Bewitching Bologna

Bologna's Medieval Architecture
Bologna’s Medieval Architecture

Bologna definitely left us spellbound and bewitched, I can’t shake it out of my head with a yearning to return like a homesick child.  It’s a modern metropolitan city but at the same time you feel like you’ve been dropped into one of Shakespeare’s Italian plays; Romeo and Juliet, Othello or a Midsummers Night Dream.  Its architecture is medieval grandeur at its best that will have you spinning trying to see everything around you in 360 degrees.  It’s a little rough around the edges, beautiful and boisterous, raw and gritty but elegant and grand.  Try as I might to describe it you’ll just have to come see for yourself one day, if you’ve been you’ll know what I mean.

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Astonishing Assisi

Basilica di San Francesco, Assisi, Italy
Basilica di San Francesco, Assisi, Italy

Astonishing Assisi, although we were only able to spend an afternoon is the small medieval town we are determined to return one day and stay for at least a few nights in this enchanting place.  We’ve said it more than once but this town is at the very top of our favorites in Italy, it gripped our attention with so much character and ambiance.  Perched on a hill in the region of Umbria it is famous as the birthplace of St. Francis of Assisi and holds much religious as well as historical and artistic significance.

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Sensational San Marino and Undeniable Urbino

Sensational is a good word for San Marino as it effects all the senses with it’s otherworldly atmosphere.  Arriving in this fifth smallest country in the world you feel like you’ve almost left the planet for a land that lives in the sky, with castles and fortresses like something from a Renaissance fairy-tale.

San Marino, Italy
Top of San Marino, Italy

We visited San Marino by bus from our school in Recanati, it was one of the weekend tours included in our school programs and started with a stop in the small university town of Urbino.  We began our adventure here in this walled city in the Marche region south of Pesaro, nestled in the hillsides of the pre-Apennines.  We had a few hours to tour the town, its famous Palazzo Ducale and museum but we opted to wonder the town taking some pics of the surrounding countryside and visiting one of its many excellent cafes to try some local delicacies.  It was a quick visit but we thoroughly enjoyed our stop here. 

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Kicking of Carnivale 2017 in Venice, Italy

At the famed Cafe Florian in Venice,Italy Canivale 2017
At the famed Cafe Florian in Venice,Italy Canivale 2017

Every year Venice celebrates Carnivale in a big way, attracting revelers from all over the world to partake in the pre-lent celebrations that happen all over the world.  This year the kick off was on Saturday the 11th with the water parade starting festivities that will continue until the 28th.  We mis- calculated the dates as most of the activities peak next weekend with all the big costumed balls and events throughout Venice reaching a climax on the 24th for Fat Tuesday but nevertheless we are having a ball!   Don’t miss my video on the spectacular Water Parade and Carnivale kick off in Venice, Italy- bottom of this post.

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Idyllic Imola

Sforza Castle, Imola, Italy
Sforza Castle, Imola, Italy

The last town we visited before starting school was a town called Imola which turned out to be a big surprise.  We hadn’t expected much and were a bit worried as we knew nothing about the small city.  We had booked an Airbnb there simply as a base to explore Bologna, Ravenna, Ferrara and Verona, some of the towns we had wanted to visit. We weren’t finding any accommodations in Bologna within our budget so we moved our search to Imola and found a great apartment there.  Well our apartment turned out to be fantastic and the town even more so! 

 

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Magnificent Milan

Duomo, Milan
Duomo, Milan

We spent 12 days in magnificent Milan, Italy and had an even better time than expected in this amazing city.  It’s the financial hub of Italy in the more prosperous north and one of the worlds great fashion capitals.  It’s a mix of the newest and greatest with the old classics being the foundation of the city.  (Don’t forget to watch our video at the bottom of this post)

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Bergamo and it’s medieval wonders

The Ancient Center in Bergamo, Ital
The Ancient Center in Bergamo, Italy

Another perfect day trip from Milan is the town of Bergamo, it’s a beguiling city with Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque architecture.  It’s known for the juxtaposition of it’s upper ancient city- Citta Alta which can be reached at two different levels by funicular and it’s lower, more modern city. There was so much to see here, so leave early in the morning for a full day and plan to return to Milan later in the evening.  Trust us -you’ll need a full day!  Even better if you can stay over night or take a weekend as it’s one of the most beautiful cities in all of Lombardy and top of our must see list. Below is a short video of our day in Bergamo and continue reading for all you need to know about this wonderful city.

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The best day trips from Milan; Lake Como area and Bergamo

From the dock at Lake Como
From the dock at Lake Como

The best day trips from Milan; #1 Lake Como-Como,Bellagio & Varenna, #2 Bergamo

If you have time to pull yourself from your Milan adventures and want to explore some of the other towns reachable on a day trip then read on.  Milan is a great base for exploring the Lombardia region and is also very close to Switzerland which can be reached by train in a little over an hour.  Here are a few suggestions on some side trips that we really enjoyed and think you will too!

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Terrific and Tantalizing Turin

Piazza Castello, Turin, Italy
Piazza Castello, Turin, Italy

We reluctantly left the warm sunny coast of the Italian Riviera and headed to Turin in the Northwest of Italy with Italia Rail on one of their faster, Freccia trains.  As we headed into the hills we left behind the sunshine and became shrouded in a blanket of grey, foggy clouds and drizzling rain that became the backdrop for most of our Turin sightseeing. Turin is the capital of the Piedmont region in northern Italy known for its refined architecture, many museums and cultural exhibitions, its miles of Portico covered streets, its café life and love of the Aperitivo.

 

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A day trip to Santa Margherita and Portofino

If you find yourself in the Italian Riviera, you must take a day trip to the picturesque towns of Santa Margherita and Portofino to see how the other half lives.  It’s a playground for the rich and famous where the well heeled pull in on their yachts for the upscale shopping, cafes and restaurants.  It was one of our favorite stops and incredibly beautiful, just how you’d imagine a quaint, Italian seaside town. Check out the video of our day trip below, then continue to read about how it unfolded and how to make the trip yourself. At the bottom is a link to our picture gallery of Santa Margherita and Portofino.

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All you need to know about hiking and visiting the Cinque Terre, Italy

Corniglia, Cinque Terre, Italy
Corniglia, Cinque Terre, Italy

From Lucca, in the heart of Tuscany we boarded a train for about a 1:50 hour trip to the small city of La Spezia, in the province of Liguiria and the gateway to the Italian Riviera.  We were most excited about visiting this area after watching Rick Steve’s videos on the Cinque Terre about a dozen times and it did not disappoint.

We arrived to the most spectacular weather for mid December. It was 15-16 degrees Celsius everyday and sunny without a cloud in the sky.  It turned out to be a fantastic time to view this area as we didn’t have the crowds that inundate this area in the summer, it was like our own private viewing.  The weather gods were on our side as the locals told us they got hit with quite a bit of snow on Dec.17th four years previous although unusual for the area.   The only downfall was it wasn’t quite warm enough to swim although we did see an older couple rocking a speedo and bikini for a swim by Portofino.  We were so tempted as the beautiful blue waters were calling us and it seemed warm in comparison to the Rocky Mountain lakes like Windermere that we’ve dipped our toes into in the summer.

Click to read more and open our video below from our visit to the Cinque Terre.  Scroll down to continue reading about everything you need to know about visiting the Cinque Terre.

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Lovely Lucca

Lucca from a top the Torre Guinigi
Lucca from a top the Torre Guinigi

We  arrived by train from Florence following a little over an hour journey.  Our Airbnb host was gracious enough to pick us up at the train station and in minutes we were at our new temporary residence.  The train station is conveniently located near the center of the city and a few minutes’ walk into the old walled center where most of the exploring is to be had.

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A Day trip to Pisa

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy
The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy

We had a glorious day in Pisa, the sun was shining and it was plus 15 degrees Celsius without a cloud in the sky. We left in the morning from Lucca and walked to the train station where we boarded for a 30 or so minute ride to Pisa.  From the Pisa train station it’s another easy walk of about 25 min. to the Piazza dei Miracoli where the Tower, Cathedral, Baptistery and main tourist sights can be seen. Pisa is easy to get to and well worth a day trip. The nice weather just added to the enjoyment of the day, we wished we had packed a picnic for the park area surrounding the Cathedral but we relished just laying in the campo and taking in our surroundings.

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Fantastic Florence

View of the Pointe Vecchio in Florence, Italy
View of the Pointe Vecchio in Florence, Italy

 

Check it of the list…. Florence is now done and we off to our next stop, Lucca tomorrow afternoon.  Florence has been great, we took it all in at a leisurely pace and opted to just wander the streets viewing the sights of the city as a five day resident. Our Airbnb apartment was fabulously situated, we just had to walk out our front door, over one of the bridges and we were in the thick of the historic center.

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