Ponte della Maddalena

Daydrips, Lucca, Travel, Tuscany

 

This beautiful medieval bridge crosses the Serchio river near the small town of Borgo a Mozzano. Known Locally as  “Ponte del Diavolo” (Devil’s Bridge) the Ponte della Maddalena “Bridge of Mary Magdalene” is just a short train/bus ride from Lucca, originally thought to be commissioned by the Countess Matilda of Tuscany somewhere between 1080 – 1100, the majestic bridge has become a symbol of the Garfagnana region and attracts many tourist to this sleepy corner of Tuscany every year.


The vital river crossing was once an important link for pilgrimages to Rome and is incredibly easy to find, there is a car park beside the bridge and regular trains an buses from Lucca.


Arriving by train brings you into the main town of Borgo a Mozzano, where its only a short walk through the quite streets until, with a glorious backdrop of the Garfagnana mountains the top of the stone bridge comes into view.

The “climb” to the highest arch brings spectacular panoramic views over the river and up towards the little houses which dot the surrounding mountains. Once across its elegant arches you will find a bilingual narrative next giving the history of the bridge, there is also a small cafe where you can enjoy an espresso and admire the stone work before heading back across to check out the delights of Borgo a Mozzzano. Being only a 25 minute train ride from Lucca this made a great day trip for us and we have since been back to the bridge a few times when in the area.

 

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?

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?

Italian Architecture….Explained!

Italy For Dummies, Travel, Travel Tips, Uncategorized

You cant help but soak up the history, gazing up at decorative churches and admiring wonderful masterpieces of design. But what if you don’t have a clue what you’re looking at? Or you know it’s “baroque” but what does that actually mean?.. If like me you thought “baroque” was an artist and Leonardo da Vinci was just a painter, you’ve found yourself in the right place. Here’s a basic guide to architecture in Italy!

Way back hundreds of years before Christ the ancient Greeks began settling in southern Italy and the surrounding islands, bringing with them their own unique building style and dominating design in the area for a long time. There are several remains of Greek architecture in Italy, notably in Calabria, Apulia and Sicily. However in Northern and Central Italy, it was the Etruscans who led the way in architecture houses were made from brick and wood, but after learning from the Greeks they started to use stone to create temples for the gods. Although most of the buildings have since perished or destroyed by the Romans a few ruins still remain. The best examples can been seen in Volterra.

After the Romans conquered Greece they adopted certain aspects from their architecture and thanks to the neighbouring Etruscan’s for a wealth of knowledge essential, Roman architecture flourished. It started with the construction of the arch which lead on to simple stone bridges and aqueducts systems. As the Roman army grew so did their engineering designs, they went on to create grand and complex structures such as the world-famous Colosseum. This including their invention of concrete, resulted in a wide range of different architecture including the building of forts, villas, temples, towns, baths and roads. The entire city of Rome is scattered with evidence of their building and engineering skills.

After the fall of the Roman empire, the dark ages of history began and in medieval Italy Byzantine architecture ruled. As the black plague swept through Europe wiping out nearly half of the population and the ornate Gothic architecture dominated the rest of Europe the Florentine’s were inspired by the buildings of ancient Rome and Greece. Using symmetry and proportion the Renaissance style began, mixing old ideas with modern practices architects used columns, arches and domes just as the Romans had before them creating beautiful churches, monuments and villas. Florence is filled to the brim with Renaissance architecture but another great example of this building style are the Palladian Villas of the Veneto in Northern Italy.

Within 200 years a similar style of architecture had spread out across Italy and beyond with renaissance style buildings popping up in London, and all over Europe. But in Italy the idea of harmony was making way for more imaginative ideas and architects began experimenting with much more elaborate designs which eventually led to the dramatic Baroque style. Using distinctive features such as the use of light and fascinating façades.

Buildings and palace’s were built to express ultimate power and control, often housing rich interiors and monumental staircases. There is baroque architecture scattered all over Italy but the most famous is St. Peter’s Basilica, If you still unsure if its “baroque” ask yourself is it extravagant, dramatic and possibly slightly bizarre? If the answers yes then it’s probably baroque.

The Baroque era ended with its most significant achievements when the Trevi fountain and the Spanish Steps were completed to decorate Rome. With the intricate and frivolous nature going out of fashion, architects once again returned to the classic and elegant buildings of ancient Rome and Greece and neoclassical architecture was born.

Even with the sleek and complex design of modern architecture, it seems we will always look back on the buildings of the past for inspiration and today we are still using some of their simple building solutions.

 

What’s your favourite piece of Italian architecture?

My First Fling with Florence

Florence, Travel, Tuscany

Florence is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, with an abundance of history, architecture, and galleries filled with some of the world’s most important works of art, its magnificent center attracts millions of tourists each year. I have been lucky enough to visit this beautiful city many times now but this post is taken from my notes of my very first trip.


‘As the train rolled through the mountains from Pisa for our day trip to Florence, I referred to my guide-book one last time. The city is an open air museum with so many masterpieces packed into a small area, I had planned a walking route to take us past some of the city’s most famous sites.

Our first stop was the heart of Florence the Piazza del Doumo, which is one of the most visited sites in Europe, and the reason….Santa Maria del Fiore, Brunelleschi dome structure has a beautifully detailed facade dedicated to the Mother of Christ and huge bronze doors leading into a vast Gothic interior, the bareness of the church highlights the sheer scale of the building. Made with marble from the surrounding areas and notable for its 44 stained glass windows, you can climb up into the dome to get a close up view of the fresco painted by and then onto the roof for amazing views over the city. The piazza itself is filled with street artists waiting to draw the many tourist, which just like us are out to explore the beautiful city.

 

Not having the time to make over to The Accademia Gallery we glimpsed at the copy of David which proudly stands in Piazza
della Signoria, The square is dominated by the Palazzo Vecchio and the Loggia dei Lanzi, which serves as an outdoor sculpture gallery. Stopping to enjoy a gelato whilst admiring Neptune’s fountain is a must before passing the world-renowned ques outside the Uffizi. A slow stroll took us past the street performers and artist waiting to draw sketches of every passing tourist and down to the river.

The river Arno cuts through the city and flows all the way through the Tuscan countryside to Pisa and is crossed by many bridges, the oldest of which is the Ponte Vecchio. The bridge is lined with shops built upon its edges only held up by stilts. Crossing the elegant bridge you pass goldsmiths and jewelers before finding yourselves in the Oltrano and right by the Palazzo Pitti. The enormous palace which was once the royal house of the Medici’s and a base for Napoleon now contains a museum, art collections and opens out into the spectacular Boboli Gardens.

 

As the sun became lower in the sky we made our way up the steep winding paths to Piazza Michelangelo, The square is dedicated to the great Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo and is dominated by a large replica of the artists most famous statue. The bronze David copy looks out over the mass of tourist on the balcony and onto the famous cityscape.

As we joined the many Florentine’s enjoying their vino while watching the sunset over one of the most beautiful cities in the world I couldn’t believe how lucky I was, and as the orange glow of the city grew more intense with the decreasing sunlight, I had decided Florence was amazing and knew I would return soon……’ 

 

 

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Images in this post are owned and distributed by me.