Puccini, Son of Lucca…

Italy, Lucca, Tuscany

A bronze statue sits in front of his childhood home at Corte San Lorenzo, Fragments of his life are scattered throughout the province of Lucca. His music is known all around the world and he is arguably the greatest Italian composer of all time. He is Giacomo Puccini, (not to be confused with the opera singer Pavarotti!)… Famous for his late-19th century romantic Italian operas such as La Bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Turandot and one of the most famous arias ever written, Nessun Dorma. (You might have heard it being sung at football matches.)

 

The home he grew up in has been restored in the style of the mid-nineteenth century and made into a small museum with a pretty little garden, You can walk through the rooms of the house, where there are displays of manuscripts and music scores from his operas, as wells as photos and paintings. Each room has a small description of what the room was used for (written in both Italian and English), The highlight for us was seeing the very same piano on which he composed Turandot, There is also some interesting costumes from his operas, and various other memorabilia.

His lake side home where he lived and worked on his major operas is in nearby Torre del Lago, what was once an old watch tower and his beloved home is now his final resting place and a museum. Every year during the summer months the Museo Villa Puccini holds a Puccini Opera Festival, held in the outdoor theatre overlooking the lake, Puccini fans can hear some of his famous operas performed by the very lake where he composed them.

The city of Lucca embraces him as a favourite native son, and its a wonderful joy for any opera fan and if you wish to visit the area there is the aptly named piccolo hotel Puccini just around the corner from his childhood home!

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Top 3 Italian Festival In February

Italy, Tops 5/10, Travel, Travel Tips

Its February and as the Venetians are wearing their masks, the people of Ivrea begin to battle it out with oranges, City streets all around Italy take on an energetic party atmosphere. Colorful characters dance in the street, highly decorative floats make their way though towns and everywhere wakes up from its winter slump……the Carnevale has come to Italy!!!

The world famous Carnevale is celebrated in Italy 40 days before Easter, with parades, masquerade balls, entertainment, music, and parties. Marking the beginning of lent and ending on shove Tuesday (which is more commonly know as pancake day), the celebrations are spread over a number of days (even weeks in some cities). Because the date of Easter changes each year, so does the date for Carnevale. This years official Carnevale is on February 17th.

If your lucky enough to be in Italy this month, Here’s just a few festivals that might be worth a visit…..

1. Venice – Italy’s biggest carnival is held each year, beginning at end of January and ending in mid Feb it attracts Thousands of tourists to Venice to see the whole city turn into a asked ball. As the tourists watch from the gondolas, the locals walk around in baroque fancy-dress party and possibly attend one of the many elaborate balls. There is a spectacular opening ceremony, the Flight of the Angel as well as music, street performers, jousting competitions and during the last week of the carnival there is a contest for best mask, which is judged by a jury of international fashion designers.

2. Viareggio – Every Sunday in February the streets of this Tuscan seaside resort come alive, attracting over a million people the huge parade of floats and gigantic papier mâché figures make their way along the seafront. the giant dolls represent figures from fairy tales and the world of politics, after the impressive parade has made its way down the promenade there is food, drink and fireworks.

3. The Battle of the Oranges, Ivrea, – The Spanish throw tomatoes and the Italians throw fresh oranges at each other, once a year this small town in northern Italy hosts a colorful messy and almost comedic battle with oranges. Teams dressed in colorful costumes have a massive food fight in the streets, the locals represent the masses and pelt hooded people on horse drawn carts with the citrus fruit. The fights are celebrated all over the town and if you don’t fancy getting tango’ed every piazza will have a “safe” area where spectators can watch from the sidelines The four day festival ends with a grand finale on Shrove Tuesday.

Are you off to Italy this month to check out the Carnival? Or have you experienced any of these festivals before? I have been to Viareggio a few times before and hope to go again one year.

Rome in a day

Italy, Travel, Uncategorized

You may be a history buff wanting to explore the Roman Forum or an art fanatic desperate for a glimpse of the Sistine chapel  Whatever it is, Rome breathes history and has religion and art in every corner. Packed with tourist and speeding Vespa’s that never stop, you cant expect to conquer the city in one single trip let alone just one day! But we tried….

 

On our first trip to Italy we made sure our return flight was a light night flight from Rome, which ment
no matter what it would give us chance to see not only more of the country but making it possible to visit the eternal city, even if it was only for a day. 

 

 

The 3 hour train ride from Pisa took us through the beautiful countryside of Tuscany and past the coast, travelling along passed southern Tuscany and into Lazio. We arrived in Rome at 9.30am and stepping off the Train at Roma Termini, I could instantly feel that the modern city was a huge contrast to the relaxed way of life in the Tuscan countryside we had become accustomed to. 

Although the city bares not only a long and colourful history but brilliant architecture and cultural treasures, there are plenty of horror stories about the metro system so we decided to walk it all, why go underground in a city scattered in sights anyway? And with so many sites you don’t have to walk far to find one, top of most people’s lists of things to see in Rome is of course the Colosseum. Being incredibly easy to get to from the main station (by foot or metro) we made it our first stop. 

 Arriving at the mighty ruin was truly incredible, it really is colossal but slightly tainted by the main roads and heavy traffic  Even so the 15 admission fee was well worth it as we could have easily spent a full day exploring the historical area. After spending the morning soaking up the atmosphere in the most famous structure of the Roman Empire, we headed down Via dei Fori Imperiali and past the Roman Forum to the Piazza Venezia. We knew it was just a short walk to the Pantheon and Fontana di Trevi but decided if we only had time to see one it would of course have to be the baroque masterpiece.

 From Piazza Venezia we walked up Via della Pilotta head on for the Fontana di Trevi and I was speechless, at first with the number of people in front of the fountain and then of the scale of what I expected to be ‘just a fountain’. I can honestly say I was utterly amazed at the size and detail of the marvel, and of course we threw coins to ensure our return to Rome!

 A gelato and short stroll  later we had stumbled into Piazza Spanga and the grand staircase which makes it famous. The 138 steps which make up the Spanish steps climb up to Trinità dei Monti church, just behind the piazza is the luxurious Via Veneto area. The streets are lined with many high-class boutique hotels and designer stores as well as the famous Café de Paris and Harry’s Bar.

 Ok, so we had missed out on the Pantheon and we didn’t have time to venture over the river to the Vatican, but the steep winding slope from Piazza del Popolo lead us up onto Pincian Hill where there is a wonderful balcony giving stunning views over the city and towards St. Peters Basilica. The hill is made up of the large landscape gardens of the Villa Borghese, which is now occupied by The Galleria Borghese. It made a perfect place to relax after a long day walking and a fantastic last glimpse of the city before heading home.

 Anyone will tell you a day is definitely not enough to explore the city completely and they are right!  The vast amounts of ancient architecture Rome has to offer is truly overwhelming and although I plan to return to city again at some point,e (After all I did throw a coin n the fountain!) I couldn’t help getting the getting the impression that it is just a metropolitan city built on what could be the world’s best museum. 

Have you been to Rome? if so what do you think?

La Befana Festival

Italy

Happy New Year everyone!!!…Celebrating the 12th day of Christmas when the three Wise Men arrived at the manger bearing gifts for Baby Jesus, Ephinany (6th January) is the main day for gift giving in Italian households, but is not Santa who brings the presents down the chimney…..

Italian folklore has its own gift barer and on the evening of January 5th Italian children eagerly hang up their stocking and await the visit of La Befana.

The legend……

The night before they arrived to greet baby Jesus in his manger, the three Wise Men had decided to stop at the shack of an old woman to ask directions. They invited her to come along but after she declined and they continued on their way, later that night a shepherd also asked her to join him but again she refused. Much later that night, after seeing a great light in the sky she decided she would join the Wise Men and the shepherd. She went round her house collecting gifts that once belonged to her deceased children and then set off to find the stable housing Jesus. That fateful night she lost her way and never found the manger……

Now the legendary witch know as La Befana flies around on her broomstick, weaing a black shawl and a shoot covered dress she brings gifts to children in the hope that one day she might just find the Baby Jesus in his stable.

In Italy the kind witch is as loved as Santa Claus and on the 6th of January almost every city and town organizes some sort of event or parade. Here’s 3 of the best…..

1. Urbania, Le Marche – The medieval town has a huge festival for Epiphany and La Befanna, the towns piazza del Mercato is turned into the piazza dei Giochi (Games Square) for the children and they also get the chance to meet the witch herself in La Casa della Befana. The 4-day festival for La Befana from January 2-6 and is one of the biggest celebrations for La Befana in Italy.

2. Vatican City – The Pope says a morning mass in St Peter’s Basilica and a procession of hundreds of people in medieval costumes walk along the wide avenue which leads up to the Vatican, each carrying gifts for the Pope.

3. Fiera della Befana, Rome – The Christmas market in Piazza Navona is transformed, stalls selling hot wine and sugar coated apples surround the fun and games in the piazza. With organised activities in the centre and the stalls laid around the edges make this a great place for children to have fun centre stage while adults can relax and enjoy the friendly atmosphere.

If you choose not to celebrate this holiday or haven’t fallen in love with the Italian legend then you may be pleased to hear that the New Year is also the time for the winter sales in Rome, so you can can search through the designer stores for your very own gift!

Tuscany’s World Heritage Sites

Italy, Italy For Dummies, Tops 5/10, Travel, Tuscany

The list is almost 1000 strong, from ancient temples and shrines to forests and mountains. Sites include world wonders such as Yellowstone national park, Ayes Rock, Taj Mahal and the Sydney Opera house! The World wide list comprises of places that must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria. Criteria includes, somewhere with special cultural or physical significance, any outstanding examples of earth’s history and creative masterpiece’s of human genius.

Italy boasts 47 UNESCO World Heritage sites which scatter the country like pepperoni on a pizza. From the natural beauty of the Dolomite’s to royal houses and religious monuments…Italy really does have it all!

Tuscany is proud owner or 6 of them, Heres the list………..


The historic centre of Florence – The symbol of the renaissances is surly the most deserving ticking 5 out of ten of the criteria boxes, Added to list in 1982 for extraordinary artistic activity and its lengthy history.

 

The historic center of Siena – The whole city of Siena is built around the Piazza del Campo, and was devised as a work of art to blends into the surrounding landscape. The committee added this little gem in 1995.

 

 

Piazza del Duomo, Pisa – The large green expanse of Piazza del Duomo was added in 1987 and is home to a group of monuments including the learning tower.

 

 

The historic center of San Gimignano – The smallest of the sites sits on a hill and is dominated by its 14 medieval towers. Added in 1990 it once served as an important relay point for pilgrims travelling to or from Rome.

 

 

Val d’Orcia – Located in central Italy this entire valley region is by far the largest in the area and was added in 2004, the rolling landscape runs through picturesque towns and has been celebrated by painters for centuries.


The historic center of Pienza – One of the small towns in the Vald’Orcia, The historic center was added in 1996 for its Renaissance town-plan which has played a significant part of the urban development in Italy and beyond.

 

How many of the sites have you ticked off?

*The full list can be seen here http://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/

5 Things to do in Rome this Christmas…

Italy, Rome, Tops 5/10, Travel, Travel Tips

As the city’s largest tree is being put up in Piazza Venezia, the historical landmarks start to glimmer under the festive lights and the nativity scenes begin to decorate piazza’s, churches and homes throughout the city.

Rome comes alive with festive magic at Christmas time and really is a wonderful place to spend the holidays. If your spending this Christmas in Rome this year or planning on it next year, here’s a few things you don’t want to miss out on…..

1. Saint Peters Square – Every year on Christmas Eve thousands gather round the enormous tree to watch on the huge TV screens broadcasting the pope midnight mass, which he delivers from inside Saint Peter’s Basilica. Then at noon on Christmas day he delivers his Christmas message from the window of his apartment above the square in the Vatican City.

2. Piazza Navona – One of the biggest and most impressive Christmas markets in all of Italy where a large merry-go round fills the piazza as the christmas music plays. The smell of roasting chestnuts lingers in the air as you stroll past festive stalls selling everything from gifts and decorations to festive food and hot wine. With appearances from Father Christmas and a live nativity scene, this market is a Christmas wonderland right in the heart of Rome.

3. Ice Skating – The Christmas village at the Parco della Musica features a vintage carousel, colourful market stalls and an impressive ice-skating rink with over 600 square meters of ice. There are also smaller festive ice rinks at the Ice Park and the Porta di Roma mall.

4. Christmas day Sightseeing – While transport, shops and most attractions are closed on Christmas Day, many of Rome’s famous landmarks and streets are free of tourists and locals and all of them are best discovered on foot. Walk along a deserted Via del Corso from Piazza Venezia to Piazza del Popolo, visit the romantically lit streets around the Spanish steps or stop by the usually crowed Trevi fountain.

5. Santa Maria Maggiore Christmas Crib – Carved from marble this nativity scene was created for the Rome Jubilee in 1300 and is said to be the oldest permanent nativity scene discovered. It’s currently on display in the museum of Santa Maria Maggiore. Rome also has a museum dedicated to nativity scenes!

 

Have you visited Rome during the holiday season? Are you lucky enough to be visiting this year?