful to this stereotype have become fewer in the last 20 years and many have adopted some (or several) of the trappings of restaurants, with just one or two “concessions” to the old rustic and familiar style. We spend around 32 Euro today. The food was good. We had gnocchi , Spaghetti, Risotto and Polenta those suggested by my friend Isabella.

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For the difference between trattoria, osteria, ristorante and enoteca :

http://ruralhotelstuscany.com/

You can read the blog of my friend  https://ashwinbahulkar.wordpress.com to know more about Florence, its food and other areas of Italy.

Some popular tour companies in Florence to go out of Florence are :

http://www.florenceandtuscanytours.com

https://www.viator.com

http://www.firenze.city-sightseeing.it

https://www.getyourguide.com

http://www.isango.com

http://www.italyonabudgettours.com

http://www.grayline.com

http://www.tuscanyonabudget.com

15/10/2016

Today we are leaving for Venice by evening train at 4.30 pm and will reach Veince (Santa Lucia Station) at 6.35 pm. I intentionally kept the departure time late, so that I can go to Pisa.

In the early morning I left for Pisa by local train. It takes about an hour to reach “Pisa Centrale station” from Florence for 9 Euro.I bought the ticket at the station for local train.The frequency of train is very good. Needless to say even the local or regional train is better than our best trains ! I was planning to go to Cinque terre too , since I could not go to Amalfi coast to the South of Rome. But there was hardly any time for that.

On the advise of my friend Isabella, I dropped the idea- since she thought giving two days to Florence is absolutely important. From Pisa Centrale station, you have to walk for 20 minutes (very pleasant walk) to Pisa. Pisa would not be Pisa, without the University. The University of Pisa has 60,000 students in a city of about 100,000 inhabitants.

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There is a quaint town at Lucca near Pisa – which is also worth visiting. My plan is to go to Lucca on the way to Cinque  Terre, next time. Galileo was born in Pisa and studied in the University of Pisa. 

gali
In 1589 the Italian scientist Galileo Galilei dropped two spheres of different masses from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to demonstrate that their time of descent was independent of their mass. Some of the travel agents from India stay one day at Pisa. Normally when I travel I do not like to see too many pictures of a place. I had no idea that apart from Leaning tower of Pisa or Torre Pendente there is also Battistero (Baptistry) , Duomo di Pisa (Cathedral of Pisa) and Campo Santo Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery) – a huge cemetery building with lots of interesting art including splendid medieval frescoes . The whole complex or square or Piazza is simply stunning.

Leaning Tower was originally conceived as the cathedral’s bell tower. Construction began in 1173 and the tower started leaning soon afterwards due to subsidence of the ground underneath its base. A project to stop the tower from leaning more and tipping over finally reached a successful conclusion in 2001.

There is a huge line at the Leaning tower Pisa to go to the top. It comes at a cost of 18 Euro. Since there was not enough time, we skipped going to the top. However we did spend considerable amount of time in that square.

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After buying some customary souvenir, we left for Pisa Centrale station and reached Florence within 3 pm.

After taking some quick lunch and gelato (for only 0.99 eruo), at the popular ice cream parlour,just beside Arno river, we left for the station.

Today the train left in time and reached Venice or Venezea as per schedule.  Today the first thing we did was to buy the Venezia ACTV travel card for 2 days @ 30 Euro.Otherwise to cross the canal just one way, you have to pay 7 Euro or Rs 500 !

After getting down at the station, we took left and walked all the way to the hostel .

venice

Initially I planned to stay at Lido – a small Island , South of Venice – a place where Venice film festival takes place. Before reaching our hostel we had to cross a bridge (Ponte) delle Guglie. Our hostel is a church converted to hostel. On the way the Bangladeshi brothers guided us to reach the hostel in no time. Intentionally I keep the hostels within walking distance from train or bus station. Most of the travel agents from India keep their guests stay at Venezia Mestre. Venice is an Island connected to the mainland (which includes Venezia Mestre. Padua and others). Venice is significantly more expensive that Mestre. On the advice of my friends I decided to stay there and paid one of the highest tariffs for the hostel fare in my life. But staying in Mestre is just like any other place in Italy. But to feel Venice, one must stay in Venice. I think I took a correct decision. After reached our hostel, I did have a look at around our hostel.It is is one of the most interesting and lovely places in the world.

Orientation

Venice, the capital of northern Italy’s Veneto region, is built on more than 100 small islands in a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea. It has no roads, just canals – including the Grand Canal thoroughfare – lined with Renaissance and Gothic palaces. The central square Piazza San Marco contains St. Mark’s Basilica, which is tiled with Byzantine mosaics and the Campanile or bell tower offering views of the city’s red roofs.

Few places in the world can claim to such a spectacular natural setting, untainted architectural heritage, or jaw-dropping Grand Canal. Venice’s museums are world class; its 141 churches are galleries in themselves. Other incredible sights include the Gothic Doge’s Palace and the Basilica of San Marco, which glows with Byzantine gold mosaics. Even the most seasoned visitors get lost in the city’s network of islands, bridges, pedestrian alleys, and canals. And therein lies the beauty of the destination: afternoons spent wandering from palace to piazza, exploring the small art museums, shopping at the stalls that line the streets, and encountering a fresh side of Venice, a fascinating amalgamation of influences—Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and Italian — around every corner. But the focal point of Venice is Piazza San Marco.

16/10/2016

Today we started our day with grand canal vaporetto (water buses) ride.

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The major portion of the traffic of the city of Venice goes along the Grand Canal or Canal Grande and thus to avoid congestion of traffic, there are already 3 bridges – the Ponte dei Scalzi, the Ponte dell’ Accademia, and the Rialto Bridge. We took the boat from Ca-do-ro pier or vaporetto station. Vaporetti is plural !

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We could have also taken the vaparetto from San Marcuola. Our destination is most famous destination in Venice – Piazza San Marco or San Marco square.

This square is the focal point of the city, the place all tourists arrive at at some point during their stay in Venice. The square has been a focal point of the city for centuries and is the only Venice “Piazza”; the other squares are called “campi.”

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The square is a gathering place for both locals and visitors .Visitors can enjoy the open space, which is lined with pleasant outdoor cafes and restaurants and stores beneath the surrounding covered arcades(succession of arches). One of the most famous cafes on the square is the Caffe Florian. The square is also known for the many pigeons. You can buy some food from Bangladeshis to  to feed them.

The square is surrounded by some of the must-see sites of Venice like the Doge’s Palace where rulers lived and ran their court; the Basilica San Marco; the basilica’s free-standing campanile (bell tower); the Library of Saint Mark’s and St. Mark’s Square Clock tower.

Saint Mark’s Basilica  on the Piazza San Marco is one of the highlights of a visit to Venice. Filming and photography inside the Basilica is forbidden, so be prepared in advance.  A visit to St Mark’s Basilica is a must ! St. Mark’s Basilica is Venice’s most famous church, known for its art work and history. The church overlooks St. Mark’s Square on the edge of the Grand Canal and is joined to the Doge’s Palace. In the 9th century merchants smuggled relics out of Egypt and brought them to Venice. The scene is depicted in the oldest known exterior mosaic in the world located above the cathedral’s front doors (1260-70).

A church was constructed to house the saint’s relics but burnt down almost 150 years later. It was rebuilt by Doge Domenico Contarini and the cathedral we see today dates back to 1071 but incorporates what remained of the original structures. When the adjacent Doge’s Palace was renovated, the cathedral also got an architectural up-date and Gothic architecture was introduced like the elevated domes and a new façade. The Doge’s (Dukes) of Venice used the building as their own private chapel until it became the Cathedral of Venice in 1807.

The symbol of St. Mark’s Basilica is a masterpiece of the Greek Hellenistic sculpture : the famous gilded bronze horses.The building has a central large dome and four domes on each of the arms of the cross. Within the church you can find art from several periods. The narthex (entrance lobby) has a marble mosaic floor from the 11th and 12th century . In the cathedral Treasury you can see the Crusader spoils brought from Constantinople and across the continent. On the exterior there are two free standing Syrian columns with intricate Byzantine-style carvings which date back to the 5th or 6th century.

Then I went to to Bell tower of St. Mark (Campanile di San Marco).The tower was originally constructed as a lighthouse and then a watch tower in the 9th century, over the years it underwent several transformations and was rebuilt a number of times from the 12th  to 14th century. In 1513 Giorgio Spavento and Bartolome Bon restored the tower following earthquake damage. However it collapsed in 1902 and was reconstructed and reopened in 1912 to resemble the 1513 version of the tower.  It cost €8 to go to the top. Mohua skipped climbing to the climb. Only after waiting in a queue for 30 minutes, I got to know that there is a lift. By that time, it is too late to call Mohua. The top of the tower offers great views of Venice and the lagoon.

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Then we went to Duke or Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale), also in San Marco Square. Regular ticket €16 valid for the Doge’s Palace and the Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale. 

Under Doge Ziani (1172-1178) additions to the structure and renovations were carried out following a destructive fire. In the 14th century the palace needed to be expanded again due to the increased number of participants in government affairs. Doge Franesco Foscari instigated further changes in the 15th century and several fires caused more renovations and construction.

In the 17th century the prison was separated from the palace and constructed by Antonio Contin across the Bridge of Sighs (ponte-dei-sospiri). So prisoners would be sentenced in the palace courtrooms and then walk across the bridge to the prison (or their execution), on their way they would sigh! After the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797 the city was occupied by the French, the Austrians and finally in 1866, it joined unified Italy.

Visitors enter the Palazzo Ducale through the Porta del Frumento through a colonnade. The façade facing the lagoon is the oldest part of the palace , a ceremonial entrance, decorated by Giovanni and Bartolomeo Bon. Above the entrance are a bust of St. Mark and the iconic statue of justice.  The courtyard is home to Sansovino’s colossal statues, Neptune and Mars, which guard the Giants’ Staircase. From the ground floor courtyard you go up to the Doge’s Apartments.

In the Doge’s Apartments are a number of exquisite rooms-each more beautiful than the next. There are frescoes by Giuseppe Salviati and Titian, carved wooden ceilings; marble reliefs by Antonio and Tullio Lombardo; The Doge’s Apartments are on the 1st floor, but it’s the lavishly decorated 2nd-floor chambers that are the real highlight. These culminate in the echoing Sala del Maggior Consiglio (Grand Council Hall), home to the Doge’s throne and a 22m-by-7m Paradise painting by Tintoretto. It is supposed to be the biggest painting in the world.

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Looking at the painting it became clear to me, the genesis of Satyajit Ray’s famous movie Tintoretto’s Jishu. I think when Ray came here for Venice film festival he came here and then the story of Tintoretto’s Jishu germinated from this.

 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tintorettor_Jishu_(film) )

In the lunch time, we had food from a restaurant run by Bangladeshis (owned by a Italian). We learnt that the Bangladeshis mostly has come for “agriculture” and then left the field work for city life (hawking stuff, working in restaurant). He told me that human rights are very strong here. Nobody will bodily harm you. Italians are very liberal and are one of the least racist people you will ever find in Europe. They are generally very nice people. This is the story I have heard from Bangladeshis everywhere in Italy. They are all in praise for the Italians. It is important to note that the per capita GDP of Italy of USD 30,000 is lower than major countries of Europe (e.g. USD 42,000 for Germany or USD 40,000 for UK) and the Italian economy is not in  very good shape (Though many times more than India at USD 1850).

Then we started walking towards San Giovanni e Paolo . A fine, huge Dominican church with the tombs of many Doges. It shares its piazza with the fine Renaissance facade of the Scuola San Marco . There is a hostpital just beside the church. There is also a water ambulance !

night

By this time the sun was setting. So we decided to go to Burano by vaporetto from Fondamente Nove Pier. It will not cost us anything, since we have unlimited 48 hours ticket. We thought it is better to go to an island and see the setting sun from the vaporetto. When we reached Burano it was already late. We had only 30-40 minutes before the last vaporetto leaves for Fondamente Nove Pier. It seemed to us, although it was only 8 pm , it appeared to be 3 am at night. We could hardly see anybody. We saw only one restaurant open. Even at night, we can make out the remarkable island of Burano.

From Fondamente Nove we walked all the way to our hostel. On the way we had our dinner in one restaurant run by a chinese. We had pizza. Although we sat on the sidewalk, still we had to pay Coperto !

17/10/2016

Today we walked upto Orto pier which is near the church Madonna dell’Orto. It is a mistake,we should have taken it from Fondamente Nuove – which is the main pier.

masks
Venice is full of shops of Masks.

To go to Murano or Burano one must take the vaporetto from Fondamente (Ft) Nuove, since the one from Orto ultimately go to Murano via Ft Nuove. Our fist visit is to Murano – which can actually be seen from Ft Nove,Venice. It takes around 10-15 minutes from Ft Nove. Murano is composed of 7 islands, linked by bridges, separated by 8 channels. Murano is known for its glass worldwide. Murano glass is made on the Venetian island of Murano, which has specialized in fancy glasswares for centuries. Today, the artisans of Murano are still employing these centuries-old techniques. 

Murano’s reputation as a center for glassmaking was born when the Venetian Republic, fearing fire and destruction of the city’s mostly wooden buildings, ordered glassmakers to move their foundries to Murano in 1291. Murano’s glass makers were soon the island’s most prominent citizens. However, glass makers were not allowed to leave the Republic. Exportation of professional secret was punished by death. Many craftsmen took this risk and set up glass furnaces in surrounding cities and as far as England and the Netherlands. 

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To go to Murano or Burano one must take the vaporetto from Fondamente (Ft) Nuove, since the one from Orto ultimately go to Murano via Ft Nuove. Our fist visit is to Murano – which can actually be seen from Ft Nove,Venice. It takes around 10-15 minutes from Ft Nove. Murano is composed of 7 islands, linked by bridges, separated by 8 channels. Murano is known for its glass worldwide. Murano glass is made on the Venetian island of Murano, which has specialized in fancy glasswares for centuries. Today, the artisans of Murano are still employing these centuries-old techniques. 

Murano’s reputation as a center for glassmaking was born when the Venetian Republic, fearing fire and destruction of the city’s mostly wooden buildings, ordered glassmakers to move their foundries to Murano in 1291. Murano’s glass makers were soon the island’s most prominent citizens. However, glass makers were not allowed to leave the Republic. Exportation of professional secret was punished by death. Many craftsmen took this risk and set up glass furnaces in surrounding cities and as far as England and the Netherlands. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NsWuBReeJmM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBPgk9x0W3s

After getting down from the vaporetto we went to a government run murano glass factory where we were shown the technique of Murano style glass making. Then we were guided to a Murano glass shop for purchase of souvenir. They are really stunning. There are many shops selling Murano glass throughout Murano.

After that we went to another pier to leave for Burano. From Murano it takes around 30 minutes to reach Burano. Just before Burano is Mazzorbo Island.

Burano is also known for its small, brightly painted houses. In Burano you will find some of the most picturesque streets and houses, with each house sporting a different pastel shade. It is really stunning. The colours of the houses follow a specific system originating from the golden age of its development; if someone wishes to paint their home, one must send a request to the government, who will respond by giving notice of the certain colours permitted for that lot.

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I found it really fascinating to say the least. It is a photographer’s delight.

It rose in importance only in the 16th century, when women on the island began making lace with needles, being introduced via Venetian-ruled Cyprus. When Leonardo da Vinci visited in 1481, he purchased a cloth for the main altar of the Duomo di Milano. The lace was soon exported across Europe, but trade began to decline in the 18th century and the industry did not revive until 1872, when a school of lace making was opened.

Lace making on the island boomed again, but few now make lace in the traditional manner as it is extremely time-consuming and therefore expensive. Many shops are selling lacework.

lace

http://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/burano-italy_n_4212666

http://www.isoladiburano.it/en/

After walking for some time around the Island, we left for Venice. For lack of time, we could not go to Torcello. Though there is not much to see in Torcello, except for the old church. One of the popular Island tours include Murano, Burano and Torcello tour. We took a vaporetto go to Venice. It took around 40 minutes.

After getting down from Ft Nuove, we saw church of Santa Maria Assunta, known as I Gesuiti / Chiesa dei Gesuiti (Jesuits) very near to it.  The Jesuits were never popular in Venice and this might explain the relatively remote location chosen for this church with Baroque decorations . Saint Ignatius of Loyola visited the city of Venice for the first time in 1523 to embark on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He returned to I Gesuiti in 1535 with a group of friends, who already called themselves the Society of Jesus (members of which are referred to as Jesuits – Gesuiti in Italian) and here they were ordained as priests. It took just two years for the group to fully establish themselves in the lagoon of Venice and to gain a large following. They left for Rome in 1537.

Then we left for Ca-d-oro to go to Santa Maria Della Salute Church at the end of Grand Canal.The view towards Salute Church is jaw dropping !

 

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From there, I started walking towards nearby The Peggy Guggenheim Museum  (Located on the Dorsoduro region of Venice, to the east of the Accademia bridge, on the southern side of the Grand Canal). 

The Peggy Guggenheim Museum offers a personal collection of modern art collected by Peggy Guggenheim. Peggy was an American married to modern artist Max Ernst. The gallery includes a sculpture garden and works by Picasso, Kandinsky.Since the admission fees was very steep at 15 Euro, instead of going inside the museum, I bought a picture from a local artist sitting just beside the Museum, for 10 Euro. He has been to India too. He stays nearby.  

 

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Then we left for Academia Vaporetto pier ( to go to  Church of the Santissimo Redentore or  Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore). On the way I heard the most amazing piece of music I have ever heard. Igor Sklyarov Russia was playing some pieces from Fur Elise on my request. He has a group called Crystal Trio (www.crystaltrio.com) which is a unique group from Russia. They perform on crystal glass.  

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Glass Music, an ancient art which had success in many noble houses of Europe, Russia and North America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, was often included as an integral part of the symphony orchestra.

Crystal Trio continues to develop the tradition of musical glass by playing well-known classical and popular modern works, as well as tunes specifically written for glass instruments. The current repertoire includes variations of popular classical melodies of Mozart, Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky in addition to original pieces written specifically for a crystal glass.  The sound of the harmonic glass will remind you of the murmur of a mountain stream, a soft, windy breeze or mysterious wordless singing.

https://www.facebook.com/Crystal-Trio-136475986242/

https://www.facebook.com/sourabhdg/posts/10210770361404790

http://www.lynnmcconnell.com

https://higleycenter.ticketforce.com

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdAEMiRrqQY

I had plan to go to Vivaldi’s house in Venice, due to lack of time I could not manage it. Then we took Vaporetto to go to Church of the Santissimo Redentore. When we reached there it is almost dark. It is a 16th-century Roman Catholic church located on Giudecca (island) . It was constructed to thank God for the deliverance of the city from a major outbreak of the plague. It dominates the skyline of the island of Giudecca. It contains a number of paintings by artists including Tintoretto.

 

santissimo

After spending some time there, we took a vaporetto to go to Cannaregio (my hotel is located at pat of Venice called Cannaregio). Instead of taking Grand Canal it took a different route,  around the rail station and finally reached grand canal from the other side.

night1

After reaching San Marculo pier we had our dinner and left for hostel, since we will leave early morning for Milan by Regional train. Unfortunately we could not go to Jewish Ghetto of Venice. Venice’s ghetto was the first “ghetto” (coming from a Venetian word for the Iron Foundry that was on the site previously) and “ghetto” eventually came to mean any neighbourhood that was made up of a single ethnic/racial group. Today, Jewish life is still very active in the ghetto and elsewhere in Venice, and is home to 5 synagogues.

Please remember there is another water bus company called Alilaguna – which has a very limited number of routes (one of them takes you to the airport) and does not always run as often as one would expect. The ACTV (almost a synomym for vaporettos) on the other hand, offer many routes and allow visitors to go to all the islands in the Lagoon (i.e. Murano, Burano, Lido, Torcello). So do not mix up with ACTV and Alilaguna and there is separate ticket for each. There is also water taxi in Venice which is quite expensive.

ACTV really wants you to have a ticket that you’ve swiped against an electronic reader before you board. It’s now illegal to be on a water bus platform without a validated ticket. If a vaporetto station doesn’t have a ticket booth or machine, look for a nearby tabacchi shop (marked with a white “T” on a blue background) or a news stand that sells ACTV tickets.We did not face any problem since we bought our pass/tickets immediately on reaching Venice.

http://europeforvisitors.com

http://europeforvisitors.com

18/10/2016

Today we left for Milan. We got up early and left for Milan. I forgot to buy the train ticket to Milan. Due to surge pricing, the price became double. So instead of fast train, I bought the regional train ticket online, using the wifi of my hotel.

train
Double decker train

I had to change three trains to reach Mian. The journey was pleasant. Although I did not have print out of ticket, e-ticket served the purpose. Initially I thought only one train will take us to Milan.

Milan central station is quite big and architectural wonder. We sat in front of the station and had our lunch over there.

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I wanted to see Gothic Milan Cathedral (Duomo) which took nearly six centuries to complete. It is the largest church in Italy (the larger St. Peter’s Basilica is in the State of Vatican City) and the fifth largest in the world. I wanted to see Basilica Santa Maria delle Grazie, one of the most beautiful Italian churches and in the years 1495-1498 Leonardo da Vinci painted the famous mural “The Last Supper” here. How can I leave Milan without seeing the San Siro stadium. But alas I had to miss all of them. There was not enough time.

The place where Mohua was sitting is full of people from Albania, Morocco, Nigeria. One of the Bangladeshi hawker warned us to be very careful with our luggage. He told me the two ladies smoking cigarette beside Mohua are from Albania and are drug peddlers and are also snatchers. So the only time, I left Mohua alone, is to buy some cheese and bread from a very cheap departmental store ( again guided by a Bangladeshi). I bought bread for 0.6 Euro. Mohua was keeping an eye on our bags (in fact the bags were tied to her body)

After spending some time there and finishing our lunch, we left by an airport express bus to go to airport. The bus stop is just beside the Milan Centrale station. We had many small bags with us. If we have left all of them with left luggage counter , we would have to pay a fortune. And they will count for each and every bag.That is why we could not roam around freely in Milan, even though time was limited. So I decided to bring along a big plastic and put everything inside. India Juggad !

http://www.milano24ore.net/cityinfo/churches/

We took an Indian Airlines plane to come back to India via Delhi.

44 Tips for Italy

Don’t use third party booking websites or companies. Companies like TickItaly will charge you MORE which you could easily make on the official museum website yourself.

  1.   Get up early every once and a while. Many cities, like Rome and Venice, have a  completely different feel without the hoards of tourists. It is worth it to get an early  start.
  2.   Be prepared to lug all of your luggage down cobblestone streets and up stairs (and on and off trains). If your bag is too heavy or large to do this yourself, you need to rethink what you have packed! There are lots of streets and squares taxis can’t go down
  3.  Always carry cash.Most places will not let you use your debit or credit card for smaller purchases.
  4.  Don’t put cheese on seafood pasta.Despite how delicious the cheese is here, Italians do not put it on everything.
  5.  Carry a copy of your passport instead of the original and leave the original locked in your room safe (or hidden in your room).
  6.  Exchange money via your debit card at the ATM. This is the easiest way to get euros and ensures the best exchange rate.
  7.  Don’t sign the petition against drugs! This is often a scam.
  8. Hold your wine glass by the stem. The heat from your hand changes the character of the wine when you hold the glass.
  9. Eat as far away from major attractions as possible.
  10. Drink the tap water. The public drinking fountains throughout Italy spew fresh spring water that is still brought to the city by the ancient aqueducts. The water is delicious, clean, and free! Moreover, you can refill your bottles of water at any of the drinking fountains . Ask for tap water in the restaurant or you will get bottled water and have to pay for that too.

11 If you find a restroom, use it, because who knows when you’ll find another one. McDonald’s often has well maintained bathrooms and it is easy enough to breeze by the lines of customers to use it without buying anything.

  1. In Florence opt for an aperitivo instead of dinner every once in a while. Aperitivi are typically served from 7ish to 9ish. You pay for the drink, usually around 7 to 10 euros, and get to enjoy the complementary buffet. Trust me it is a ton of food. You get to try new Tuscan dishes and save money. I have tried one very near to Academia Gallery. It is really worth every penny.
  2. Walk everywhere. Florence is small and the best way to see it is on foot.
  3. Invest in the Florence Pass/Firenze Card. You get to skip the line and save money. I did not do it. But in Florence the lines are not that big compared to Rome.
  4.  Try new foods. As gross as cow’s stomach and chicken livers sound, the Florentines consider them delicacies and they are delicious.
  5. Climb the Duomo’s cupola for a wonderful view.
  6. For a great view that nobody knows about, go to the department store across the street from Piazza della Reppublica and climb to the very top, including the unofficial-looking staircase on the top floor.  There is a cafe up there with an amazing panoramic view of the city next to the Duomo.
  7. Get great shots of the Ponte Vecchio and the river from the Ponte delle Grazie, the bridge east of the Ponte Vecchio.
  8. Everyone goes to see the sunset at Piazzale Michelangelo, but go a bit further to San Miniato al Monte for an even better view at one of the city’s oldest churches.
  9. Go to Il Latini for the best Tuscan meal of your life.
  10. The best tiramisu is at Le Collinine, around the corner from Santa Croce.
  11. Visit Pisa, but don’t make a day of it — you don’t need to spend more than an afternoon.
  12. Pisa and Lucca, with the bulk of the time spent in Lucca, make an easy Tuscany day trip from Florence.
  13. Tuscany is still a great place to rent a villa for a week.  The best Tuscany villas are the ones in towns that aren’t mentioned in your guidebook.
  14. The Chianti region is part of Tuscany, and October is harvest time.
  15. Fiesole is the easiest Tuscan day trip from Florence — just a 20-minute ride on the public bus!
  16. To see the most of Tuscany, rent a car — that way, you can hit up five towns or so in one day.
  17. Visit Siena – Everyone always says “I looooove Siena” and with good reason. It’s one of the best preserved medieval cities in Italy and has a labyrinth of lanes gathered around the arena of Piazza del Campo (where, during the summer, they have horses racing).
  18. In Venice you will get lost so why not embrace it
  19. Spend the night. It is safe.So many tourists only come for the day and Venice is very eerie at night.
  20.  Take the Vaporetto down the Grand Canal (for a much cheaper tour).
  21. One Venetian gondola seats six. To save money, pack in as many as possible, since the price is per gondola not person.If you’re going to ride in a gondola, just show up and wait.  The gondoliers will do the bargaining for you. They can charge anything between 50 Euro to 80 Euro.
  22. Besides Venice Carnival, Venice is just a great place to visit. Head to the old Jewish Ghetto for hip bars and cheap drinks. We did not have time to go there.

Money and time Saving Tips

Food – Eating out in the popular cities of Italy is an expensive affair. Buy paninis and “pizza by the slice” and save a lot of money. It will cost between 2-4 EUR. Typically pizza by slice sells pizza at 10 Euro per kg. For me  300 gms were enough. We saved lot of money by pizza by slice.

Fast food (i.e. McDonalds) will cost 9 EUR for a value meal.

At all restaurants, add 3 Euro for the “coperta” (sit down fee) that covers service and the bread at the table. Pass on the bread – Some restaurants will charge you extra for bread or breadsticks on the table but not tell you about it until the bill comes. Send it back if you don’t want to be tempted. I have paid coperta thrice. It is better to ask the coperta fee before your sit down to eat. I paid coperta even while eating in a restaurant where some tables are on the road (in front of the restaurant – in Venice)

  • Instead of having dinner out, have lunch instead. Many restaurants have special lunch menu’s for workers . However we had hardly time to have lunch.
  • Larger cities cater toward tourists, and a decent meal may cost hundreds of Euros . Here the key is to walk 5 blocks in any direction away from the main piazza or strada, and look for a restaurant with a menu out front written only in Italian. Never eat at a restaurant with pictures on the menu.
  • It helps to know the level of service you should expect from an establishment. # An osteriawill be your most affordable option, and is good for quick meals and will have great wine. # A trattoria is likely to be a traditional family run restaurant, where you can find local specialties. # For the top level of service you would head to a ristorante, where you will dine on white tablecloths with formal servers.However sometimes your most memorable meal will be a pizza on the street in Naples, or chestnuts roasting on the sidewalk in Rome.
  • Buy lots of wine– You can buy a great bottle of wine for 4 EUR. Drink the house wine — always.  It’s delicious and almost laughably cheap for the quality that you get.
  • Don’t drink cappuccino after 10:00 AM.  
  • Don’t eat at any restaurant named after a monument, city or famous artist.  These are usually geared toward tourists.
  • For the best food, head for the source:Parma for prosciutto, Capri for ravioli caprese, Umbria for truffles, Tuscany for steaks, Liguria for pesto genovese.  Beyond that, every town has its own specialty.
  • Emilia-Romagna is Italy’s best food region, and Bologna, its capital, is Italy’s best food city.
  • I spent much more on food than I did on accommodation in Italy
  • You must eat at local pasticceria. We had at least one gelato break a day. Gelatos cost between 1 Euro to 2.5 Euro for a  cone. In Florence we had it for only 1 Euro. You must have Hazelnut and also cranberry.
  • You must have cantuccini’s and biscotti’s.

Transportation

The best way to get around Italy is via their extensive train network. Fast trains cost between 20-40 EUR per trip. The slower regional trains cost between 6-23 EUR per trip. (Take them!)

Public transport is reasonably priced with most buses and subways costing 1.5 EUR for a single ticket.

For long distances when you are short on time, Ryanair and EasyJet have cheap flights throughout the country.

  •    Look for transportation deals, Trenitalia, Italy’s national train company, has deals if you book in advance on their website, and the info is in english. Also Trenitalia now has some competition, NTVis a new company and they are offering some great deals on high-speed trains between the larger cities in Italy.

Also ATAF bus company in Florence has a nifty “carte agile” a bus pass that comes in 10, 20 or 30 rides that never expires and gets you at least one or two free trips. Make the most of the high-speed train.

It is only takes 1.5 hour to get from Florence to Rome or Florence to Venice, Plus the trains are comfortable and reliable. They are my preferred way to travel around Italy. You can purchase tickets online or through a local travel agent in Italy.

I have travelled fast trains as well as slow trains. Slow (Regional) trains takes 50-100% more time. There is hardly anything to choose between the two. Even the local/ Regional trains are better than best trains in India ! I bought the ticket online from India. There is surge pricing in Trains of Italy. So, if you buy the tickets at the last moment you have to pay 50-100% more. I forgot the to buy ticket from Venice to Milan. The fast train became so expensive at the last moment, that I went by Regional train(changing two trains) and it took a considerably longer time.

Don’t let anyone help you put your luggage on the train or take it off. This is a scam (mostly by gypsies) to force you to tip.

Watch your bags as the train arrives and departs the station. Italy is infamous for snatchers and pickpockets.

Activities

Most attractions and museums in Italy cost between 13-18 EUR to enter.

 Accommodation is quite expensive in Italy, even in the hostels. Use Airbnb to stay with locals who have extra beds, rooms . I use the service a lot and find it not only saves me money, but I meet great people too.

Tipping

Tipping is customary in restaurants, but optional elsewhere.

  • HotelsTip porters about €4 at high-end hotels.
  • RestaurantsService (servizio) is generally included in restaurants – if it’s not, a euro or two is fine in pizzerias, 10% in restaurants.

 Get a Schengen Visa and be smart about it

Getting a European tourist visa is perhaps the most  complicated when you hold an Indian passport, but there’s a method to the madness. If you intend to travel to two or more countries on your trip (and you should), apply for a Schengen Visa, which covers most countries in Western Europe & a few in Eastern Europe. To get a Schengen Visa, you need to show confirmed flight & hotel bookings, which is crazy because what if you pay for everything and don’t end up getting an approved visa? The best way to work around it is to book a completely refundable flight on your credit card, typically a full-fledged carrier like Lufthansa or Quantas. Similarly, book fully refundable hotels on Booking.com, the most reliable site when it comes to refunds. Soon as you get your visa, cancel your bookings and start your real research.

About Sourabh Datta Gupta

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Sourabh Datta Gupta is a company secretary by profession.

Traveling for him is a way of life. He is also a avid blogger on travel, food, arts & culture.

 

 

 

 

 

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