Category: Italy – the North

Favourite images of Italy

Roger’s been reviewing the pictures he took in Italy over the last two months. Here’s a selection of some of his favourites……..

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Ferrari’s birthplace

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Whilst Natasha and Hilary went to Florence, Lyndon and Roger went to Modena and the Museo Enzo Ferrari. On display were Ferraris that had featured in famous films driven by iconic stars and a gallery showing the progression of the Ferrari engine.

As a young boy, Enzo used to come down the pink stairs of the house to watch his Dad  Alfredo in the metal fabrication workshop. Then at the age of eight he went to watch his first road race and decided to become a racing driver.

The growth of the Ferrari brand is the story of single-minded determination and (pun intended) drive. After the death of his father he sold the family house to buy a better car, later re-engineered the business into car production and eventually the 90% sale to Fiat.

What Silicon Valley near San Francisco is to modern-day IT, Modena was to sports cars some 100 years ago. And of course, Ferraris are still manufactured at Maranello just outside Modena.

 

Florence revisited

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To stand in front of this picture is sublime

Hilary visited Florence with her sister in 1977 and with Roger in 1993. Both times it was hugely impacted by traffic but delighted to say this time the authorities have now banned all traffic from the historic centre. As a result, Florence is now quiet and a delight to walk around.

Today Hilary and Natasha climbed up the Duomo, visited the Uffizi Gallery, the Palazzo Vecchio and Boboli Gardens. The best thing with it being 23rd December was that we just walked straight into all of these sites with NO queuing! Back in the summer of 1976, it had been a four hour wait at the Uffizi and this hadn’t improved much by late October 1993.

Glad to say the visitor experiences were fantastic. The Birth of Venus by Botticelli in the Uffizi and the room of historic maps in the Palazzo Vecchio, where Italy is shown in a map dated 1564, were special treats. And of course the Arno River by sunset.

Drinking fountains

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In many villages and towns we’ve enjoyed the wonderful tasting water from the ancient drinking fountains. That they work today is a testament to the engineering skills of the Romans.

The Roman Empire was built upon the supply of water by aqueducts; without an adequate and safe water supply, urban population could not have developed, nor would the empire have spread right across the Mediterranean.

More recently, due to the high cost of state subsidies, the Italian Government has been trying to reform the 91 regional water utilities. Privatisation was tabled back in 1993, but this was rejected by the voters by a huge majority in a 2011 referendum.

Ironically despite the excellent free drinking water from the Roman fountains, Italians drink more bottled water than any other nation.

Back to San Gimignano

img_1674Our first holiday together took us to this wonderful Tuscan town 23 years ago. We had just met a month previously, both had annual leave outstanding and wanted to see a bit of Italy. So – put simply – it was a holiday that changed our lives.

We were engaged three months later and married two months after that.

So it was great to return to the “Town of  Fine Towers”. At sunset we re-climbed the largest remaining tower; Torre Grossa. But how wonderful that San G (as it’s known here) has preserved 14 of the towers when most other Tuscan towns have lost theirs due to wars, catastrophes and urban renewal.

It was a fantastic view from the top and seemed a great place to end our travels before a Christmas week in Bologna.

And who knows, maybe we can return here and climb the tower for a third time in another 23 years!

Orvieto – a hidden gem

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After seven weeks in Italy you might suppose we’ve seen enough hill-top towns, piazzas or duomos. But then we arrive at Orvieto with perhaps the best location of them all and the duomo with perhaps the best facade we have seen so far. And for us it was brilliantly lit by the early Sunday sunshine.

The construction of the cathedral lasted almost three centuries with the design and style evolving from Romanesque to Gothic as building progressed.

And the inside is impressive in scale and art too. We had the Cappella del Corporale all to ourselves. It was built between 1350 and 1356 to house the stained corporal of the miracle of Bolsena.

“Theatres of Water” at Tivoli

“Theatres of Water” is how the fountains at Villa D’Este are described.

Villa D’Este is a magnificent villa in Tivoli built between 1560 – 1580 with a series of terraced gardens and magnificent fountains added at many levels. These are a miracle of Renaissance engineering, all powered by gravity, no powered pumps required.

The Fountain of the Organ was built in 1571 by French fountain engineer, Luc Leclerc. Water held in a reservoir, is sent into a cascade, mixing water with air. This is then separated, and the air plays the 144 pipes of the organ which are controlled by a cylinder driven by the water. It was the first of its kind and plays excellent organ music for four minutes. It astonished all who saw it back in the 16th century – when Pope Gregory XII first heard it in 1572, he insisted on opening it up and checking that no-one was playing music within.

The 17th Century apparatus had fallen into decay by the 18th century but was restored to working order in 2003. We can confirm it still plays four pieces of late renaissance music today.

 

Hadrian’s Villa

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Hadrian built a wall in Northern England, but also a vast country villa some 40 km north east of Rome at Tivoli; Villa Adriana (remember in Italian there is no ‘h’)

The AD 118-138 ruins are incredible; much more substantial than anything we have seen before. Baths with high arches, three story libraries and a vast area for hospitality. Shame though that the centrepiece – Hadrian’s inner sanctum, the Teatro Marittimo – is off-limits due to restoration work.

We had a discussion about Ancient Roman sexuality. There’s a temple here to Hadrian’s teenage lover, Antinous, who died in the River Nile when he was 20 years old. There is plenty of interesting speculation as to how and why he died…

Why Italy is great in November

 

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When you plan a full gap-year it’s impossible to be in the right place at the right season all the time. We guess we have based our schedule around being in Chile and Argentina in their Summer but also we wanted to be closer to home at Christmas; we have arranged for our two kids to join us in Bologna.

But right now we are so pleased to be in Molise, Italy in mid-November. There are at least ten reasons:

  • it’s so empty – everywhere we go we have the place to ourselves so there is no queuing and no crowds around the sight
  • we can get around easily and can always park quickly
  • the places are full of real Italians – including the students – so there’s an authentic feel
  • the temperature is perfect for being a traveller – as we write this in Tremoli, Molise it’s 20 degrees in the evening. In the past we have enjoyed Italy in the Summer months but then it’s a case of only walking a few yards before needing the sanctuary of shade
  • the hotels and Airbnbs are cheap and available – the other day we arrived on the Adriatic coast with no worries about getting a room and ended up with the most perfect room overlooking the sea for 65 euros
  • the countryside looks fantastic – the autumn leaves make everything so colourful
  • the sun is always low in the sky leading to some special lighting for photos
  • there’s time to eat a gelato before it melts
  • Italians are so well dressed in the winter – people watching is amazing
  • we are missing the English storms and rain.

Obviously the one thing we are having to work around is the short daylight. But here we have the advantage over England. Thanks to the continental time it’s light until 5ish so that’s not too bad.

High in the Apennines

img_0106We enjoyed a day’s drive up into the mountainous terrain near Sulmona. Up hairpin bends to walk around three medieval hill towns (Anversa, Castrovalva and Scanno), enjoy a picnic on the banks of the Lago di Scanno and visit the Hermitage of San Domenico.

This is trekking country in the summertime but very quiet at this time of year. Signs everywhere said “Beware of the bears”; the area has the largest enclave of Marsican bears in Italy.