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Milan, the fashion capital of Italia

"Frankly, Milan kind of sucks as a restaurant city. It's so fashion-obsessed that people don't pay that much attention to the food." ~ Joe Bastianich

overcast 15 °C
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Where did we stay? Ibis Ca'Granda

Duomo di Milan

At the heart of Milan, is it's beautiful cathedral. The square and area surrounding the cathedral is thought to have been the most important forum in Roman times. In Milan's case, all roads lead to the Cathedral, as all of Milan's streets either radiate from the cathedral or circle it.

The first buildings of the cathedral were built in 1386 and took 6 centuries to complete, only seeing completion in 1965. It is the largest church in Italy, with the largest church in the world being St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City.

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Climb the steps of Milan's cathedral and walk around on the roof to view some of the amazing spires and sculptures on the roof.

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La Scala Opera House

The world famous home of great Italian composers such as Verdi and Puccini. Scala means 'Staircase' in Italian and was named after the church, Santa Maria della Scala (Holy Mary of the Staircase), on which it is built. The peculiar name of this church comes from a mother who placed a statue of the Virgin Mary on her staircase, which she then believed cured her child from illness.

The opera house was opened in 1778 with an opera by Salieri, Mozart's rival. The opera house was closed from 2001 - 2004 to undergo major renovations. It was opened again in 2004 with the same Salieri work as in 1778.

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Fashion, fashion, fashion

In the 1980s, Milan became one of the biggest fashion capitals of the world, alongside cities such as New York and Paris, due to the success of Milanese fashion houses such as Armani, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana. In total a whole month a year is dedicated to fashion events such as the Milan Fashion Week. Famous houses such as Valentino, Gucci, Versace, Prada, Armani and Dolce & Gabbana are all headquartered in Milan.

Right off the cathedral square, you will find the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, completed in 1877, and one of the world's oldest shopping malls. The area principally contains luxury shops. In 2012, the McDonalds store in the mall, was denied renewal of their lease after 20 years and replaced with a Prada store. The amazing glass dome of the mall takes inspiration from the domes of cathedrals.

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Posted by Anja Fourie 02:02 Archived in Italy Tagged italy cathedral milan dolce gabbana versace la_scala Comments (0)

Lake Como

'Lake Como has always been a magnet for the elite." ~ Janine di Giovanni

sunny 17 °C
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Lake Como is the third largest lake in Italy and has been a popular retreat for aristocrats and wealthy people since the Roman times. Today many famous celebrities have houses at Lake Como including George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Helen Mirren and Woody Allen.

There are many towns that surround the massive Lake Como. We stopped at the town of Como, which is situated right at the southern tip of the lake, and about 1 hour from Milan.

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COMO CATHEDRAL

The cathedral is commonly described as one of the last Gothic cathedrals built in Italy. The construction on the cathedral was started in 1396, but was not finished until 1770.
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BRUNATE

Overlooking Como, is the little village of Brunate. It has a population of about 1800. From Como you can take the Como-Brunate funicular. The track is about 1km long and goes straight up the mountain side. It takes 7 minutes to reach the top. At the top you can see as far as the alps in Switzerland.

The route of the funicular up the mountain
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The view from Brunate
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Next stop: Milan

Posted by Anja Fourie 13:17 Archived in Italy Tagged italy cathedral como funicular lake_como brunate Comments (0)

Florence, The Cradle of the Renaissance

“Visiting Florence was like attending a surprise party every day.” ~ Jennifer Corburn

sunny 15 °C
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The playground of the Medici's, Da Vinci's inspiration, Dante's writing desk. The beautiful seat of the Renenaissance. This is Florence.

Where did we stay? Villa Saulina Resort Hotel
Read about my previous visit to Florence here: Florence and Pisa in one day...

"In fact, one of the reasons artists in fifteenth century Florence made such great things was that they believed you could make great things. They were intensely competitive and were always trying to outdo one another, like mathematicians or physicists today—maybe like anyone who has ever done anything really well." ~ Paul Graham

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STATUES OF FLORENCE

The Piazza della Signoria is an L-shaped square in Florence. It is overlooked by the Palazza Vecchio, the town hall of Florence. It was, and still is, the political hub of Florence. In the square many famous sculptures can be seen, such as Perseus with the head of Medusa by Benvenuto Cellini.

Persues with the head of Medusa
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A replica of the most famous naked man, Michelangelo's David, can also be seen in this piazza. It took Michelangelo three years to sculpt the 5.17m high sculpture from marble and itt weighs 6 tons. It was unveiled in the Piazza in 1504. In 1873 the statue was removed the square and placed inside the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence to preserve it from damage. During World War II, the entire statue was entombed in brick to protect it from any damage of airborne bombs. The replica, which still stands in the square today, is the exact size of the original and also stands in the same spot as the original used to stand many years ago.

The replica of David
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Statues of Dante and Galileo in the Piazzo
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THE PONTE VECCHIO and the VASARI CORRIDOR

The Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) crosses the Arno river at its norrowest point. The first bridge was built here in 996, but was destroyed by flood many times over the years. The current bridge was built in 1345. The bridge has always hosted shops. It used to be butcher shops, but over time changed to jewellers and trinket sellers.

It is here that the term bankruptcy originated from. Merchants used to sell their wares on tables on the bridge. If they could not pay their debts, the table on which he sold his wares would be physically broken by soldiers. This practice was called bancorotto, meaning broken table.

The Ponte Vecchio
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On the close-up of the Ponte Vecchio, a small row of windows is visible at the top. This is the Vasari Corridor. The ruling Florentine family in the 1500s, the Medici, did not want to walk in the streets from their residence, Palazzo Pitti, to the town hall, the Palazzo Vecchio. Over 5 months in 1565, the corridor was built above Florence. It snakes its way around towers, over houses and across the bridge. The secret passageway is approximately 1km long. Today the Vasari Corridor can be walked as part of a tour. The corridor can be spotted from street level by its small prison-like windows.

Small windows of the Vasari Corridor
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THE FLORENCE CATHEDRAL

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Driving into Firenze, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore takes your breath away. Its magnificent dome stands out above the red tiled skyline of Florence. The cathedral is one of the biggest attractions for tourists visiting Tuscany and it is not hard to see why. Inside the square, the massive cathedral feels squashed in. It dominates all of Florence. To this day, it remains the largest brick dome constructed in the world.

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GIOTTO'S CAMPANILE

Adjacent to the Cathedral is Giotto's Campanile / Giotto's Bell Tower. The tower is 87m tall and has a whopping 414 steps to the top. The problem with these steps are that they are very narrow, and with people coming up and down, this is a nightmare zone for claustrophobic people. If you are in any way claustrophobic, prone to panic attacks, or unfit, do not attempt this climb. The stairs are steep and very narrow, and many people have collapsed on their way up.

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When we finally reach the top, the view is definitely worth the climb.

Views from the top of the tower
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Next stop: Pisa and the Field of Miracles

Posted by Anja Fourie 07:30 Archived in Italy Tagged italy florence cathedral da_vinci Comments (0)

Barcelona!

"In Barcelona you will eat the best fish of the Mediterranean. Add to this the true art of preparing dishes, which I do not hesitate to call philosophic and Homeric." - Salvador Dali

all seasons in one day 29 °C
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With a population of approximately 3 million people, Barcelona is the most important city in Catalonia. It is also the administrative capital of Spain and the largest city on the Mediterranean Coast. In the early 1900’s the Nationalist party, led by General Franco, banned the Catalonian language. In 1975 Franco died and with the crowning of King Juan Carlos I, the Catalonian language and culture has been allowed to flourish again. The people in Barcelona are immensely proud of their Catalonian culture. Barcelona is also famous for being the host of the 1992 Summer Olympics. Montserrat Caballe, who famously sang the theme song of the '92 Olympics with Freddie Mercury, is from Barcelona. Barcelona is also the home town of the famous Surrealist artist Salvador Dali, Spanish soccer player Gerard Pique and Pablo Picasso moved here when he was 14 years old.

"Barcelona - How can I forget, Barcelona - Such a beautiful horizon." - Montserrat Caballe & Freddie Mercury (Barcelona).

Las Ramblas is a very popular area of Barcelona. Las Ramblas is in fact a series of short streets with different names, hence the plural name of Las Ramblas. It is a 1.2km long stretch of tree-lined boulevard that stretches from the waterfront right to Plaça de Catalunya, which is the Catalonian Square. This street is the centre of activity in Barcelona. It is very crowded and a lot of people just walk up and down, eating ice-cream, watching the human statues and drinking sangria. In Spanish rambla refers to an intermittent stream of water flow.

“It is the only street in the world which I wish would never end.” - Federico García Lorca (Spanish poet).

1. Las Ramblas
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At the beginning of Las Ramblas stands the Monumento a Colon. This is the Columbus Monument and stands at the place where Christopher Columbus returned to Spain from his voyage to the Americas. This was his most famous trip and the monument is a reminder that Columbus returned to Barcelona to report to Queen Isabella about his trip. The monument is a straight-up column of 60 metres with a decorated base of angels. Black lions flank the steps. A favourite photo moment seems to be to climb onto the lions. I almost tried to jump on a lion when no one was looking. In fear of flashing my bum or breaking my arm, I decided not to. The kid before me was crying so hard when his dad didn’t help him off and he had to jump off himself. Those lions are high. I suspect he may have broken something.

2. The Columbus Monument and Lion Climbers
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But, I quickly passed all of this to make my way to the Sagrada Familia. As Antoni Gaudi is a famous architect from Barcelona and this is one of his most famous works, this is probably what you have to see when you go to Barcelona. The walk is quite far, but instead of taking the subway, I walk to the cathedral and enjoy the scenery. Barcelona is a big urban city with a lot of beautiful, old buildings. It reminds me a lot of Cape Town. The difference is that the roads are much wider, where Cape Town has a lot of narrow one-way streets. The result is that you get this open feeling even though you are in the center of a big city. It's still early in the morning and shopkeepers are setting up for the day. A man is repainting the door to his shop after graffiti artists / vandals used it as a canvas for their Spray Can Expressionism.

I finally reach the cathedral after a 45 minute walk. The cathedral was started in 1882 and even though Gaudi died in 1926, it still isn’t finished to this day. I find it so ugly that I don’t even want to stand in the queue that stretches around the block. Just because something is famous, doesn't mean that it needs to be admired by all. I start to make my way back to Las Ramblas.

3. Outside the cathedral
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On the way back I walk past a little church. It is much smaller than the Gaudi cathedral, but it has a lot more charm. This is the church of San Francis of Sales. This is considered the masterwork of Juan Martorell Montells. He was Gaudi’s teacher and I am much more impressed by the master than the student. Yet again, a beautiful church that most tourists overlook. No entrance fee and no queue. Every time I am amazed how all these little churches on my trip brings me a sense of calm and how easily all the sound from the city outside is blocked out. All I'm hearing is the choir practicing in a room somewhere. No cars and no people. Just peace.

4. San Francis of Sales Church
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On the next few blocks across I walk across the Plaça de Catalunya. This is generally considered to be the city centre and the place where old and new meet. Most of the important streets of Barcelona meet here. Here are some beautiful statues of women, which seems to have a Greek influence. They are surrounded by beautiful fountains. I stand around a little and watch the kids, including the little Messi, chase the dozens of pigeons that crowd the square. As this is the home of FC Barcelona, the red and blue colours of the team can be seen throughout the city.

5. Placa de Catalunya
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6. Little Messi and his pigeons
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The shopkeeper I passed earlier today is still painting his door. Graffiti is scribbled everywhere, even on statues and buildings that are supposed to be part of their heritage and history. I rightly believe in freedom of expression, but vandalising beautiful old buildings does put a frown on my face. Today at the Plaça de Catalunya, graffiti actually made me laugh a little when I saw one of the female statues received a black spray can full of hair on her nether regions.

6. Artistic expression about body hair?
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7. La Deessa by Josep Clara
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I buy Stracciatella gelato and indulge in the heavenly hazelnut flavours. While eating I notice a group of photographers surrounding a couple. They must be someone famous, but I had no idea who it was. Every move they make sends the paparazzi into a frenzy, so I also jump into the crowd and try and take my photo. The combination of ice-cream in the one hand, camera in the other, shortness and ten other photographers pushing me around, made my first and last paparazzi moment a bit hard.

8. Some famous couple with the demon human statue
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9. Floating human statue
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I walk down Las Ramblas and sit at the Columbus Monument, eat my ice-cream and soak up some Vitamin D. I reflect on the brilliance of Barcelona. There are still tourists here, but they seem less than in Italy and the Spaniards are friendlier by miles. For lunch I buy a Falafel Shawarma at a little place for 4euro.

With Shawarma in hand, I walk through the St. Josep La Boqueria, a fresh produce market place. A variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and smoothies can be purchased here. The colours of the fruits and vegetables are so vibrant that they look like fake plastic food.

10. St Josep La Boqueria and its bright food
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I walk past H&M and have to pop into this massive 5 level store. The store is so crowded, with a million girls pushing each other out of the way and pulling clothes from racks like beasts. The reason: You can buy very cute dresses here from as little as 3euro. That is less than what my lunch cost! Exiting the store, it suddenly starts to rain. Totally unexpected to me, but the locals are ready and whip their umbrellas out. The good thing is that the rain leaves as quick as it came and clears up in less than 10 minutes.

11. Rainy Barcelona
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By that time I was exhausted and the time had come to, unfortunately, head back to the shuttle bus and leave magnificent Barcelona behind.

12. Last walk down Las Ramblas
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Next stop: Ibiza

Posted by Anja Fourie 05:00 Archived in Spain Tagged food barcelona olympics fruit spanish cathedral gaudi clothes meat lions sangria falafel la_boqueria smoothie las_ramblas plac_de_catalunya montells h&m freddie_mercury montserrat_caballe Comments (1)

Palermo, Sicily

"In Sicily, women are more dangerous than shotguns." - Calo ~ The Godfather.

sunny 28 °C
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Today we are docked in the darker part of Italy. Mafia country.

Palermo is the home of the Sicilian Mafia, also known as the Cosa Nostra. The city has a quiet, eerie feeling to it. The streets are emptier than all the other Italian cities I visited. Could this be an effect of the Mafia? Or is this merely a fantasy playing out in my head? There are apparently up to 4000 active members of the Mafia in Palermo. On my trip here, I try to spot a Mafia member or something giving away evidence of Mafia activity. I find nothing, but I guess that is the point. If I could point a Mafia member out from the crowd, he wouldn't be a very good Mafia member, now would he?

1. Docked at Palermo
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Compared to the famous cities of Rome and Florence, Palermo looks poverty stricken and dirty. Palermo is the largest city and port on the island of Sicily. It used to be a part of Greece and later became part of the Roman Empire. In 1861, Sicily became a part of Italy.

2. Post office of Palermo
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A tourist map shows eight places of interest in Palermo. I give the Marionette Museum and the Archaeological Museum a skip. I follow the map to Quattro Conti, the exact city center of the old Palermo. The four buildings surrounding the city center are all decorated with statues and carvings. On every corner in Palermo, there are also horse-drawn carriages that take you around the city for 5 Euro.

3. City center of old Palermo
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All of the carriage men try to get my attention. One whistles at me and I decide it is time to brave the heat of the summer day. I leave the shadow of the buildings and walk down the road to the next destination on my map. A man on a Vespa suddenly drives up the sidewalk right in front of me. My first thought is that he made an accident, but he turns around a throws a big smile at me. "Gelato?" he asks. It takes me a moment to realise he wants to buy me an ice-cream. I shake my head no and start to walk away. This does not discourage him at all. He starts to follow me on the sidewalk, slowly riding his pale blue Vespa behind me.

My next destination suddenly appears before me. The Cathedral. Sanctuary from Mr.Blue Vespa and sanctuary from the Sicilian heat. This 12th century Roman Catholic church, with architectural styles from the Middle Ages, shows a stark difference to the Renaissance flair of architecture in Florence or Pisa. The appearance is almost Gothic and Middle Eastern at the same time. This could be leftover from the time that Sicily was under Arab rule.

4. Cathedral and grounds
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Further down the street, the last thing to see is the Palace. I can't find a way into the palace, but with the sun bearing down uncomfortably on me, I didn't look too hard for an entrance either. I rather just stroll through the palace gardens. Later I found out that this is the current seat of the parliament of Sicily and not a tourist attraction.

5. The Palermo Palace and gardens
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Walking back I accidentally stumble upon the Piazza Pretoria. This is a beautiful fountain which was originally built for a villa near Florence, but ended up here. Somewhere down the street I walk into a church. This isn't even on the tourist map, but I go in anyway. Here I just sit down a little to get away from the heat. It is really quiet, peaceful and beautiful inside the church. The great thing about beautiful old churches are that they are tourist attractions, but generally do not ask any entrance money.

6. Piazzo Pretoria
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7. Inside the little church
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As I walk back to the port to return to the ship, I buy myself a bottle of water. The shopkeeper realises I am a tourist and that I don't speak Italian. "Where? Where?" he excitedly asks.
"South Africa." My answer is met with a blank expression. "Africa?" I try again.
His face lights up as I see understanding sinking in. Then, confusion. "But...uh...you...uh...white?"
"Yes." I smile. The language barrier is far too great to explain this one, so I just show him my R5 coin instead. It looks exactly like a 2 Euro coin. Both have a golden circle in the middle, surrounded by a silver band. He gets immensely excited about the coin and I give it to him to keep.
"Ah, I remember! I always remember!"

I say my grazies and my ciaos and the shopkeeper hurries outside to wave to me as I walk down the road. Sicilians are definitely a lot friendlier than main land Italians. I smile as I wonder if I would be part the dinner conversation that evening.

Next stop: Barcelona

Posted by Anja Fourie 14:43 Archived in Italy Tagged horses fountain florence cathedral dirty sicily friendly palermo Comments (3)

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