Category Archives: Italy

Italy

 

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Italy Pictures

It’s hard to beat Italy for history, art, architecture, scenic beauty, friendly and outgoing people, and mountains of good food. We spent two months crisscrossing the country in the spring of 2008, from the northern lakes at the foot of the Alps to the dusty plains south of Naples. Italy feels like a hundred countries crammed into one medium-sized nation. So much of Western history was made here, and it’s around every corner.

 

 

On to Italy

On to Italy

After spending 10 weeks in southern Spain, we felt like we had a good sense of the place, and we were eager to visit our next country, Italy. It was still cold in northern Spain (there was snow near Barcelona at Easter). So we decided to put off visiting other parts of Spain—Madrid, Barcelona, the… Read More

First Impressions of Italy

First Impressions of Italy

(written at the end of our first day in Italy) Lush and green. Rivers and canals. Higher mountains than C expected. Lucca wasn’t a hill town. Landscape had a pleasing familiarity. Lucca looked like how C expected old European towns to look. Earth-toned buildings. A surprising amount of helpfulness for tourist info/bus info people and… Read More

Lucca

Lucca

We hit the ground running in Italy. Two hours after landing at Pisa airport, we were exploring our first Italian town, Lucca, which was recommended by a former colleague of Melissa’s. Lucca is a walled city that grew rich in the late Middle Ages on the silk trade. From the map in our guidebook, Chris… Read More

Pisa: More than a Tower

Pisa: More than a Tower

The big grassy area around the leaning tower and other Pisan monuments is choked with tourists—even on a Monday in March, so it’s hard to conceive how crowded it must be on a summer weekend. Luckily, most of the tourists mill around the tower and the line of souvenir shops. They don’t bother going into… Read More

Valley and Hill Towns in the Northern Tuscan Mountains

Valley and Hill Towns in the Northern Tuscan Mountains

Most visitors to Tuscany focus on Florence and some famous (and crowded) towns in the central rolling hills, such as Siena. We decided to leave Florence until later in our trip, in hopes of arranging a host there. Instead, because we love quiet, out-of-the-way places, we opted to explore the mountainous northwestern corner of Tuscany.… Read More

An Art Marathon in Umbria

An Art Marathon in Umbria

From northern Tuscany, we took the train into the next province south, Umbria, where we had a host for three days. Those days were an orgy of art, as we visited the hill towns of Assisi, Spello, and Perugia. Old towns look different in Umbria than in Tuscany. Churches have plain facades, not ranks of… Read More

Lying Low on the Amalfi Coast

Lying Low on the Amalfi Coast

The first stop on our foray into southern Italy was the dramatically beautiful Amalfi Coast. If the south is a world apart from the rest of Italy, this coast is a world apart from the south. In the middle ages, the independent Duchy of Amalfi was a major maritime power, trading throughout the Mediterranean. Only… Read More

Ancient Greece in Italy

Ancient Greece in Italy

Centuries before the Romans took over, Italy’s southern coast was home to many Greek colonies. The remains of one of those colonies, Paestum, include three beautiful, nearly intact Doric temples that we were eager to see. The remains of Paestum sit in wide, flat, quiet countryside in the middle of nowhere. The walls of the… Read More

In the Shadow of Mount Vesuvius

In the Shadow of Mount Vesuvius

One of the great sensations of travel is the amazed shock of recognition that you get when you first lay eyes on something you’ve only seen in pictures, or on something very old and famous. That happens almost daily in Italy—it’s so chock full of old, famous stuff. A recent example occurred when we were… Read More

Naples

Naples

Love it or hate it—and we’re closer to hate than love—Naples is undeniably a fascinating city. It’s dirty, noisy, chaotic, humid, and crumbling. It also has some grand Baroque buildings, good museums, great pizza, and a glorious view over its bay to Mount Vesuvius. History feels very real here. Not least because Pompeii and Herculaneum… Read More

Down on the Farm

Down on the Farm

Our two previous stints of HelpExchange (doing part-time work in exchange for room and board) involved fairly easy domestic tasks such as cleaning, cooking, painting/varnishing, and washing lots of dishes. Our most recent HelpX post, in the town of Lanuvio about 20 km south of Rome, finally got us out into the fields. Well, not… Read More

Where All Roads Lead

Where All Roads Lead

On April 26, Melissa’s mom came to join us for her much anticipated Italian vacation–a week each in Rome and Venice. We were so happy to see her (especially since she brought us some new clothes)! She loved Italy as much as we thought she would. The three of us packed a lot of sightseeing action… Read More

Popes, Popes Everywhere

Popes, Popes Everywhere

Before they were banished to the Vatican in the early 20th century, popes were the political as well as religious leaders of Rome. As a result, the city is chock full of past pontiffs. Every church of any stature has at least one buried there. We got to the point where we started rating churches… Read More

The Floating City

The Floating City

The second leg of our intensive sightseeing trip with Melissa’s mother (May 3-9) took us to Venice, which Melissa had visited before but was new to the rest of us. As in Rome, we rented an apartment in a central, residential part of the city and did our best to live like locals for a… Read More

Over the Tuscan Trampoline

Over the Tuscan Trampoline

Cortona is a typical small Tuscan hill town of picturesque antiquity. Melissa visited briefly years ago, and since then, it got on the tourist map by being the setting for the book and movie “Under the Tuscan Sun.” The hills behind Cortona are green and rolling and look a bit like the Shenandoahs or the Berkshires… Read More

Golden Oldies in Ravenna

Golden Oldies in Ravenna

We spend a lot of our time in Italy looking at churches. The older ones tend to have good art and architecture, and they’re usually free to enter. But seeing so many, we get excited when we encounter something out of the ordinary. Take the eastern city of Ravenna, for instance, which we visited from May… Read More

Soggy Florence

Soggy Florence

To our eyes, the great tourist city of Florence isn’t beautiful or charming like Venice, or awe-inspiring like Rome. But it has a truly singular cathedral, some imposing buildings that take you straight back to the late Middle Ages, and a lot of fabulous art. We saw all of that during our four days in… Read More

A Hidden Gem

A Hidden Gem

Every travel writer longs to “discover” some wonderful place off the beaten path to introduce to the folks back home. Travel-guide guru Rick Steves has made a career of it. (Unfortunately, he has so many disciples now that any place he discovers quickly becomes overrun by Americans.) My entry for the best place you’ve never… Read More

The Dolomites: Switzerland with Pasta

The Dolomites: Switzerland with Pasta

I don’t know what it’s doing where you are, but here in northern Italy, it’s been raining for a month. Not nonstop, Biblical-type rain, but dull gray skies and drizle or showers the majority of every day. It has rained on us in Como, Florence, Cortona, Arezzo, Siena, Vicenze, Trento, two different valleys in the… Read More

Things I Learned in Siracusa, Sicily

Things I Learned in Siracusa, Sicily

Our first stop on the island of Sicily was the seaside city of Siracusa, which first rose to fame as an ancient Greek colony (known as Syracuse). We rented an apartment in the oldest part of the city, a small peninsula called Ortigia. Wandering its streets and exploring its churches, museums, shops, and eateries taught… Read More

Siracusa in Pictures

Siracusa in Pictures

The first stop on the Chris, Melissa, AJ, and baby Francesca trip to Sicily was the city of Siracusa on the island’s southeastern coast. We stayed in the oldest part of the city, the small peninsula of Ortigia, which juts into the sea on high walls. It’s a place of narrow alleys and wide piazzas,… Read More

Drippy Goodness in Palermo

Drippy Goodness in Palermo

When visiting a region, Melissa and I rarely travel in a straight line. The slow road usually ends up being a very zig-zag path. That was the case in Sicily. After spending time in Siracusa in the southeast of the island, we visited a couple of hill towns nearby that are famous for their Baroque-style… Read More

Palermo Life

Palermo Life

You never know what you’ll find wandering around Sicily’s capital city, Palermo. It could be a busy street market, an artsy new boutique, a sidewalk cafe, a dusty park, or an old church. (Churches of every era are tucked around corners all over the city.) It could be wonderful little architectural details high on the… Read More

The Norman Conquest, Sicilian-Style

The Norman Conquest, Sicilian-Style

Sicily is one giant history lesson. As in so much of Italy, each layer of civilization was built over some earlier layer. In Sicily, those layers include Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Norman, and Spanish cultures. Palermo was the island’s capital city for those last three cultures, but the Normans were the ones who left the… Read More

Favignana Island: A Better Place for Tourists Than for Tuna

Favignana Island: A Better Place for Tourists Than for Tuna

After taking a break, we’re resuming posting about our travels in Sicily in September with our friends AJ and baby Francesca. Off the northwest coast of Sicily lies a trio of islands called the Egadi. Lumps of stone and scrubby vegetation, for centuries the islands offered residents only two main sources of income: fishing the… Read More

Agrigento: Greek Sicily on an Epic Scale

Agrigento: Greek Sicily on an Epic Scale

If you’re not a classicist, you might not think of going to Italy to see Greek ruins. But in its heyday in the 5th and 4th centuries BC, the island of Sicily was home to many city-states founded by Greek colonists. One of the largest and wealthiest was Agrigento in the middle of Sicily’s southern… Read More

The Ruins of Agrigento in Pictures

The Ruins of Agrigento in Pictures

In the 5th century BC, the city of Agrigento on the southern coast of Sicily was one of the largest and wealthiest colonies in the Ancient Greek world. The ruins of Agrigento’s Greek temples are among Sicily’s major tourist attractions. Read More

Agrigento Archaeology Museum

Agrigento Archaeology Museum

The archaeological museum in Agrigento is full of beautiful artifacts dating from the period when Agrigento was a major city-state of the Ancient Greek world. Read More

Roman Mosaic Marvels

Roman Mosaic Marvels

After the Greeks came the Romans. As it was in high school history class, so it was in Sicily. By 200 BC, Sicily had been absorbed into the Roman Empire. Few structures from the Roman era remain in Sicily; most succumbed to the island’s later history of warfare, conquest, and taking stones from old buildings… Read More

Enna Before the Clouds Rolled In

Enna Before the Clouds Rolled In

One of the oldest cities in Sicily, Enna sits high atop a crag in almost the exact center of the island. Its strategic position means that Enna was fought over by warring armies for more than 2,000 years. Today it’s a densely populated but quiet city and a good base for visiting the nearby Villa… Read More

Farewell, Ye Banks of Sicily

Farewell, Ye Banks of Sicily

Just in time for our return to Southeast Asia, here’s the final post about our European trip last summer. How do you end a visit to Sicily? With a 400-mile trip to Naples, of course. The frequent-flyer tickets that our friends AJ and Francesca were using required them to leave from an airport in mainland… Read More

When in Rome …

When in Rome …

We’ve had a wonderful week in Rome, looking after a pretty, light-filled apartment near the Vatican and two sweet, soft cats (Roodle and Kenji). The first time we visited Rome, in 2008, we crammed in all of the major tourist sites. (Take a look at Chris’s post and Melissa’s pictures of Ancient Rome, Later Rome, and the Vatican.)… Read More