Categoria: Travel

Thoughts and tales about travelling

Waiting for better times

We can still hope and dream. Oh, and also join forces with fellows travellers. Here’s my latest collaboration, this time with I’m very proud to share with all of you my love for the Amalfi Coast, one of the places I love most in the world, not only because it’s exceptionally beautiful, but also because I live close by, thus I’ve got a lot of happy memories tied to it.

When will Italy reopen to tourists?

This is a question many of my foreign friends keep on asking me, and sadly, the answer is always the same: I don’t know. As in nobody knows. Summer 2020, together with the pandemic, gave birth so something which is like a big mystery to all of us, from politicians to tour operators, and of course common people. Since tourism in Italy is one of the main resources, and at the same time one of the sectors most affected by covid-19, I can see how everybody is worried and eager to restart, hoping at least to save the summer, since we already lost Easter Holidays and the whole spring. I lost count of the millions of euros wasted, thanx to the pandemic, which doesn’t mean that I find the restrictions unfair, on the contrary. We’ve lost too many lives, but it could’ve been so much worse without the lockdown.

Anyway, the problem still remains that even if the borders are technically open, many companies don’t fly to and from Italy anymore, and hotels and B&B are closed. Also, Italian museums will reopen no sooner that 18 May, restaurants at the beginning of June but it’s not clear how they’ll ensure enough distancing, so even if one can physically come to Italy, what would even be the point? By the way, who knows what will happen on the beach. While I can foresee some sort of ban for foreign tourists, at least for a few months more, I just can’t imagine Italian people not going to the sea in July or August, two months typically plagued by one heat wave after another.

Probably, if you are super rich and you own a luxury yacht you may still be able to visit Capri or Sardinia. Honestly I don’t know if I’d feel at ease in a place so hardly hit by such a tragedy, and so recently, but maybe it’s just me. If you don’t own a boat, anyway, I think the best choice is to enjoy your own country, which surely offers plenty of things to do and see, and deserves to be “saved” too. Given how covid-19 shattered every single country’s economy, we’ll probably turn lemons to lemonade if we travel local for a while, and help small business.

In the meantime we wait, plan and dream, i’s not as if we’ll never travel abroad again.

Music for the people

There are a lot of things I do while listening to music, from cooking to shopping, from tending to my plants to painting. Of course, since I often travel solo, I wouldn’t go far without my palylist(s), so I decided to share a few of my top 10, all kind of vintage, favourite songs.

And of course now I feel guilty because I had to leave out tons of titles and artists XD

Of course I’m always open for suggestions, so if you feel like sharing your own playlists go on, don’t be shy 😉

Procida, the hidden gem of the Gulf of Naples

Terra Murata

I’m really glad to be back blogging about travels, today, since this was the original, and main purpose of this blog. Despite covid-19, the lockdown and all that jazz I still want to travel. A lot. Of course not right now, but hopefully in August.

Everything is still confused here in Italy, nobody knows when we’ll be able to move around the country, let alone the world, so it’d be unwise to plan a two months trip to Madagascar right now. Living in the south of Italy, anyway, has its perks. The three small islands of the Gulf of Naple surely is one of them. Anyway, Capri is a wonder of nature, but definitely pricey, Ischia is usually crowded, so this leaves me with Procida. Let’s be clear, it’s not a makeshift! Procida is an absolute gem, totally underrated and sort of secluded from mass tourism, thus worth a vist or ten.

Its colorful, still tied to tradition, and the scent of lemons is everywhere. Il Postino by the late Massimo Troisi was shot here, among its narrow streets and almost desert beaches. Btw, it’s a wonderful movie, I strongly recommend it.

Marina Grande is Procida’s main harbor. It’s a village of multicolored houses crossed by a network of alleys full of restaurants and artisan shops. On everything stands the walls of a 12th century building, and the baroque bell tower of the Church of the Pietà. Another lovely medieval village is Terra Murata, right in the heart of the island, it offers a wonderful panoramic view because it’s built on the top of a hill, and just like the previous village it’s made by .a labyrinth of narrow streets. The third small village you just can’t miss is Marina Corricella, a mix of Italian and Arab architecture, with domed roofs and balconies closed by masonry arches, that are reflected in the crystalline sea. The last time I went there I was just a little girl, but I remember the fishermen repairing their nets, and the smallest, most lovely restaurants ever. It’s not that I’m against progress, but I hope that charming atmosphere is somehow still there.

It nothing changes drastically, I doubt I’ll be brave enough to go to the beach. Not that Procida doesn’t have a few amazing corner of paradise, it’s just that I don’t think that keeping a reasonable distance on a beach (in August) is possible. Anyway, there’s another way to enjoy the nature, and that way is definitely Vivara. Basically it’s what remains of the crest of an ancient volcano, as of today it’s a moon shaped islet connected to Procida via a bridge. Most importantly it’s also a magnificent protected area. You can truly be in contact with nature, dive to admire the underwater archaeological finds or even do some whale watching. Dolphins are pretty common in the area too, actually it looks like one of the most important colonies of the Mediterranean Sea lives just nearby. I just hope that the unavoidable crowd of the summer doesn’t scare them too much!

China, I still love you

A few days ago I came across this video made by Chinese students in support of Italy amid the coronavirus outbreak. Maybe I was tired of my quarantine, or just a bit emotional, but after 10 seconds I started to cry. I don’t cry easily, many things move me but to get to the point of actual tears, well let’s just say it takes a lot. Anyway, I reached the end of this video and I felt somehow lighter, more serene, even happier and surely grateful. Probably I just needed an outlet for my worries, bore and so on. Anyway I wanted to share my relief and newly found positivity in the comment section but of course, of course, it was full of vaguely (or not so vaguely) racist comments and I thought, how could I’ve been so naive! How could I possibly forget that while most people, in this period, talk about union and solidarity, the ignorants are still out there, are still the louder, and are still eager to point the finger, anxious to find someone to blame. The fact that this someone is Chinese (or at least not white) is really the icing on the cake. I also thought, then, how it is possible that someone in their right mind could really think of blaming every single Chinese person for this pandemic? Almost two billion people, all of them guilty? Because obviously Chinese citizens have been very happy to get sick with Covid-19, die, close all their commercial activities and so on. So happy to the point that they wanted to make the same gift to us too, perhaps because Italy and China are commercial partners and Italy has a “communist” past which is also quite recent.

For my part, even in the remote hypothesis that covid-19 was actually created by mad scientists I have, thank God, still enough brain to know that the Chinese people have suffered as much as the rest of the world is suffering now. That a whole nation could not, in any case, be held responsible (and therefore punished), for the faults of a few. However, I still believe that this pandemic was just a bad, very bad accident, and since this is still a travel blog, let’s talk a bit about travel too.

As soon as it’ll be safe again, and as soon as I’ll have enough money, I’ll totally go to China. For the awesome landscapes and the ancient culture, but if this also spites the racists, well, it’s even better. Zhangjiajie and Avatar mountains, of course, will be part of the tour, but to see Lí Jiāng on a boat has been one of those things on my to do list since for ever. And what about Suzhou and Hangzhou? I’m literally drooling just thinking about it.

Obviously I want to see the Great Wall as well as the Forbidden City, I’ve never been against main stream attraction anyway, mostly because there’s a reason if they are main stream. Since it’ll be my very first time in China it seems only fair to start from the fundamentals. I have to say my confusion about the exact geography and distance between all those places is great, and of course I have zero idea about the possible connections. At least I’ve still got plenty of time to study a suitable itinerary.

In the meantime I hope everybody in the whole world is holding on. This will pass, we’ll travel again 🙂

Will coronavirus stop the travellers?

Well, not to be blunt, but apparently yes, especially if you’re italian. Like me. 18 countries have restricted access to people from Italy due to the infamous coronavirus, some of them forbid the access entirely. Others are telling people not to come here because it’s (supposedly) too dangerous. Cancelled planes, forced quarantene and other similar amenities are the very first consequences after just one week from the first outbreak of the virus. My guess is that it’ll get worse before getting better.

It’s not that easy to move around Italy itself as well. Milan was like a zombie town at the beginning of the week and this saddens me a lot. It’s not my city, but it’s still a place I hold dear, besides it has been proven by people much smarter than me that to panic about Covid-19 is completely useless.

Btw I had scheduled a trip to Milan right in the middle of March and I don’t know if I’ll be able to go. Probably not if nothing drastically changes in the next two weeks. Let alone the waste of money, I should’ve gone to the Lake of Garda, which is absolutely lovely and I was looking forward to see it again after, more or less, 15 years since the last time. I’m officially disappointed, now, mostly because I really don’t know when I’ll get another chance!

I won’t even start about Venice and the Carnival, one of the most beautiful events in one of the most charming cities in Italy. They had to cancel it and people up there who live on tourism lost tons and tons of money. Now, I know this will pass and I know there’re places in the world where people get it much worse on a daily basis, but Italy is my country, it really saddens me a lot to see it going down like that, especially because too many people in Italy or not basically overreacted. I hope we’ll all be fine soon, and I mean all of us, Italian, Chinese, Iranian, Japanese and so on.

In the meantime be strong, be smart, don’t panic and keep your finger crossed just in case, everything will be fine!

When you can’t travel…

…Go to see art!

It’s an excellent way of enrich yourself and still travel, in a different sense. You’ll move around just a few kilometers but you’ll see, you’ll learn, you’ll be moved or even get excited. An emotional journey is still a journey.

In case someone is wondering, this is Santiago Calatrava, on exhibit in Naples Capodimonte Museum. One of my favourite architect ever, in one of the most amazing museums of Italy. About that, it may be not famous as the Uffizi Gallery, it may not be so well connected like MANN, but it is totally worth a visit. If you happen to be in Naples don’t miss it!

San Gimignano, of stone towers and owls

It was a middle winter evening and I was driving in the sunset, deep in the green heart of Tuscany, looking for a tiny village called San Gimignano. I was almost the only one on the road and I was feeling lonely, so I turned the radio on. Don Hanley started to sing Hotel California right when up ahead in the distance, I saw some shimmering lights, and I had to laugh at the coincidence. I was also glad that my destination was in sight, so I could finally stop for the night.

The lights of the small town stood out at the top of the hill like a crown on the head of the King of Giants, guiding travellers like a swarm of shooting stars. I still took the wrong turn and ended up driving inside the city walls. It was forbidden, of course, but it was an honest mistake, one that happened often enough to tourists who trusted the GPS too much.

Or so I’ve been told.

I still had that song in my head when a kind guy welcomed me. He’d waited long enough in the cold, right outside San Gimignano’s medieval walls, to lead me to my hotel. He laughed indulgently, though, when he knew why I was late.

This is how my trip began, at the end of a quiet January day, when the fuss of the Christmas holidays had calmed down and there were only a few tourists around.

I’d planned to have dinner and bury myself under a pile of blankets, so I could wake up early in the morning, but the excitement of finally being there again, together with the burst of energy that only fresh air can give me, brushed away any trace of sleep and tiredness.

I went out again, I’d missed that place and I didn’t even know it. The first and only time I was there I was still a little girl who wasn’t even allowed to cross the road without holding her parents’ hand. I remembered only narrow uphill roads and the tall stone towers for which San Gimignano is famous. It’s strange to see how everything seems to shrink when you grow up, it always catches me off guard. The climbs of course were still there, but they didn’t seem so steep any more and the towers were still imposing, but they didn’t seem so high. It was a bitter-sweet feeling that made me vaguely nostalgic, so I did what I usually do when I need to clear my mind and lift my mood: I walked. I went all around the village, simply strolling without a destination, curious to discover the most remote corners and the most unusual views, and planning to leave the main attractions for the following day.

San Gimignano’s night was silent and peaceful, almost mysterious and therefore, perhaps, even more fascinating. The light from the street lamps gave the illusion that the walls of the buildings were made of amber instead of simple stone, and only rarely did I meet other passers-by. We greeted each other with a nod and kept going with our noses buried in our scarves.

I wandered like that until I reached the walk on the walls where, according to the map, there was supposed to be an amazing viewpoint. It was there, obviously, but it just hadn’t occurred to me that nothing would be seen after sunset, except the great ocean of darkness in which I had travelled until a couple of hours before. At least the starry sky of that cloudless night was a sight to behold. I stood looking at it for a long while despite the cold that turned my breath into thick clouds of smoke, in the company of a stray who refused to be petted, but stood there with me the whole time.

I salute you, my surly companion, I hope life is treating you well.

The next day started with a crispy air and a sparkling sun, courtesy of a particularly mild winter. With one cappuccino too many in my stomach I went back more or less the same way of the previous night. Under the daylight San Gimignano looked different, not better or worse, but certainly different. There were more people, of course, and the shops were open, but it was still low season so I was able to enjoy the walk through the narrow streets of the 13th century in perfect tranquillity. Even the shopkeepers were less stressed and more inclined to chat, an occupation, this one, always held in the highest regard in Italy, especially in small towns. I love it, some of the best stories I’ve ever heard came from perfect strangers, and they were probably invented, but that’s never been an issue for me.

Tuscany in particular seems made for this, enjoying the sun which makes the green hills of Chianti shine, and stop from time to time to talk to the locals. All of it without any hurry, as if time were meaningless.

I wasn’t asking for anything better, by the way. I had fled the big city, whose chaos amuses and entertains me most of the time because I needed a break, I needed human contact and in addition I love craftsmanship and I love food. From this point of view, but also from many others, San Gimignano was basically the promised land. One can very well imagine how long it took me to go the short distance from the main gate in the walls to the main square. It was a line-up of pretty, small shops; some of them were the classic tourist traps, I’m sorry to say, but others were true Italian artisan shops, where I filled my eyes with wonder and tasted the thousand flavours of the incomparable Tuscan cuisine.

I’m a big fan of the red wine of Chianti, of the typical cured meats, and of the sweet panforte as well. This time, however, my shopping was of a completely different nature, thus gave my trip a completely different meaning, but I’ll be back on this topic in a while.

There is so much to see in San Gimignano, especially considering how small a village it is. I started with Piazza del Duomo, one of the most important squares, which hosts the Cathedral with its outstanding cycle of frescoes by Ghirlandaio. Right in front of it stood Torre Rognosa, the clock tower and one of the highest in town. Between the two of them there was the Town Hall with the sacred art museum and a large loggia where some not so charming plastic chairs had been made available for those who want to stop for a sandwich, or simply to contemplate the beauty of the place. I preferred to keep on walking, so I headed to Piazza della Cisterna, a bigger square with an octagonal stone well in the middle, and a few Christmas decorations still in place. Those two squares are considered the main attractions of San Gimignano, but in my opinion the intricate network of stone-paved alleys is absolutely not to be missed. They go up and down the hill and eventually lead to another awesome church, Sant’Agostino, famous for the sculptures of Andrea della Robbia, among the other things.

That day I was finally able to enjoy the fantastic panoramic view too. When the air is clear and there’s no fog on the horizon the view extends for miles and miles, along the green velvet hills and the tall cypresses. Most definitely another must see.

As it turned out, my favourite place in San Gimignano, although not far from the centre, was actually outside the walls.

It’s called Fonti Medievali, Mediaeval Fountains, and the previous night I’d completely missed it because the public lighting didn’t reach so far. I stopped at the top of a very dark and very steep road and it almost felt like being on the edge of a precipice, so basically I cowardly turned my tail and went back on the main street. During the day the feeling wasn’t very different, though. I’m telling you, the way down is really steep. Luckily it didn’t snow and the ground wasn’t icy, otherwise it’d have been quite the task to go back up again. Provided that one had managed to get down in one piece.

The Fonti were made of big rectangular stone basins dugged into the side of the hill, almost completely covered with soft moss. They were separated by arches and columns which reflected in the still, clear water. Everything was perfectly proportioned, everything conveyed a sense of balance that wasn’t meant to surprise but to enchant with its grace. In the icy water a few large carps swam, apparently very hungry. In a place like that I wouldn’t have been surprised to spot a few fairies too.

Sadly, that was my last stop, my trip had to continue to Volterra, which wasn’t bad at all and totally worth my time, also thanx to the dear friends I met, but San Gimignano conquered a special place into my heart. I’ve been told that people stay there for half a day, mostly, but in my opinion it deserves so much more. One whole day and a night weren’t enough for me. The art masterpieces just need to be enjoyed regardless of the clock, and it’s nice to stop here and there to take pictures of the umpteenth stone door, or of the tiny balconies, or even of the wrought iron lampposts. I, for once, also had fun daydreaming in front of some amazing abandoned houses. There are things that just can’t be rushed.

I mentioned before one thing that made my trip a little more special, so here it is. When I first came to San Gimignano with my family my mum bought me a small marble owl. In those days, for some reason, marble owls, together with marble eggs, were extremely popular in all the souvenir shops of Tuscany. As it turns out, they still are. Too many things changed since then, but decades later I still have the owl my mum bought me, so now I wanted another one. Why, exactly, I don’t know. In a hurry, just a few minutes before the time scheduled for my check-out, I entered the very fist souvenir shop I came across. So much for not rushing things, I know, but when I left with my acid green, funky little owl, I felt happy, and somehow accomplished.

After all it’s always the little things, right?

Tivoli, as promised

Horribly late again, I know that. In my defense I’ve to tell you that so far my 2020 has been pretty turbulent, both in a good and in a bad way. Let’s go back on topic anyway.

The first thing I did in Tivoli was run! One of the main reasons for me being there was Villa d’Este and I knew the garden would close pretty soon, plus on New Year’s Day basically everything is closed. It was more or less a now or never situation. Despite it being pretty cold I arrived at my B&B literally drenched in sweat because not only did I run, I run on a steep climb which turned out to be the wrong one. So after that I had to run some more, this time on a flight of steps. Since apparently I can run faster than I thought, I arrived before the owner, who I couldn’t call on the phone due to total lack of signal, so I had to ask a nearby bar where a kind guy pointed me to the owner’s mum’s house. I forgot to be shy, rang the bell and finally had my room in the prettiest, cozyest B&B ever!

When I arrived at Villa d’Este I realized my phone was almost dead, so I had to limit the pictures, which I hate on one hand, on the other hand I’ve to admit it wasn’t bad at all to simply enjoy the place without a camera always in my hand. Ah, the charm of traveling old style! After all I still managed to take a few nice pics so I’m satisfied. The interior of that beautiful, ancient house has some amazing ceilings, but is pretty much empty, infact for me the best part is the garden. It’s huge, with many many fountains, one more outstanding than the other, baroque sculptures, and panoramic views. I’m sure that by night, with the lights on, it must look like a dream. They allow visits by night only during the summer, anyway, what a pity. Not that I’m complaining, I had the luck to be there in a wonderful, sunny winter afternoon, and let me tell you, the sunset was so beautiful I almost cried. About that, there’s a roof terrace where you can enjoy a 360° view. Try to be there in time for the sunset, you won’t regret it!.

There are other two villas and an ancient temple to see in Tivoli, but they’re closed during winter holidays, so I could only see them from the outside. Anyway the town’s historical center is small and pretty and one can simply stroll around the narrow lanes and just enjoy being there. For some reasons it looks like the locals are very fond of pizza. I mean, sure, that’s Italy for you, but I was still impressed by the number of pizza places I came across. I tried a few and I was pretty satisfied with my purchases.

After that I spent the most important midnight of the year in the main square. There was music, people, a small ice rink and a friendly, lively atmosphere. I didn’t stay very long because I had a small trekking planned for the next day, besides it was really cold, at least by my standards. The trekking proved to be a little disappointing, though, probably because I was simply tired from the night before, but the sun shone bright and I stopped to bask in it for a while on a big, square, white rock. It was worth it, in the end.

An advice for myself now. Small towns like tivoli tend to keep all of their attractions closed on the main holidays, so it’d be wiser to go on normal week ends.

New year’s eve for single ladies

As usual I find myself starting this story from afar, but I’ll try to keep it short. Well, a long time ago, when I was a teen ager, I loved last year’s celebrations very much. I didn’t go to clubs and I didn’t spend uncanny amounts of money in fancy restaurants, I usually had a very abundant dinner with my enlarged family, then went out with my friends after midnight. This was more or less the italian tradition. Time passed by and we all get a bit older, which was even better because it was dinner with friends and a party at home soon after. As it happens, yet more time passed by, so friends were tired an started to claim they wanted to go to sleep right after midnight, then some of them had children and all that jazz. I found myself associating boredom, loneliness and depression with one of the holidays I used to love the most. For a period I told myself, give it a rest, this is just how life goes! Then I changed my mind. I started to tell myself I’m still alive, I want to do things, I want to be happy now! So what saved me from all this decay? As usual, the solution is within ourselves, it only takes a small act of will. I truncated that sort of umbilical cord that tied me probably too tightly to my friends, people I still love more than my own life, with whom I don’t have so much in common anymore, and I started reorganizing myself, for myself, by myself. You should never, ever, delegate your happyness to other people, not even in small things such these.

Well, last year I found a small agency that organized dinners and parties for people who never met each other before. It was fun! I made some new friends and got the chance to wear my favourite dress, the dinner was great and we partied almost all night. This year, tho, I find myself running out of the necessary amount of energy to interact with brand new people. I’m basically an introvert, so making friends doesn’t always come naturally to me and I decided to do what I always do when in doubt. Travel!

My first step will be the little, lovely Tivoli, near Rome. Easy to reach by train from Tiburtina Station, not too expensive and surely equipped with some amazing gardens and ancient villas to see. I honestly don’t know why I never went there before, there’s so much to see and I even found a lovely apartment to rent. I’m almost more excited about that than all the things I’m going to see! Soon after I’ll go to San Gimignano, Tuscany, where I’ll even meet two friends I didn’t get to see since last year. Now, San Gimignano is really, absolutely a must see if you happen to be in Italy. It’s probably on every, single travel guide and if you go there you can see why. It’s a small medieval town, with stone towers, narrow streets and amazing art hidden inside the churches. The last time I went there I was a little girl of maybe ten, so I remember almost nothing, but I still have a small, marble owl my parents bought me as a souvenir. The only flaw, maybe, is that the ancient burgh is not immediately linked to Florence. You can still get there by train+bus, so this is not even a real problem, and probably it’s even easier to reach if you’re in Siena.

Well, of course I’ll be back on this topic probably at the very beginning of 2020 and hopefully with some nice pic to show you. Let’s hope the weather will have mercy.