Procida, the hidden gem of the Gulf of Naples

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!

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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?

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A day to remember

Aaros Museum
Rainbow Terrace

I always thought that the best test to see how much a place, a person or an experience has affected me is to let time go by. I get excited quite easily but more often than not it’s just a flash in the pan, then it’s over. If after a few weeks or months the memories (either good or bad) are still vivid, my mind keeps on going there at the most random moments, then I know that that experience really did something for me.

Well, looks like ARoS Museum in Aarhus, Denmark, is one of those places destined to stay close to my heart for a long long while. I’ll be honest, Aarhus is not my city. I mean, it’s a nice, lively and interesting place, I enjoyed my short time there and even tasted a wonderful ice cream, but I couldn’t feel the spark, so to speak. Nevertheless, I totally, absolutely, greatly enjoyed the Museum of Modern Art, a place that in my almost total ignorance of that particular city, I didn’t think I’d find there. Luckly my friends in Aalborg pointed me in the right direction.

Mind you, it’s sort of pricey (like many other european museums), but it’s also huge, so you’ll find it’s worth the money. About that, keep in mind you’ll have to spend a few hours there, if you want to see it all, it’s totally worth the time too, just remember to plan your trip carefully if you don’t have much time.

Before anything else, you have to experience the Rainbow Panorama on the terrace of the 10th floor. It’s a 360° view on the city through colored glasses. Very fun and, I’d say, cinematographic. I have seen it on a cloudy day, I can only imagine how amazing it has to be when it’s sunny. Anyway, forget any maturity you may posses and abuse your selfie stick, you’ll hardly be the only one. Another very enjoyable experience is right on the ground floor, where you’ll find a permanent collection of sound, lights and installations. Many of them are interactive, others are just stunning. Again, you may want to spend an inordinate amount of time down there.

On the 6th floor you’ll find the awesome, albeit sort of intimidating, work of Ron Mueck. If I remember correctly it’s not permanent, so hurry up if you’re interested. I think it’ll stay untill the end of 2020. And if you are a 20th century history freak like me, don’t miss Before the Fall of the Wall, another non-permanent installation whose title is kind of self explenatory.

There are so many other things worth mentioning, but really, it’s hard to describe the whole museum into details. There’s so much to see, experience and enjoy. And to buy too, the bookshop is a never ending temptation, as it should be!

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There is something about fall

And that something is color. The beauty of summer sunset can be simply moving, and the sparkling white of the snow is incredibly pretty. Let alone the joy that only spring flowers can bring. Yet, the warm color of the autumnal nature is the best thing in the world, for me. It makes me dream of long nights spent reading in front of the fireplace, or collecting mushrooms with granpa.

I live in a flat in the middle of the big city so I don’t own a fireplace, and I doubt I’d survive mushrooms collected by myself, but I’m a walker. I run from the city whenever possible and my natural habitat of choice is the forest. There’s nothing better than an easy, relaxing trekking among tall trees, when the sun is in the sky and the air is crisp but not cold yet. Fall is perfect for this, so I organized a trip a couple of weeks ago. I was with some friends and a kid, so we choose a level path called La Camosciara. It’s part of the Abruzzo, Campania and Molise National Park, in the south of Italy. It’s really suitable for everyone, this means that you don’t really have the feeling of being completely surrounded by nature because for the most part you walk on the asphalt, but I still strongly recommend it.

A small river runs close by the main road, the water is liquid crystal and all around there are all kind of threes and plants. The river bank is the perfect place to have a small pic-nic and rest for a while, if you feel hungry. You sit on a soft blanket of leaves, and the smell of wet soil is incredibly good, feels like something pure and clean. It’s somehow revitalizing. There are tiny fish swimming in the water, it’s fun to try and feed them with crumbles, even if they seem to like insects better. Back on the path the trees make just the right amount of shade so that you can even choose if walking under the sun or not. In October the foliage is a glorious red and orange and gold, and all the shades in between. A truly stunning view. There’re actually mushrooms, a lot of mushrooms, some of them so small and perfectly shaped they looked like they came from a fairy tale. There are supposed to be chamois, in the area, and boars, wolves and all sorts of wild life as well, including the Marsicano bear, the symbol of the park and its mascotte. We weren’t so lucky to meet any animal, tho, I guess they prefer not to interact with humans too much, and I can’t even blame them. Birds are less problematic in this respect, so small hawks were easy to spot, and this is always a huge emotion for me.

The last part of the walking path is a short and undemanding climb that crosses the woods (no asphalt here, yay!) and leads to a couple of waterfalls. The first one is thin and you can’t really reach the water. The second one is bigger, the water runs on huge, white rocks that looks like giant eggs. There is a short dry stone wall easy to climb, if one feels like it, but the wet rocks are really slippery, and they form a very steep climb.

I’m quite sure there are other paths close by, leading up to the mountains that surround the area, but this time I didn’t get to explore them. I guess I’m not adventurous enough to go around with the wrong shoes and without a map. On the other hand there’s a tiny restaurant/bar, not far from the waterfalls, with a huge stove inside that takes almost half of the room. The warmth is a nice feeling after walking in the woods all day, the muscles seem to relax all at once. The owner of the place is a lovely lady who also sells postcards, a true rarity these days. She has some souvenirs, too. Some of them are kitch enough to be funny, and thus worth the money! It’s the right place if one wants to enjoy some hot, sweet tea, always a good way to end a fall afternoon.

So what’s the point of all of this, besides the obvious will to share a lovely experience? Well, the point is to share also a bit of love for the most underrated season. Come on, people, autumn is pretty and deserves better!

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Once upon a time in Blokhus

I woke up on a sunny morning of one of my free days with a nasty pain in my back and an annoying foot injury that I had gotten myself a couple of days before, but I had planned for a long time to dedicate that day to Blokhus, a small town on the west coast of Jutland and I didn’t want to give up the trip. It was also one of my unlucky days, one of those where I couldn’t find any kind soul that could give me a ride, so I took the bus. Not that it’s a problem, the connections up there are pretty good.

I literally dragged myself all day, with the frustration of being able to move at half the speed I usually move, which in any case is not that much, but in the end, as always, it was much better to go than to not go.

First things first, Blokhus has a fabulous beach, but unfortunately for a southern girl the Danish sea is too cold, so no bath for me and not even a bit of tan, mainly because the morning was cloudy, but also because I had three layers of clothes on me an the idea of being half naked in the wind didn’t seem very appealing. The city center is not that impressive, I have to say. Just bar, restaurants, tons of souvenir shops and If you know where to look a couple of very nice craft shops. The fun part is right out of the town, some 3 or 4 kilometers, I guess.

The small Museum for Papirkunst is indeed tiny but it’s one of the loveliest places I’ve ever been. It’s like entering into a fairytale, a world made by hand carved paper artwork and lights arranged so as to create wonderful plays of shadows. The atmosphere is that of a relaxing dream, a really nice place to simply be and to let your imagination fly. It’s funny that just a few minutes away you can enter a totally different world, the Skulpturparken, an oper-air museum all dedicated to sand, wood and concrete sculptures. It gives a bit of a beach party vibration despite not being on the beach. The difference is that you are surrounded by eccentric, original and fun sculptures instead of half drunken people dancing like mad. It feel like a fairytale too, but more metal so to speak. Maybe it’s also just a little bit kitch, but that’s definitely part of the fun. And if you stop to truly ponder on what you’re looking at, you’ll see that each sculpture requires a great amount of skills to be realized, so respect for the artists, really. If you happen to be a nerd like me you’ll also find plenty of references to books and movies. I’m still asking myself if that was made on purpose or if I was just seeing what I wanted to see.

Anyway the point is, if in Jutland, go to Blokhus!

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Is traveling to Russia dangerous?

Hint: NO

I’m writing this because not so many days ago a friend of mine asked more or less this same question. And I won’t lie, I asked myself this too when I was planning my first trip to Moscow/S.Petersburg. Back then I knew almost nothing about Russia, apart from the things you can usually read in history books and that they have some amazing novelists. Anyway, what I found on the internet wasn’t always encouraging, especially if you are a woman. Most people were just as enthusiastic as I felt, but every now and then I came across people who suggested to only go with tour operators so that they’d take you to the main attractions and pick you up soon after (boooring!), even in the main cities. They also said to not wander the streets after the sunset (!), to not look at the policemen too much (!!) and stuff like that.

Now, since I’ve always been in love with Russian culture of course I decided to go and ignore all the scaremongering. Plus I’m from a city that sadly has a quite high crime rate so it’s not like I’m a naive woman who can’t tell a bad neighborhood apart from a good one and I’ve been to almost every big town of Europe so I know how it works.

Granted, the very first thing that happened right after getting on the train from S.Piet’s airport to the town’s center was that my friend got robbed! Anyway, at home I was robbed ten meters from my own house, I’ve witnessed bag-snatches in Lisbon, Paris (twice), Madrid. Bad things happen all over the world and big towns are almost never entirely safe.

Apart from that single episode on the metro my (our) perception of danger has been basically non-existent. Moscow and St. Petersburg are two incredibly beautiful cities, full of history and life and also quite tiring because of the long distances, so make sure you have very comfortable shoes. It is enough to use common sense and the normal precautions that would be used in any other huge city. I mean, I wouldn’t go and stare at policemen anywhere. Even traveling on the night train that connects the two cities, in second class, was fun and safe and as comfortable as it can be. Actually, the beds are even a little wider than those I found on other trains in the rest of Europe.


When I left Moscow it was dawn, the sky was pink and the city lights were still on. I swallowed my tears because I didn’t want to look like a fool in front of the taxi driver, but I miss Russia so much, and I’m planning to come back soon, probably for a trip a little more focused on natural landscapes.

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Missing Tokyo

Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo

Sometimes I feel randomly nostalgic and today it just happens to be one of those days. Maybe because I recently met some of my old and best travel buddies, who I miss all the time since we are scattered all over Italy, or because it’s been a while since my first time in Japan. Or simply because I enjoyed Tokyo so much a bit of nostalgia was to be expected anyway.
I can’t honestly say that Tokyo was a place where I was extremely happy. There have been other travels, before, where I felt more at peace with myself. Anyway I loved that town, I still do, it made me feel small but at the same time protected. And I never felt lost. Now I long for the huge neon signs, for the crowded metro, for a language I can’t understand but I love the sound of.
Maybe because it’s a city with two souls, as cliché as this may be, an old one and a modern one, both wings and roots, just like me. I’m convinced there are places we share a connection with, every single one of us has a few even if sometimes we don’t notice it.
Tokyo may be just one of those places for me.

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