Assisi

After leaving Como, and dropping Colin and Helen at the airport near Milan (for their next leg to London),we drove for a few hours along the autostrada to Lake Trasimeno, skirting around Bologna and then Florence.

Our house at the lake was up on a hill and we were met by our Airbnb host who took us up the windy road to the place that would be our base for the next four days.This is the fourth largest lake in Italy and is in the region of Umbria. We settled into our lovely cottage above the small township of San Feliciano, with stunning views to the lake and enjoyed a a couple of quiet days, wandering into town, talking with the shopkeeper at the local supermarket and enjoying a beer at the local bar.

We were then joined by Tony’s cousin, Paola, and her husband Carlo. They also became our taxi, which relieved us greatly as neither of us had enjoyed driving that much. On our first night together, they took us to the lovely town of Cortona, on the other side of the lake for a magnificent dinner.

The next day we headed to the medieval hilltop town of Assisi with its famous basilica, named after Saint Francis who was born in Assisi.



These photos belie how busy the town was – it was teeming with tourists who had all been or were on their way to the basilica.

What never ceases to amaze me is the history and age of the places we visit. If these walls could talk…

Along our wandering through the town, we passed a menagerie of Franciscan monks (I think “menagerie” is a fitting name for a group of monks of the Franciscan order – after all St Francis had a strong affinity with animals).

When we came out from the basilica, I asked Tony to take a photo of me sitting on the wall overlooking the surrounds of Assisi. I had envisaged a photo of me on my own but I really like this photo for the diversity of people who had just seen the beauty of St Francis’s basilica.
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After a stop for lunch, we were off to Perugia.

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Where Have We Been?

Dear loyal followers

It’s been two weeks since my last blog and I think you deserve an explanation. As I write this, I am sitting in our apartment in Cagliari on the island of Sardegnia. It is before 7.00am and I am the only one up. I’ve got a cup of herbal tea by my side and I am ready to bring you up to date.

After we left Como, we dropped Colin and Helen at the Milan Linate airport for their flight to London and we drove onto San Feliciano on the shores of Lake Trasimeno – the fourth largest lake in Italy and the site where Hannibal defeated the Romans all those years ago. Here we spent a couple of quiet days, taking in the wonderful views before we were joined by Tony’s delightful cousin, Paola, and here equally charming husband, Carlo. I’ll write separately about our time together.

Then we were off to Rome to meet up with other members of Tony’s father’s family and stayed with his lovely aunt – Rosinella. Helen and Colin rejoined us from London. In Rome I encountered technical difficulties – my little laptop could not connect to the internet. I will also write separately about our time in Rome.

During our Rome visit, we spent a couple of days in Torricella in the Abbruzzo region of Italy (where Tony’s father’s family hails from – as does Silvia Colloca).

After our week ini Rome and Torricella, we reached Civitavecchia – a forty minute train journey from Rome and a main port of Italy. Here, we took an overnight ferry to Cagliari in Sardegna. We enjoyed a calm night on the ship, being gently rocked to sleep on our very stable carrier.

Sardegna is an island of Italy that is the home of Tony’s mother’s family and we have spent time with his cousins Marina and Leonardo and his aunt Titina. Today, we will meet up with other cousins and their partners for (another) feast before we travel on to Sagama where we will stay for two days.

Then we part ways again with Helen and Colin, who are off to Sicily, whilst we make our way to Prague (via Vienna for a quick waltz :)).

So that’s it as of today – more to follow soon – in the meantime, I’m posting photos on instagram – jennied61. Ciao!

Arrivederci Como

If asked how our time was at Como, I would say simply wonderful. The town during the week is lovely to walk through, with the centre limited to pedestrian traffic and the surrounding streets with restricted traffic. We spent our last day in the centre, window shopping, visiting the Duomo, stopping for lunch and finally wandering home later in the day. But not before first walking down the myriad of sets of stairs – after all, to get a good view, you have to be up high.




Here are some local street scenes.



Importatly, I can report fashion trends – this one relates to women’s shoes where all the focus in on the heels –


This is Piazza Volta – named after Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Volta, an Italian physicist, chemist, and a pioneer of electricity and power, who is credited as the inventor of the electrical battery and the discoverer of methane. He was born and died in Como (1745 to 1827).

Our host, Edo, had kindly offered to take us out on his boat that evening and whilst the weather looked a little threatening – and he thought it would be best to have our planned aperitivo on the balcony – we encouraged him to take us out on the water. And so off we went in his very comfortable boat.

Edo has lived his whole life in Como and was a rich source of information about the lake (historically known as Lake Lario) and gave us all the goss on the owners of some of the local villas, including former Italian President Berlasconi who owns a property in which he has never stayed. The above photo shows Edo telling a somewhat sceptical Tony one of the colourful tales, while Helen looks on slightly bemused.

George Clooney’s purchase of Villa Oleandra in the town of Laglio has really had an impact on house prices – according to Edo, George has single-handedly shut potential house owners out of the market. The property comprises a few buildings. In fact (or maybe), George offered to buy an adjoining house from an older couple but they refused, content to stay in their digs. This led to another story where a friend of Edo’s was working on an engine on his property, making a bit of noise. His neighbour, the Prime Minister of Lebanon, asked him how much to buy the property so he would stop making the noise. His suggestion of 5 million Euros was quickly accepted!

Anyway, here is George’s Villa Oleandra.

We also stopped near Villa Pliniana where Edo gave us the history of this site which has a spring flowing through the base of the villa (the current villa was built in 1577). Both Leonardo Da Vinci and Plinius visited this site to understand how the spring worked as it arose intermittently each day. One of the legends Edo shared with us was that one owner of the villa invited the mayor of Como – who was a competitor (I’m not sure why) to the villa and asked him to admire the frescos on the ceiling (which have since been painted over). While the mayor was looking up, the owner opened a trap door through which the mayor fell and then onto some huge chopping blades and finally out into the lake in a stream of red.



Edo took us to the neigbouring town of Torno for a violet liqueur aperitif – such a delicate flavour.


We had a light dinner and then took the return trip home, which included Tony and me singing the Funiculare song. Our audience generously applauded and asked for an encore (none was forthcoming).


As I walked back along the pier at Como, I thought “this is one evening I will always remember”.

Como

As I sit out on the balcony this morning, the bells from the Duomo (cathedral) are ringing. It is a European and Italian sound that hopefully will endure the ages. Our stay in Como has been wonderful. We have a great view – which, of course means a “great” climb. Yesterday we decided to go to Bellagio and then to cruise across to Varenna. As we had hired a car in Venice to travel across to Como, we thought “why not drive?”. Having driven the 37.5 kilometre trip which took the best part of an hour, I can give you an endless list of reasons not to drive! And in fact, we were talking to our Airbnb host, Edo, after we returned and he couldn’t believe I drove there and back.

Anyway, here’s my top 3 reasons why not to drive from Como to Bellagio:
1. The roads are narrower than you can ever imagine in all the small towns you pass through.
2. No matter how hard I tried, it’s really difficult to gauge the proximity to the right, causing my ever-patient navigator to say on a few occasions “you’re a bit too close” which is code for “you are about to make contact with a rock wall/guard rail/parked car/building”
3. there’s a bus and a boat, people!

And here’s Edo’s top reason not to drive – Italian drivers.

I was so busy driving that I didn’t have the chance to take a photo of the streets I drove on but that didn’t stop the car in front of me, slowing down to a stop and putting their camera out the window as they then drove on.

What I can say is that a trip on Lake Como, no matter where you start is worth it. If you imagine an upside-down “Y”, Como is at the south-western end of the lake and as you go further up, the other branch joins up and you see the snow-peaked alps to the north – simply breathtaking. Here is the view at Bellagio. Isabella – Edo’s wife – recommended Varenna as the destination so off we went on a ferry.

Our trip on the water was a series of picture-perfect experiences and the weather couldn’t have been better.


At Varenna I suggested a walk away from the pier to find a less touristy place for lunch – turns out there isn’t any so back down the hill we came to a lovely terrace. Here is the view from our table.

After lunch we wandered along the shoreline to walk off a few calories – for Tony and me this meant walking off pizzocheri which is a dish of buckwheat pasta from the north of Italy from where my father’s family comes.

My instinct tells me this little shop was selling lavender-related goods.




Then it was back on the ferry for our return trip to Bellagio – I couldn’t wait to get behind the steering wheel again!


What a fabulous day. Our host, Edo, lives downstairs and he popped in to give us some information. He had kindly given us a bottle of his favourite red wine – Montalcino – and so we shared a drink with him and learned about his and Isabella’s life. This has been one of the best Airbnb experiences we have had. Then to finish the night looking out to the dusk lights of Como – perfetto!

Venice

Venice is a magical city but for the locals, they can see their city being usurped by the tourists. Just to get on a vaporetto (water bus) is a hassle and having a quiet walk to St Mark’s Square for a coffee? Forget it, unless you are prepared to be on your way by 7.00 am.

So it was with mixed feelings that I found myself in Venice again – with the locals leaving in droves and 150,000 tourists arriving every day. And yet this city still mesmerises me, with its maze of streets (calles) in which you can find yourself lost at the turn of a map. There is also something about the light – maybe it’s the salt water in the air but there is a softness to the light that means that almost every photograph you take is amazing.

This was Helen’s first visit to Venice so when we arrived, I led her out of the train station onto the grand canal, with her eyes closed and when she opened them, she was astounded by the sight that awaited her. I stole this idea from someone who wrote about her first trip to Venice many years ago and I asked Helen if she would like to give it a try – as with the author of the article, the experience brought tears to Helen’s eyes.

We bought a vaporetto ticket that enabled us to travel for 3 days whenever and wherever we wanted. This, combined with our legs and maps, gave us the freedom to explore the city (and get lost).

Near St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) one of the places I had the opportunity to visit was the Doge’s Palace and it was amazing. The rooms are astounding – the largest being the Hall of the Great Council which housed up to 2,000 officials and is still one of the largest rooms in Europe. The Doge’s Palace also contained prison cells (Casanova was imprisoned here). There were other prison cells outside the Palace that were linked via the covered Bridge of Sighs – so named as prisoners were said to sigh as they saw their last view of the outside world through a small window in the covered bridge, following their sentence.

Then there is St Mark’s Square itself – if you get to visit Venice, I recommend you go to this Square early in the morning – there are no crowds, you may be lucky to experience the fog and, as Helen and I did the other morning, you could see a film crew, a large cruise ship and the manner in which goods must be unloaded and delivered to enable the crowds to get the services and goods they expect.





Here’s Helen taking in the scenery

And here’s some more of that view


Bologna and Ravenna

So now it was now time to commence the Italian leg of our travels. We left Paris, intending to walk up Avenue de l’Opera to catch the bus to the airport, only to discover it was blocked off. We noticed police cars on the back of trucks and thought it may have been a political rally ahead of the French presidential election but it turned out to be the filming of a scene from Tom Cruise’s next Mission Impossible movie.

Our next stop was Bologna – via Milano – where we were to meet up with our friends Colin and Helen. We had a few days in Bologna which, on the whole we found somewhat underwhelming. We visited the old university which was founded in 1088. Bologna is well known also for its food and here is an example of a prosciutteria.

We decided to spend one day in Ravenna – a town famous for its mosaics. Upon arrival at the Bologna train station, we found long queues everywhere. It turned out the server for the ticketing system (based in Rome) was having problems and the result was the dispensing of train tickets was very very slow. We finally got our tickets and went off on our 1 1/2 hour train trip to Ravenna.

There are five churches you can visit and the order in which we undertook our tour meant we finished with the most impressive. The ticket price of 11 Euros is well worth it.

We had a glorious day as we ambled through the old town centre. Ravenna is also the place of Dante’s death and you can visit his tomb. Dante is considered to be the father of the Italian language. Poor old Dante, he was banished from Florence in the early 1300s and it wasn’t until 2008 that the city council of Florence finally passed a motion rescinding Dante’s sentence (which was burning at the stake if he returned to Florence without paying his fine). We took a break in our viewing of the churches by stopping off for lunch in a lovely Osteria where we were well looked after. Then it was back to viewing the wonderful mosaics.

We finished at the baptistry – the jewel in the crown.

A Bientot, Paris

What a joy to be in Paris! But there were still so many things I wanted to see. Ah well, I’ll just have to return (again). However, in our last 24 hours in this beautiful city, there were a few things we could still see.

Ever since my last trip to Paris, when the metro I had been travelling on went through the Arts et Metiers station, I have wanted to walk on the platform and see the beautiful copper and details. This station is so named as it is near the Museum of Arts et Metiers. In 1994, the metro station was redesigned to take on the look of the science fiction works of Jules Vernes.

It really is beautiful.

We then walked on until we reached Rue Montorgueil, with its food markets and happening crowd – fantastique!.

Our next stop was the Printemps department store where I had read you can see beautiful views of Paris from the rooftop – where there is a cafe. Now this I found didn’t live up to my expectations. To use a Canberra analogy, I would say it would be like recommending that someone go to the rooftop of a building at Fyshwick to look across to New Parliament House. But maybe I have just been spoilt by all the wondrous sites and views and, really, for a free view of Paris, this isn’t too bad?

Then it was back to our apartment, in preparation for our departure late the next morning. And when that morning arrived, we took a metro trip to Canal Saint-Martin.This 4.5 kilomtere canal still has a series of locks and barges travel up and down. I believe the area was popularised following the release of the film Amelie. We enjoyed our walk and then finished off with a quick coffee, before collecting our luggage and heading for the airport.


Paris – a bit of culcha – Musee d’Orsay

We had tried a number of times to get to Musee d’Orsay but for one reason or other, it took our third attempt to finally succeed.
I had forgotten just how amazing this place is! I had been fortunate enough to visit it previously in 2014 with Jenny and Sue but this time there seemed to be more to see. If you like Impressionist art, this is the place for you. We started on the 5th floor where Tony syncrhonised his watch –

On this floor, you get to run through a chronological history of the Impressionist art movement.

I overheard one of these guys saying to the other “I may not know much about art but I know what I like”.

One obvious absence is women artists which is reinforced by this painting showing you that painting is serious men’s business –

And at the other end of the (same) spectrum is this painting by Manet which caused an outcry at the time – and in fact still does.

I write this post after having left Paris and visiting Bologna in Italy where I saw a series of posters cticising the objectification of women in art, with statements such as “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum? Less than 4% of the artists in the Modern Arts section are women, but 76% of the nudes are women”.

So whilst I’m not happy about the paucity of women artists and their treatment as objects, I still appreciate the talent of these artists at the Musee d’Orsay, especially some of my favourites such as Degas. I do love a good Degas and there are plenty from which to choose – from both paintings and sculptures.

With regard to his sculptures, many wax ones were found after Degas’ death and they were then used as the basis from which to create bronze sculptures.

All this art critiquing and appreciating can make a person hungry and we had earlier eyed off the pretty restaurant as we wandered between floors.

Anyway, a check of the local clock confirmed what our stomachs had been telling us – it was indeed time for lunch.

So off we went to eat.

And then as only any self-respecting tourist can do, we posed for our photo post-lunch. A perfect end to a wonderful bit of cultural exposure.

Paris – a bit of culcha – starting with Musee de l’Orangerie

Our next day in Paris, we arose, looking forward to a day of culture – including the paintings of Monet and jazz music. So we took a short walk to the Tuileries gardens where the Musee de l’Orangerie is located. One thing you can say about the French – they know how to keep their trees in line.

The Tuileries gardens are a real delight to wander through – and there are so many places to sit and enjoy the space which is so close to the centre of Paris.

The Musee de l’Orangerie was built in 1852 to shelter orange trees of the gardens. On April 12, 1922 Claude Monet signed a contract donating the Nymphéas series of decorative panels to the French government. These paintings were to be housed in the redesigned, oval rooms at the Orangerie. After his death in 1926, the paintings were placed there.

There also many other great impressionist works and budding artists have the opportunity to practise their skills.

We then walked on to the other side of the Seine River to see Les Invalides which was a project commenced under Louise XIV – a home and hospital for old and injured soldiers. About a century later, on 14 July 1789, Parisians seized cannons and muskets stored at Les Invalides and used them later that day against the Bastille. Then in 1840, Napoleon was entombed under the golden dome.

Les Invalides are surrounded by beautifully manicured gardens.

As we walked on through the nearby streets, we stumbled upon a lovely park where we enjoyed the sunshine and ate our lunch with the locals.

The park included some small community gardens

We then walked home to relax and get ready for our second foray into Parisian culture for the day – a jazz event which was held at La Petite Halle in the Villette arrondissement (situated in north eastern Paris). Here there are a number of musically significant venues, including the Paris Conservatory. We had organised attendance of this jazz concert through Airbnb. Two young French women (Caroline and Amandine) were our hosts and provided us with a great night of entertainment. They are both involved in the local jazz scene – Caroline as a singer and Amandine as a promoter of jazz

Caroline’s on youtube – here’s a link to one of her songs Caroline Porta

Amandine’s jazz media is Djam radio

First we listened to Panorama Circus and then to Logan Richardson’s masterful playing of the saxophone.

We enjoyed sharing this event with locals – another beautiful spring day in Paris.

Paris – Day 1 – Let’s Walk

What is there to write about Paris in the springtime that hasn’t already been written? Well what I can write is how incredibly lucky I am to be here again – and at this time of year. With only three full days in Paris, I had planned and thought about the places that Tony and I could go.

On our arrival yesterday evening, we were met by Laurent at his apartment very near to the Palais Royal. He had warmed up the apartment as it had been a particularly cold day. So today when we set out, we were “welcomed” by a very cool breeze – perfect walking weather! We walked through the Louvre so we could reach the Seine and try to remember how to get to our first stop.

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Our important first stop was a cafe we had visited with my sister and bro-in-law and then I had visited with Jenny and Sue. Cafeotheque

Well-caffeinated, we then walked onto Promenade Plantee , a 4.7km elevated linear park built on top of an old railway line.

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From there, we took another walk to Parc de Bercy . This project, instigated by President Mitterand, converted an old wine depot into three beautiful parks.

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Continuing on, we aimed for Gare de Lyon (one of the large train stations in Paris) as I had wanted to visit Le Trein Bleu – a beautiful restaurant at the top of the train station. However, first we took a “detour” and walked over Passerelle Simone-de-Beauvoir – an expansive bridge solely for pedestrians and cyclists across the Seine River. DSC00081

As we walked along the Seine, we passed the Josephine Baker pool – a giant barge that houses a floating swimming pool which is moored next to the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand.

Finally we arrived at Gare de Lyon and entered the glorious Trein Bleu which was first opened in 1901 and underwent renovations in the 2014. We ordered a (very expensive – or as they say in France “tres cher”) cup of tea and Perrier and thought about how hungry we were. We then went downstairs to the much less costly bistro – Montreaux Jazz Cafe – it was like being moved from first class to economy but the lunch was great.

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Last stop was Musee D’Orsay – however, on our arrival, I realised that I had left the tickets in the apartment so off home we set, via the beautiful Tuileries Garden. Never mind,the Musee D’Orsay – which houses a fantastic Impressionist collection of paintings – is open until late tonight, so we’ll go back. This will also rack up our walking tally to about 10 kms for the day.