A Travellerspoint blog

Italy

Sicily

I am ambitiously endeavouring to compile the next few entries of Globo Trip in rapid succession as I am utterly fed up with being behind in the various projects I’ve tasked myself with (the blog being the most time consuming). Hopefully this will be achieved without compromising the quality of the entries, although I will attempt to avoid my penchant for descending into excessive detail. This plan is not intended to undermine Sicily as a destination as I had a brilliant week on the island that was very different to my experiences in the rest of the country. However, there wasn’t any particular town that I visited in Sicily which was distinguishing enough to deserve its own entry, which consequently aides to the acceptability of my decision to clump the whole island together. My expectations for Sicily were that the island’s settlements would be similarly under-developed like Naples and that they could potentially be rather unsavoury places because of the Mafia influence. Perhaps there are some truths to those assumptions; however it was undetectable for the visitor. Sicilian towns are organised, modern and at least appear to be safe and stable. For me, the most appealing aspect of Sicily is the island’s natural scenery, with its beautiful beaches and rolling hills with dry landscapes, as the man-made attractions cannot compare with what exists in Northern Italy.

The journey to Sicily involved a six hour train ride from Naples. On the carriage, my intention to write a blog entry was hijacked by several old Sicilians who attempted to converse with me through whatever means possible (since there was no common language). Before the trip, I was most intrigued by the great mystery of how the train would cross the Straits of Messina, since there is no bridge from the boot to the ball. Unexpectedly, the train was transported from Reggio Calabria to Messina on a ferry! This was understandably quite a beguiling sight.

I should premise this discussion by noting that Sicily was a key region of Ancient Greek civilisation and some of the colonies established there (particularly Syracuse) became some of the most powerful cities in the Classical World. Sicily was shortly controlled by the Carthaginians before Roman conquest. The Muslim Arabs had a brief foray on the island and bizarrely the Normans did also. More recently, it was controlled by the Spanish royal houses before it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy.

My first destination in Sicily was Taormina, located close to the volcanic Mt Etna. The small town is perched on the top of steep hills that descend dramatically to the turquoise waters of the Ionian Sea below. Taormina consists of one main thoroughfare that runs along the length of the town and features several small squares that afford brilliant views of the coast and Etna. Small streets cascade down the slope from the main thoroughfare and are lined with cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops. The town is entirely composed of attractive small buildings and is laden with Mediterranean flora. It takes around 15 minutes to walk down the slope through picturesque vegetation to reach the beaches. The crystal clear waters were extremely enticing to enter in the mid-20s weather, but one toe in what was essentially melted ice numbed the foot and sent me back to the stony shore. Twice I visited a café in Taormina to eat their delectable and refreshing granites; a dessert that Sicilians happily consume at any hour of the day. It consists of a sorbet like mixture that is made with fresh fruit and often served with whipped cream. The café I frequented concocted their mixtures fresh each morning and I sampled their strawberry and lemon flavours (awesome). Taormina is an expensive town and appears to exist purely for the tourist trade, but these did not compromise the exceptional scenery and it was certainly my favourite place to visit on the island. It was also the first time in Europe that I had stayed overnight somewhere other than a major city, which was bigger relief than I had anticipated. Taormina: done.

Syracuse fell substantially short of the expectations I had perhaps unfairly bestowed upon it. The literature I previously read suggested to me that Syracuse is Sicily’s most prominent tourist destination and I consequently developed the impression that it would be in the same category as Italy’s more famous Northern cities. This was not an accurate assumption and the three nights I booked in the city were quite excessive. The central area of Syracuse commands no interest at all since it is entirely composed of modern buildings. The town’s primary draw-card is Ortygia Island, located just off the mainland. The island effectively functions as Syracuse’s “old town”, with winding streets and layers of different architectures moulded across the centuries. Most of the buildings on the island are pale in colour, which creates an attractive contrast with the azure blue sea and forms intriguing shadow displays in the latter part of the day (and I suppose the morning too though I’m never up for that so I wouldn’t really know). The most interesting building on the island is the cathedral, which uses the monolithic columns from the ancient Temple of Athena as part of the structure. The façade is distinctly Baroque while the interior is the darkest and most austere that I’ve ever seen in a church; a very unusual synthesis. Located on the outskirts of Syracuse is the Archaeological Park, which features the famous amphitheatre from Greek civilisation. Unfortunately when I was there, much of the amphitheatre was covered in temporary seating and a stage and didn’t think the amphitheatre appeared to be all that impressive anyway. I was more interested in the landscape of the area which was remarkably different to what I saw in Northern Italy. The landscape is reminiscent to what I imagine Greece to appear like, with dry grasses, wild herbs and stark coloured rocks. I also visited the Archaeological Museum where I had an epiphany that I don’t generally like museums and nor am I able to pay attention in them. So from now on I’ll be limiting museum visits to the really exceptional ones. Syracuse: done.

I visited the small town of Noto on a daytrip from Syracuse. Well actually it was only for two and half hours, since the last bus to depart the town was ridiculously early at 2:30pm. Not that I needed any more time to explore this piddly town in the Sicilian countryside, as I was compelled to twiddle my thumbs for entertain by the end. However, it was definitely worth visiting exceptionally attractive Noto which famously exhibits Sicilian late Baroque architecture. The town was reconstructed/founded (I can’t remember the story) in the late 17th century and consequently most of the buildings in the central area express this architectural style. All the buildings were constructed with the orange-hued stone that creates an impressive spectacle particularly against a clear blue sky. Unfortunately most of the buildings, including the cathedral and churches, were closed for unknown reasons so I wasn’t able to see the interior spaces. Noto: done.

I stayed in Agrigento specifically to visit the Greek Doric temples and since nothing else really happened there, that’s all that I will bother discussing. The archaeological park features the ruins of five temples, one of which is remarkably well preserved considering its approaching 2500 years in age. The temples are majestically located at the top of a hill that overlooks scenic Sicilian countryside. Also at the park, I visited an ancient garden which today exhibits plants originating from all over the Mediterranean. These included dozens of varieties of orange trees and since the oranges were free to eat, I consumed possible a dozen. Agrigento: done.

I switched panic mode on in Palermo as I went into complete meltdown from the discovery that Australians require a visa to enter Tunisia (unlike most other Westerners). This was most disconcerting as Tunisia was to be my next destination after Palermo and I was meeting Danish Nadia from the tour there. I like to think though that as I manically charged around Palermo, from the ferry terminal to the closed consulate to the airline office to the hostel to use internet and to call the embassy in London back to the ferry terminal and to the banks to unsuccessfully exchange money, I still managed to see most of the city (even if the tourist office claimed there were 300 sites to visit and rudely exclaimed that “Its not like Australia”. Palermo is a well organised city that features relatively wide streets (for Europe) and a layout that almost resembles a grid. The Arab and Norman influences are clearly identifiable in many of the city’s most important buildings. They exhibit a unique hybrid of architectural styles, which is most prominently realised at the city’s cathedral. Palermo is apparently the world’s third best city for street food, though I have serious reservations over the accuracy of such a claim for while the city’s famed street markets were pleasant to amble through, they didn’t strike me as being particularly bountiful. Palermo: done.

I enjoyed some excellent food in Sicily which was fortunately cheaper than the mainland. Arancini was of course omnipresent, inexpensive (only 1 euro!) and always delicious. I had a Sicilian-style spaghetti dish which featured a “sauce” composed of breadcrumbs, tomatoes and sardines. Sicilian cuisine seems to be dominated by the humble cherry tomato, which is added to virtually every savoury dish and has completely replaces the larger variety in their cooking. Sicily’s most famous culinary exploit is the cannoli and you haven’t tasted the real deal until you’ve visited the island.

Sicily: done. Italy: done. And most importantly, blog: done!

Palermo was the only town large enough to be ranked and it scored rock bottom.

1. Rome
2. Barcelona
3. Florence
4. Porto
5. Amsterdam
6. Venice
7. Lisbon
8. Turin
9. Granada
10. Seville
11. Madrid
12. Naples
13. Brussels
14. Palermo

Thank you and goodbye!

Liam

Posted by Liamps 04:31 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Naples

“Where the hell am I?” was my reaction after arriving in Naples. “Hell” would be the description that some people may provide, but the wondrous Neapolitan pizzas were testimony to the falsification of such claims. Morocco was my initial guess, but the boundless piles of empty beer bottles in the streets suggested a slightly different culture regarding alcohol. Naples is only two hours by train from Rome, yet the city is utterly dissimilar to its Northern counterparts. Its almost incomprehensible that Naples could be in the same country as the similar-sized Turin and whether it’s a “developed-city” altogether is somewhat debatable. The infamous garbage problems that plague the city are abundantly apparent with overflowing bins and a culture of carelessly dropping cigarette butts on the ground which has resulted in half of the surface area being covered by them. Traffic laws are either non-existent or disrespected and the reckless scooters are seriously alarming or even dangerous. The historic centre of Naples is bizarrely still dominated by stores that specialise in products such as washing liquids or toiletries; which I assumed were relics of the past in Western countries. These deficiencies however contribute to the city’s vivacious and rough-round-the-edges character. Naples exudes vitality with its densely packed and always congested streets. It boasts some magnificent Baroque architecture that is hidden within the gritty districts and an appealing waterfront that overlooks the Bay of Naples. The historic centre remains occupied by a localised community; a far cry from Venice, Florence and Rome where the rampant tourism has eradicated traditional communities in their central areas. It was relief to be somewhere comparatively and unexpectedly void of tourism. Naples was an intriguing city to visit with exceptional cheap food and seemed much safer than its notorious reputation suggests.

Naples is located on a bay of its namesake and is the largest coastal city in Italy. Mountains and hills form barriers around the metropolis and this has resulted in areas of the historic centre being quite steep. The island of Capri and Mt. Vesuvius can be viewed from the waterfront or from the crest of the Neopolitan hills, unless I incorrectly identified them. The area near the waterfront features numerous monumental buildings such as medieval fortress castles and Renaissance palazzos, which have served as the residences of the various rulers of the city over the centuries. Distinct from this area, the district that is designated as the “historic centre” is situated on the nearby slopes. It is interspersed by the narrow and winding streets that are characteristic of the old cities in Europe. The buildings are densely packed, generally at least five storeys high and the façades exhibit signs of decay. Nestled within the historic centre are numerous Baroque churches, the most intriguing of which is devoted to the cult of purgatory and decorated with skulls. Despite being a tourist drawcard, the historic centre remains a residential and commercial area for local Neapolitans. Every thoroughfare is decorated by clothes hung out to dry above street level while markets and street food stalls dominate the ground level.

Everything that I did specifically in the city of Naples (so pedantic people, that’s your cue to exclude Pompeii) was periphery to eating Neapolitan pizzas. In my first two weeks in Italy, I wasn’t overly impressed by their pizzas and thought they weren’t all that much better than the wood-fired fare available in Australia. That was until I tasted the extraordinary pizzas of Naples. I’m now befuddled as to why their style of pizza hasn’t proliferated throughout Italy and the world alike. The pizza bread itself is delicious and chewy; there are no crusts of a Neapolitan pizza being left. They do not compromise the quality of the bread by making it firm enough to eat as slices (the pizza is too soggy in the middle to allow for that). The base sauce clearly consists only of fresh tomatoes and they add slices of quality mozzarella to serve as the cheese (rather than the packaged shredded stuff). A couple leaves of basil complete the simple but brilliant Margherita pizza. Additional ingredients can be added to the basic formula, so for my last pizza in Naples I added olives, salami and capsicum; which created a pizza rivalling even Goofy’s Capricciosa with anchovies and hot salami. Neapolitan cuisine is not limited to pizzas as they also boast exceptional savoury delights and pastries. Foremost among them is sforgliatelle, which is composed of a pastry shells (like filo) that enclose orange-flavoured custard inside.

I spent most of my time in Naples wandering through the historic centre and waterfront area or eating pizza, although I still visited some of the city’s constituent attractions. I enjoyed outstanding views of Naples and the bay from the deceptively high medieval Castel dell’Ovo (or Castle of the Egg), which is located on an islet that juts out from the shore. Castel Nuovo, founded by the Angevians and extended by the subsequent rulers from Aragon, was another castle located on the city’s shore. The imposing structure is impressive from the outside, with its stereotypical medieval castle appearance, but the interior was drab and a waste of money. I visited yet another Palazzo Reale, the sumptuously decorated former residence of the Spanish Bourbon dynasty that ruled the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies until its dissolution with Italian reunification. I also scaled the hill directly behind the central districts which afforded excellent views of the city; and joined a tour through Naples’ ancient underground aqueducts that were originally constructed by the Greeks and still used until the late 19th century.

I stayed at an excellent hostel in Naples and met several interesting characters while I was there. This included enthusiastic Japanese Mago, who is outdoing me with a two year trip that will circumnavigate the globe and potentially involve travelling to rarely visited countries like Sudan. I also Spanish Urai who introduced me to the bizarre sports that are exclusive to Basque Country. Together, we ventured into the streets of Naples to attend some bars and (after some difficulty) eventually found some surrounding a piazza. I returned to the piazza in the afternoon of the next day and found it completely littered with empty bottles of alcohol; with no indication they were going to be cleared. I also met Brazilian Daniela who introduced me to an unusual cultural aspect of the city, the production of huge nativity scenes. There are entire streets in the historic centre that consist only of workshops that produce these strictly handcrafted monstrosities. They always feature the typical characters, along with idiosyncratic Neapolitan aspects or iconic identities. Many households will display their nativity scene (which can cost 20,000 euros) all year round; however the baby Jesus is not placed in the manger until midnight of the 24th of December.

The only reason why I adamantly decided to stay in Naples was to visit Pompeii; and the site certainly lived up to expectations. Everyone knows the story of Pompeii unless they weren’t listening during Grade 3 history classes, so I won’t bore you with the details of the city’s fate. Pompeii was substantially larger than I had anticipated, with the residential areas sprawling in all directions from the Forum which was the political and economic centre of the city. There are areas which appear as though Crocodile Dundee has used his gigantic knife to perfectly slice off the top half of all the buildings, as their lower portions and the dividing roads are incredibly well preserved. The layout of the city seems well-structured, logical and efficient and is a testament to the sophistication of Roman settlements. The wide streets usually meet perpendicular to each other and divide the area into blocks of almost uniform size. These blocks were usually subdivided into several residences, although wealthier families were able to occupy larger portions. The House of the Fawn was the largest domus in Pompeii and occupied an entire block. The complex consists of entrance gates that lead to the public courtyard which is surrounded by colonnades and rooms; and then the private courtyard from where the private chambers were accessed. One of the most impressive aspects of Pompeii is how many of the surviving walls retain their original and vibrantly coloured frescoes. When visiting ancient ruins, it can be very difficult to picture what the respective settlements looked like and sometimes difficult to even appreciate that they were settlements at all. However, the structures and roads of Pompeii are in such excellent condition that the term “ruin” is not really appropriate. The tourist’s itinerary through the site is just like wandering through an old city of Europe and seeing the major attractions (the amphitheatre and the public baths were particularly impressive).

While I enjoyed my stay in Naples, I ranked the city lowly on my list since its not particularly attractive and lacks any A-grade sights. It serves more as a base for amazing sights in the region (Pompeii, Capri, Amalfi Coast) than being a brilliant destination in itself. The pizzas keep Naples off the bottom.

1. Rome
2. Barcelona
3. Florence
4. Porto
5. Amsterdam
6. Venice
7. Lisbon
8. Turin
9. Granada
10. Seville
11. Madrid
12. Naples
13. Brussels

That’s all for now,

Liam

Posted by Liamps 11:00 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Rome

I’ve been pondering a query recently, what the difference is between a king and an emperor (without bothering to google it). The title “emperor” I think denotes more prestige than “kings” and yet surely the Queen of the United Kingdom’s status is not exceeded by the Emperor of Japan. Perhaps one of them garners their title falsely. I’ve developed the impression that to truly be considered an emperor, one has to be the emperor, ruling over essentially the entire world that they are part of. There are no such limitations on kings; they can control petty kingdoms or vast territories all the same. To me, Rome is not a regal city in the same veil that Turin, Madrid and Lisbon are. Instead, Rome distinctly conveys that it is the imperial city; originally built to rule the Mediterranean world and then all of Christendom. Rome has undoubtedly been the most important and powerful city in Western history, from where the greatest empire ever established sprouted from and which has served as the capital of the humanity’s largest religious institution ever since. The most prestigious attribute of the city though is that it has claimed the number one ranking as my favourite destination in Europe. Rome utterly annihilated the competition and I think there’s probably only two other contenders left, though it will take some beating.

Rome cannot be described or defined in a neat manner, as I have with other European cities, as there is so much complexity to this unique city. The layout is tangled and layered with designs that have been conceptualised across thousands of years. The city features monumental Roman structures, countless ruins of the glorious Empire, Renaissance palazzos, Baroque churches and piazzas. Lonely Planet asserts that Rome has more outstanding sites than many small countries do, but it exceeds even that as it has its own small country. In its Western Europe guide, LP devotes more pages to describing the sights in Rome than any other destination and yet there are still extraordinary buildings not even mentioned. I spent six days in Rome and walked so much that the skin on the underside of my foot agonisingly peeled away (although wearing the same pair of socks each day didn’t help as the sweat and dirt made them go really crusty overnight!). I visited the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, Musei Capitolini, Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, Central Museum of the Risorgimento, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Museums, Pantheon, Castel Sant’Angelo, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Basilica di San Giovanni Laterano, Basilica di San Clemente, San Carlo Quattro Fontane, Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Chiesa di Santa Maria del Popolo, San Luigi dei Francesi, Sant’Andrea delle Valle, Chiesa del Gesu, Santa Maria in Trastavere, Pincio Hill, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza Navona, Campo de’ Fiori, Palazzo Farnese, Villa Adriana in Tivoli and Villa d’Este in Tivoli. There were many other places I wanted to see but wasn’t able to. So I suppose its true, a lifetime isn’t enough for the eternal city.

Unfortunately my hostel was located quite far from the main attractions in Rome, though I surmised that many accommodation options had the same problems. The benefit of this though was that I had to pass the Colosseum each time I went anywhere in Rome, so I must have seen this astonishing structure more than a dozen times. I was gobsmacked by the enormity of the stadium each time I saw it, both because of how ancient it is and because of how well preserved it has remained. The Colosseum undoubtedly ranks alongside the Great Wall of China and Uluru as the most extraordinary sights I’ve been fortunate enough to witness. Adjacent to the Colosseum is the ruins of the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. Since one ticket provides entry to all three, I was always befuddled to see gigantic queues to purchase tickets for the Colosseum while there were no queues at the other ticket offices. Naturally I was one of the thimbles of tourists with a fraction of wisdom and thus I purchased my ticket and entered the Roman Forum first without wasting a second waiting. The Roman Forum was the cultural, economic and political nucleus of the city during the years of the Republic, but lost this status to the Imperial forums when the Empire was established. After the fall of Rome, the Forum was gradually covered in debris and its monuments were concealed for centuries. Excavation of the Forum began around the 15th century and became a popular destination for Englishmen completing the Grand Tour. The setting of these ruins and other from antiquity was within thickets of untamed vegetation, which contributed to the development of the English Picturesque style in painting and landscape design. This was applied at country estates, where vast lawns were divided by strictly asymmetrical paths and streams and interspersed with replicas of classical ruins that were supposedly in random locations (to make the scene appear “natural”). The ruins of the Forum are still surrounded by vegetation and thus continue to exhibit the picturesque aspect, which I thought made the site much more appealing to view. The ruins feature the remains of countless columns, which convey that this space would have evoked such power and prominence. I entered the Colosseum in the late afternoon and was so impressed by the design of the structure because it appears like it could be a crumbling stadium built in the just the past hundred years (if we ignore the building material); let alone nineteen hundred years!

The Vatican City was the 22nd country I’ve been to and I visited the nation on three occasions while I was in Rome. Regardless of what your opinions are on the legitimacy of their sovereignty, the indisputable fact is that by international law, the Vatican City State is an independent nation and I quite rightly will be counting it. On my opening afternoon in Rome, I completed a whirlwind tour of all the city’s constituent sights including St. Peter’s Basilica. I was slightly disappointed by the Basilica from the outside as I didn’t think it was as imposing or monumental as I was expecting it to be. To avoid the gargantuan queues, I decided to arrive at the Vatican City early on the Monday to visit the Basilica and then head to the entrance to the museums before they opened. The Basilica was substantially more impressive inside with its cavernous space, exceptionally high ceilings and opulent decorations. For me, the most striking feature were the huge sculptures which adorned the top of arches between the nave and aisles as half of their immense weight precariously hangs in mid-air. I saw dead human bodies for the first time as they disturbingly display the corpses of several popes. I felt I needed to notify Dr Sean about this momentous occasion. My sacrilegious brother responded with, “What a coincidence: I also saw a dead pope at St Peter's [2004]. It was Pope John Paul and he was officially alive and giving Easter mass but from my close vantage point it looked like he had been dead for months. I suspect conservatives in the Vatican were conspiring to keep a non-reformist in office.” After a private chuckle at the appearance of the Swiss clowns, I ventured to the museums and was mortified by the length of the queue so I promptly opted to visit something else instead. This made me curious as to why the Church does not issue identity cards to all baptised Catholics, since I believe we’re entitled to direct entry free of charge to all museums and churches. Any heathens who wish to enter our institutions would still be permitted to do so, just at extortionate prices to cover the costs. Anyway, if I ever run for the Papacy, that will be my election promise. On Wednesday mornings, the faithful attend St. Peter’s Square for mass with the Pope, while the faithless visit the museums. I was obviously severely conflicted in which option I should choose, but I eventually decided I didn’t need a blurry photograph of His Holiness and visited the museums instead without queuing. The museums weren’t as amazing as I had anticipated, because I thought it would be filled with canvas paintings like the Prado but it wasn’t. It primarily featured frescoes and sculpture, neither of which interests me although I liked one sculpture of a lion attacking a deer which showed the teeth marks on the animal. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is undeniably beautiful and remarkably detailed for its vastness and positioning. I couldn’t decipher what the big deal was about the Last Judgement though; I think it must just have an inflated reputation because its in the Sistine Chapel and was completed by Michelangelo also.

As you probably identified earlier, I visited numerous churches in Rome so I’m not going to bother describing all of them (especially since I’ve forgotten what some of them look like!). Church hopping throughout the city is an easy way to appreciate outstanding architecture and identify the historical development of architecture across the centuries. Basilica di San Giovanni Laterano was the most important church in the Catholic world for almost a thousand years and remains the official seat of the Bishop of Rome. Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is considered one of Rome’s four most important churches. Both of these churches are more than a thousand years old and feature bombastic Baroque façades and interior decoration that deceptively hide their Romanesque designs and layouts. Both buildings consist of flat ceilings and columns of the Ionic order that separate the nave from the aisles. My favourite church in Rome was Chiesa del Gesu, a Baroque building that was lavishly decorated inside. I particularly liked the paintings on the ceiling that almost seemed three-dimensional, as parts of the compositions exceed the boundaries of their frames (or what is supposed to resemble frames) and create a shadow effect. I also visited a church with a stag at the top of the façade and a cross behind it; perhaps alluding to the crowned stag of House Baratheon of King’s Landing. Bizarrely, the interior featured wallpaper with gold roses on a field of green (i.e. House Tyrell). The church must have supported Renly’s claim.

None of the aforementioned attractions are located in Rome’s busiest area, the historic centre, which itself is brimming with a litany of world-class sights. My favourite of these was the astonishingly well-preserved Pantheon, Ancient Rome’s greatest achievement in monumental architecture. The building’s famous dome remains the largest in the world made from concrete; an incredible feet of engineering that even if constructed today would still be an aesthetically stimulating design. After the fall of Rome, remarkably the mixture for concrete was lost to human knowledge for centuries along with the ability to construct monumental domes, which ultimately cemented (excellent pun Liam, its been a while) the Pantheon’s status in the global consciousness. During my visit, I was most irritated by the continual hushing from the security guard as they announced that its a religious space. This utterly disgusted me because this phenomenal structure, which has absolutely no evocations of Christianity in its design, was not built by or for the Catholic Church; they have merely claimed the building which I don’t believe they have any right to occupy. There are more than enough churches in Rome as there is. Another of Ancient Rome’s colossal structures that survives is the mausoleum built for Emperor Hadrian. I was aware of the building’s existence, but I doubted its size or condition considering its minor international profile. So I was shocked to turn a corner in the Historic Centre and suddenly see this gargantuan structure staring at me across the river, apparently still well preserved. I visited the crowded Trevi Fountain in the Historic Centre on several occasions under different compositions of light. The Fountain was actually much larger than I expected as there is the realistically sized façade of a temple as the backdrop. Of course the fountain was attractive but I still thought its heinously overrated. Same with the Spanish Steps, not that I actually saw any step because they were all occupied by the buttocks’ of hordes of tourists.

The small town of Tivoli boasts two World Heritage Sites, the same number as Rome, which made it a tantalizing proposition to venture to as a daytrip. The centre of the town is located on the upper slopes of hills that afford exceptional views of the surrounding flat landscape. Just outside Tivoli is the sprawling estate of Villa Adriana, which was constructed as the summer residence for Emperor Hadrian. Unfortunately I caught the wrong bus to the site and precipitated a heated exchange between the locals as they debated the best route for me to follow, but I eventually reached the Villa in one piece (the other passengers may not have been so lucky). The precinct was like an architectural gallery, as buildings either replicated or were inspired by structures from across the vast empire (i.e. Egyptian temples, Greek amphitheatre). The ruinous remains of the villa provides another and perhaps superior example of a site that inspired the picturesque style, since it is intentionally surrounded by vegetation and located within a rural context. I thought the most impressive and best preserved aspect of the site was the circular component which many of the palatial structures “pivoted” on; as they used different axes in their layouts. It featured a circular island in the middle with a pavilion that occupied the space, a moat that surrounded the island and a colonnade that surrounded the moat and acted as a thoroughfare between palatial structures. Emperor Hadrian would often retreat to the island for reflection time or when he needed time-out for his bad moods. I also visited the Villa d’Este, a Renaissance villa in central Tivoli that is particularly famed for its garden. The property is situated on a slope and the garden is consequently viewed from a series of levels. Symmetry is paramount to the overall design and the water fountains are the most emblematic feature. While fountains at the Alhambra or other Moorish structures produce subtle plays of water, the fountains at Villa d’Este are grandiloquently theatrical. The garden descends to a flat level with a line of rectilinear pools of turquoise water that terminate at a monolithic fountain. The bulbs that were planted throughout the garden had bloomed by April, which provided colour and vitality to the scene.

Unfortunately there were no flabbergasting food experiences in Rome as I ate fairly standard Italian fare. I thoroughly enjoyed multiple meals of lasagne, but when is lasagne not a winner? I thought I had a brilliant thin-crusted pizza, until I reached Naples. I sampled some delicious gelato, which is ubiquitous throughout the country. The best dish I ordered in Rome was roasted lamb that was marinated in a “spicy” (Europeans don’t seem to know the meaning of that word) vinegar sauce. The worst dish was a Roman-style artichoke which was absolutely putrid and I strongly recommend not to order! I’m sure that there are many exceptional restaurants in Rome but the general culinary level I think falls short of Florence.
So there we have it. The newly crowned number one ranked city is Rome. That will be my only visit I suppose, because I thought throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain when I was on my own just seemed to awkward.

Tutulu

Liam

Posted by Liamps 08:21 Archived in Italy Comments (1)

Florence

Florence mounted a serious challenge to Barcelona as my favourite destination in Europe. While the city is ubiquitously included in the clichéd tripartite route that most travellers or holidaymakers seem to follow in Italy, mass tourism has not diminished its charm or beauty, as it has in Venice. The architecture is visually stunning in both cities, but in Florence this attribute is complemented by the sense that it is still the home of a local community with a cultural identity (which Venice lacked). For me, this was best represented by the delectable Tuscan cuisine that’s readily available in restaurants off the constituent tourist drags and thus must be dependent on a local clientele. The historic area of Florence is entirely composed of buildings that were constructed during times when the aesthetical value of infrastructure was actually given some consideration in the design process (contrasting with the past century). Consequently and because of the meandering river its located beside and the backdrop of the rolling Tuscan hills, Florence earned the status as the most collectively attractive urban settlement that I’ve seen.

I stayed at a ludicrously oversized hostel in Florence, which unfortunately seemed to be frequented by school groups. For such a massive and heavily promoted business, I was shocked to discover they had deplorable WI-FI connections that were easily the worst I’ve experienced in Europe. On a positive note, I was fortunate enough to meet Jim, who was a top bloke from Yorkshire and requested to be described as such. He was my dinner companion on the second and third night and we supplemented the excellent food with discussions about the military (he works in the technical realm of the British Army), travel and the glory of the English language. At the hostel’s bar, we were traumatised by the horrific “dancing” display a large group of teenyboppers (I can’t believe Microsoft accepts that as real word) performed through to the early hours of the morning, without alcohol.

Florence rose to prominence under the rulership of the Medici family, one of the most influential and powerful (politically and economically) in European history. The Medici family controlled the largest bank in Europe during the late Middle Ages, produced three Popes, two Queen Regents of France and are most famed for their patronage of Renaissance art and architecture which originated and flourished in Florence. Many of the city’s most prominent buildings were either built by the Medici’s or owned and occupied by them. When the family’s line was extinguished, their vast collection of Italian Renaissance art was entrusted to the city with the condition that it never leaves Florence. Florence therefore boasts some of the finest art galleries in the world, which I find rather incredible for a relatively small city (town would be a more appropriate term for Florence). This, however, has corresponded to gargantuan queues in the modern age of mass tourism and since I have no patience for such affairs, I opted not to visit any of them! The fake David outside of Palazzo Vecchio is apparently identical anyway so I managed to take the obligatory photograph.
The historic area of Florence is situated on a gentle slope that gradually descends to a pleasant river. Florence is composed of surprisingly wide streets for a European city and there are numerous squares interspersed throughout the urban fabric. Many of the streets and squares and filled with markets selling the usual products that I would classify as useless, tourist-orientated junk. Almost of all of the generic apartment buildings are testimonies to Renaissance architecture; with differences exhibited in their multitude of colours. There are many churches in Florence with captivating and unique façades; none more so than the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the city’s colossal cathedral. The cathedral, along with its baptistery and campanile, are embellished with geometric patterns made from green and white marble. The phenomenally imposing building dominates the Florentine skyline and provided another WOW! factor moment when I rounded a corner and saw it for the first time. Another prominent building in the city is the Palazzo Vecchio, which was the seat of the Florentine governing bodies during the Middle Ages and then occupied by the Medici. The medieval palazzo’s most beguiling characteristic is its soaring clock-tower, which is strangely situated away from the central axis of the building’s façade. The river is of course crossed by the iconic Ponte Vecchio, which features permanent built shops on both sides of the pathway. On the opposite side of the river to the historic centre is the sprawling Palazzo Pitti, which became the Medici family’s constituent residence. The building contrasts substantially with the cityscape surrounding it as the architecture emphasises horizontality. Further along the same side of the river is a hill which provides magnificent views of Florence and the surrounding Tuscan countryside; with rolling hills, gardens and groves of olive trees.

The most memorable experience I had in Florence (other than eating) was climbing to the top of the cathedral’s dome. After the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, civilisation in Europe regressed and then effectively staled for a thousand years. As a result of this, no major dome was constructed in Europe after the completion of the Haghia Sophia in 467 (I’ve my memory serves me correctly) until the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore was completed in the 15th century (unfortunately I can’t remember the exact year). The dome is actually composed of two shells for structural reasons and isn’t quite spherical; it instead features eight curving segments that meet at the oculus. The only way the public can view the massive dome’s underside (ridiculously) is to pay to climb to the top. There is a viewing platform directly below the spectacular painting which covers a huge surface area (I think it has the largest diameter of any church dome in the world). Patrons then climb between the two shells of the dome until they reach the top and are granted exceptional views.

Florence undoubtedly trumped every other city I’ve been to before in the gastronomic stakes; the most important of all. After the disappointing culinary experiences in Venice, my confidence in Italian cuisine had been severely compromised. It was promptly restored Within an hour after arriving in Florence as I enjoyed a soup that was made from tomato and bread; so incomprehensibly simple considering how remarkably tasty it was. By avoiding the tourist traps that have English menus with American flags (an utter disgrace to Her Majesty’s tongue; I don’t speaker “American”), I had three smashing Tuscan meals at friendly trattorias. On the first night, I ate Saltimbocca with ham, parsley and an amazing sauce, with sides of marinated vegetables (the smokiness of the eggplant was out of this world) and roast potatoes (belissimo!). The traditional Italian meal and corresponding restaurant menus are quite different to what we have in Australia. Traditionally, the “first course” is the filling component of the meal (pasta, risotto), while the “second course” is the protein. Consequently, if you order meat in a traditional Italian restaurant, then it will normally be served on its own (and cost $10-15); although sides can be ordered separately. I’ve come to like this system because instead of ordering a “complete” plate as you would in Australia, for the same price you can essentially select each “component”. On my second night, for “primi” I ate ravioli with a butter sauce and for “secondi” a rich and peppery Tuscan stew (double belissimo!). On my third night, I ate the best tomato-based pasta dish of my trip in Italy, “special Tuscan” spaghetti with vegetable sauce; phenomenal. For secondi, I had beef carpaccio with rocket, parmesan and balsamic vinegar, which was among the best dishes I’ve eaten all year. So if you love food, head to Florence and Tuscany!

Obviously while I was in Florence I had no choice but to visit Pisa, around an hour away by train. Unfortunately the day I went coincided with a rather unpleasant bout of overcast weather, which has compromised my photos as the tower looks to be the same colour as the sky. Nevertheless, it was exciting to see the tower which actually leans more than I expected and what the photographs indicated. The tower is only part of a broader complex featuring a cathedral, baptistery and cemetery, which were built sequentially across the eleventh and twelfth centuries. All the buildings exhibit a unique form of Romanesque architecture, with the quintessentially white and grey exterior colourations. Since the tower receives all the publicity I did not expect the cathedral’s interior to be as spectacular as it was and at that stage I decided it was third most impressive that I’ve seen (although its since been overtaken by half a dozen churches in Rome). Before I’m bombarded with questions of, “did you climb the leaning tower”, the answer is no. I decided I was there to see it, not to pay the heinous prices to stand on it.

The verdict? Florence just wasn’t quite big enough to eclipse Barcelona and it lacked the atmosphere and energy, although the food nearly pushed it across the line.

1. Barcelona
2. Florence
3. Porto
4. Amsterdam
5. Venice
6. Lisbon
7. Granada
8. Turin
9. Seville
10. Madrid
11. Brussels

That’s all for now,

Liam

Posted by Liamps 15:02 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Venice

I’m still debating what my conclusive judgment of Venice should be. The city is unquestionably beautiful in its fascinating array of architectural styles and features a bizarre urban layout consisting of canals instead of roads. These are the characteristics that have made Venice one of the most iconic and famous travel destinations in the world. Considering these elements, I tried so very hard to like the city; however my thoughts while in Venice and my retrospective memories of the city are usually tainted with negativity. The city was independent of foreign domination for almost one thousand years and existed as the Most Serene Republic of Venice. Napoleon Bonaparte ended the era of the Republic, but the tourist hordes are responsible for eradicating the serene aspect. Venice no longer functions as a conventional city (although, granted, it was never really “conventional”) because quite literally everyone on the Rialtine Islands seem to be either tourists or hawkers attempting to rip the tourists off. As much as I wanted to enjoy Venice, for me I think the crowds of tourists that were selfishly ruining my photographs completely spoiled the uniqueness of the city.

The more I reflect on Venice, I become increasingly convinced that it should be regarded as an over-sized theme park rather than an urban settlement. The entrance fees (i.e. the accommodation costs) are prohibitively expensive; the food options available are limited, over-priced and stingy in quality and quantity; there are countless souvenir shops selling useless novelties and worst of all, there are (British, French and American) tourists everywhere. I have never seen nor imagined a place so densely and ludicrously congested with tourists; although staying there over the Easter weekend may have distorted the usual reality (by all accounts though, Rome sounded much worse). I regularly encountered queues to just walk down a narrow path between buildings. The romanticised saying that, “Venice is the largest city in the world without roads” seems less noteworthy once you've experienced the reality of the place, because what sort of a theme park would have traffic directed through its precinct? The “theme” that Venice can obviously market is the canals and like any popular park, it has its signature ride; the gondolas. What sets Venice apart from other theme parks though, is that it never closes!

Describing Venice seems to be a pointless endeavour because many people have either already been there themselves or have been bombarded with propaganda about the beauty of Venice anyway. Nevertheless, to avoid the risk of receiving accusations that I’ve not sufficiently detailed my account of a city that has been privileged enough to host me, I’ll provide a brief synopsis of what Venice entails from the perspective of yours truly and ignore the impermanent element of tourists. Venice consists of more than one hundred relatively small islands that are separated by canals and are collectively referred to unofficially as the “Rialtine Islands”. To me though, Venice appeared like it was composed of just two major islands that are separated by a natural river (the Grand Canal); with each fragmented by the canals. Without bothering to partake in any research, its hard to distinguish the level of artificiality of the canal matrix, especially since the canal system does not exhibit any sort of logical plan. All of the land spaces on the islands are occupied by either structures or synthetic surfaces, resulting famously in buildings directly bordering the water. Unfortunately the lengths of all the canals do not have corresponding pathways (unlike roads), instead they cut through the matrix and cross the canals over quaint little bridges. Coupled with the extreme density of buildings and the lack of a logical layout, this makes navigating through Venice exceptionally difficult and I was lost several times (including once at night, which wasn't a pleasant experience as I kept passing the same churches as I was going round in circles!). Since historically the primary form of transport in Venice was by boat, the canals have obviously acted as roads. This has resulted in the unusual custom of the buildings’ façades facing the water, rather than a pathway. The most conspicuous example of this is at the Grand Canal, which is lined by a parade of grandiose buildings exhibiting a multitude of styles.

There are two primary areas on the islands, St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto district. Whoever the buffoon was that wrote the Grand Place in Brussels is the nicest square in the world (still can’t remember where I read that; may have been LP guide) obviously hasn't been to Italy as every city has a nicer square with more prominent buildings. St. Mark’s Square is an imposingly large and open space, within a collection of islands sorely lacking in such a commodity. The square borders the Lagoon and features an ensemble of architectural styles and some of the world’s most iconic buildings. There is the Doge’s Palace, built in the Venetian Gothic style; the Basilica of St. Mark’s, one of the greatest monuments to Byzantine architecture ever constructed; a medieval brick clock-tower and several palazzos with Renaissance or neo-Classical design. Rialto is located at the heart of the islands and along the central section of the Grand Canal. The area features produce and craft markets beside the canal, numerous restaurants and of course the iconic (and graffiti stained) Rialto Bridge which connects Rialto to San Marco.

The constituent activity when visiting Venice is to just marvel at the iconic and rare scenery of the city, while aimlessly wandering along its canals and narrow paths. I spent most of my time in Venice doing just this and interspersed it with visits to the San Marco museums and the city’s litany of churches. The San Marco museums consisted of the significant Doge’s Palace and the not-so-significant museum housed in the former residence of the Habsburg rulers in the 19th century. The Doge’s Palace was where the various governing bodies of the Republic met across the centuries of its existence. The building’s interior features a series a large, strictly right-angle quadrilateral shaped halls; each of which features ceilings that appear (to me) to be composed of framed pictures. The ceilings have been covered in paintings that are bordered by golden ornamentation (and thus act like frames). The complex structure of the Republic was not necessarily democratic by today’s Western standards, but it must have been quite exceptional during its existence; considering that the rest of Europe was besotted in fiefdom before the Renaissance or then absolute monarchies after the Renaissance. Visiting the churches in Venice is a pleasant experience because they each have their own idiosyncrasies and display a broad spectrum of architectural styles. Generally, I found that the churches were much more interesting to view from the outside as the interiors were often quite plain and minimalist. The exception to this was the Basilica of St. Mark’s, which is probably my favourite church thus far in Europe. The basilica’s exterior appearance is dominated by the onion-shaped domes that are quintessential of Byzantine architecture. The interior features spectacular mosaics which adorn all the above ground surfaces in a multitude of colours, with gold the most prominent. Throughout the basilica, there were signs everywhere indicating the prohibition of photography; and yet by the time everyone reached 30 metres from the entrance (you follow a circular itinerary through the space) we were all happily snapping away. Of the thousand plus people inside the space, the security guard decided to call out only one victim/culprit which fortunately wasn’t me!

On my last day in Venice, I bought an all-day pass for the water-taxis and explored the city from the water. This was the ideal method to appreciate the city (unless you can afford the gondolas) and it had the added bonus of allowing me to avoid the hordes of tourists cramming the streets. I toured along the Grand Canal multiple times to admire the extraordinary palazzos, watch the corny gondolas pass by and marvel at the Rialto Bridge’s ability to support thousands of frenzied tourists (while privately hoping that it would collapse). I visited the two iconic Palladian churches that face the St. Mark’s Square from islands that are inaccessible without boats. I also visited Murano, a cluster of islands in the Lagoon that are around 15 minutes from Venice. Murano featured all the appealing qualities of Venice but without the crowds. Apparently Murano glass is quite famous although I had never heard of it.

This entry about Venice may seem overly harsh and critical, but I’m just measuring the city against the bloated reputation that is has. Consequently, Venice has still been ranked high on the returning and much vaunted “Liam’s favourite European cities” list. I’ve decided to scrap a definitive criterion for what constitutes a city; I alone will make the judgments. Venice has taken precedence over Turin on the list, even though I enjoyed my stay in Turin more. This was because I went to Turin with no expectations and by contrast I went to Venice with very lofty expectations.

1. Barcelona
2. Porto
3. Amsterdam
4. Venice
5. Lisbon
6. Turin
7. Seville
8. Madrid
9. Brussels

Arividerci

Liam

Posted by Liamps 13:51 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

Turin (and other adventures)

Italy was the country I was looking forward to the most for this trip and the first city I went to certainly lived up to expectations. Turin was not initially part of my itinerary but I’m pleased to have made the adjustment because it provided a vastly different experience to other more touristy destinations in Italy and historical context to the relatively new creation of the Italian nation-state. I changed my plans so that I could stay with Italian Davide, a friend I met during the tour through Africa. He generously picked me up from the “airport” outside the city and accommodated me in his apartment in Fossano; a satellite town to Turin (though with a distinct historical tradition). Despite not even approaching three hours sleep on the night previous to my arrival when I was at Casablanca Airport, the opening two days of my trip through Italy would prove to be two of the best for the year.

For my first meal in Italy, the world’s most advanced nation in the art of culinary delight, we went to a restaurant in Fossano that serves quality dishes using traditional recipes and local ingredients. Davide provided passionate explanations of each dish, cuisine in the Piedmontese region, the custom of using traditional recipes continuously and the peasant origins of Italian food. To start, we had a most unusual appetizer of raw sausage (obviously served without the intestine); a dish not for the faint-hearted or the closed-minded. Fortunately I’ve never been troubled by such deficiencies and thoroughly enjoyed this traditional but to me peculiar dish, as the quality of the sausage meat was infinitely superior to the contents of the humble Australian version. For entrée, I had a tasting plate of beef, which included prime strips of raw beef eaten with black pepper and shavings of parmesan, a rare piece of steak with a sharp cheese and slices of cold roast beef with tuna paste; overall an incredible dish. The main course was freshly made ricotta ravioli served with a rich cream sauce, a dish that I’ve been yearning for ever since. I also sampled the region’s constituent risotto dish. The risotto itself is quite simple and without vegetables or meat, but its served with this intensely rich and dark sauce which is prepared over three days from the dripping of roasted meats. This was a poignant example of a dish that was derived from basic peasant origins. To conclude what was undoubtedly my best food experience of the year, we had a selection of four sensational cheeses, which were to be eaten in the chronological order of their age.

After the brilliant lunch, we had a fairly uneventful afternoon of just casually driving to two other countries, Monaco and France. :O :O In a sixteen hour timeframe, I was in four different countries! Nothing in Morocco, lunch in Italy, drinks in Monaco and dinner in France! Davide was invited to a function in Monte Carlo, a forum for green and primarily automotive initiatives, as he worked on the advert for one of the products on display. When the organisers were alerted that the emperor would be joining Davide in attendance, they arranged for the red carpet to be unfurled and for brass bands to play appropriately extravagant choruses, while the paparazzi and general public flocked to the event in anticipation to see their holy ruler. Unfortunately Davide was the only person to successfully photograph me on the red carpet and I then clumsily deleted the best picture. Such a shame but at least there’s one blurry image left to provide proof. After the event, we drank wine on the terraces of Café Paris, overlooking the famous Monte Carlo Casino. It was a bizarre experience to be in Monte Carlo, especially since it was an unexpected trip, as to me it’s the type of place that exists in movies and video games. But Monte Carlo is quite real and just as wealthy and excessive as you expect it be. Not that the buildings are made from pure gold or the roads from diamonds, it just seem to exude an aura of money and power. Or perhaps that’s just what I interpret in bias from expectation. In Monte Carlo, the lawns and plants which line the boulevards or fill the small parks are all immaculately manicured, the buildings and roads exhibit no signs of age and degradation, expensive car labels are the commonality rather than the exception, the harbour consists of numerous plush yachts and cruise ships which are all for private leisure, the streets are noticeably absent of rubbish and even the beaches are cleared of rocks within 20m of the shore so that the water obtains an artificial turquoise colour. When exiting the country, we drove through the famous tunnel used during the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. Monte Carlo is very much a monument to wealth and greed, but nevertheless an interesting place to see. We ventured to Nice, France for dinner which is only around 20 minutes from Monaco. We walked along the city’s iconic boulevard to see the historic hotels and also saw the preparation of the beach for summer. Naturally, the surface of the beach would be purely composed of stones, so they artificially covering it all with sand. We went to a French restaurant and ate zucchini soup with salmon mousse (amazing) and pigeon which I ate for the first time (also amazing). During the journey back to Fossano after midnight, I rudely fell asleep as a child would after a big day!

We left Fossano behind and went to Turin on the second day, with Davide providing an excellent tour of the first capital of the unified state of Italy. Turin served as the seat of the House of Savoy, one of the longest running dynasties in European history, which ruled first ruled as counts, then as dukes and finally as kings from the 18th century. The Savoy kingdom was the most powerful and extensive independent Italian entity by the mid-19th century and thus when the nationalists’ movement gathered force, they became the logical choice for the Italian people to rally behind. Ruling a united Italy was not necessarily the outcome the House of Savoy themselves were after, but nevertheless they served as kings of Italy from 1861 until the monarchy was disbanded in 1946. Consequently, Turin exhibits a very regal urban fabric and architecture that is quite different to the rest of the country; no doubt influenced by its proximity to France and Central Europe. The city’s layout is defined by its grid-plan (very different to anywhere I’ve been in Europe thus far) that features monumental boulevards that perpendicularly intersect each other and terminate at grandiose piazzas. The wide footpaths in Central Turin are covered by arcades that terminate roadside with a series of arches. Central Turin has the aura of an intentionally well-planned city designed to exude power and sophistication, and for a period it was considered one of Europe’s finest royal capitals.

Davide acquainted me with Central Turin and some of the surrounding neighbourhoods. We visited the film museum housed in the city’s most iconic building, the Mole Antonelliana. In the mid-19th century, the Savoy kingdom radically liberalised their laws regarding religious freedom, which resulted in Jewish migration to Turin and the construction of a monumental synagogue. The building was never actually used as a synagogue however as the Jewish community refused to pay the prohibitive construction costs and so it became the property of the state. The design is quite uncanny as it monumentalises verticality which has resulted in a ludicrously high roofing system. Ascending to the top provides excellent views of the city and an appreciation of the efficient grid-plan. The film museum was brought to life by Davide’s impassioned explanations and this was where I had an epiphany by suddenly realising that Audrey Hepburn and Catherine Hepburn must be related! We visited an alternative supermarket, Eataly, which only sells ingredients produced in Italy or brands with quality products. The supermarket is divided into sections (i.e. cheeses/cold cuts, seafood, meat, bread, vegetables, wine), each of which feature a corresponding restaurant where you can sample dishes that use those ingredients. That evening, we dined on fried seafood served with cherry tomatoes and balsamic reduction and penne with aubergines and ricotta, and then visited some of the local establishments including the omnipresent Irish pub. Davide then departed for Rome and the mountains but I remained in Central Turin for three nights.

I had a relatively lethargic third day in Italy as I just explored the Central Turin area without actually visiting anything. Food eventually managed to coax me out of my morning laziness and for lunch I ate an excellent serve of cannelloni with a ricotta sauce. It completely slipped my mind when ordering that cannelloni is usually filled with beef (and not spinach and ricotta as I was thinking) and so I sacrilegiously consumed red meat on Good Friday. I attempted to quash my guilt by remembering that Italians no longer recognise that tradition and apparently the Church has disbanded that custom anyway (according to Davide). I walked along Turin’s picturesque river which is surrounded by numerous trees (much like the Yarra River east of the major sports facilities), which I thought was impressive since its directly beside the central grid. I continued to walk through the city and passed the military guarded (and actually used) synagogue, which features an unusual hybrid of architectural styles; with Byzantine onion-domes, Moorish horseshoe arches, spiralling columns reminiscent of the Portuguese Manueline style and a rose window that are on the façades of Gothic churches.

Central Turin and the surrounding areas are laden with medieval fortified castles and Savoy royal residences, which cumulatively form a world heritage site. During the first couple days in the city, I passed the Palazzo Reale, which was the official Savoy residence in the city; the Palazzo Madama, that is marked by its ornate Baroque staircase inside the entrance; and the royal library. On my final day, I visited the Palazzo Carignano that houses an excellent museum detailing the progression toward nationalism across Europe in the 19th century. The building’s exterior features the unusual Piedmontese Baroque style, which is similar to the “conventional” Baroque but uses brickwork as the exposed material. In the afternoon, I ventured to the most impressive of the region’s palaces, the Veneria Reale. This was located outside Turin itself and was used by the Savoy rulers as a hunting retreat. The palace features sprawling grounds with symmetry and precision paramount to the design. Some of the rooms inside the palace were quite stunning, particularly one cavernous room with amazing frescos on the ceiling (which I almost managed to sneak a photo of) and a long, illuminating white hall.

That’s all for now,

Liam

Posted by Liamps 06:10 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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