Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

A few days in Venice

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

In an entire year of living in Italy I have visited quite some great places and famous cities. There was still one city remaining, however, which I planned to visit later: Venezia (Venice). After all, Venezia, is a city which should not be visited with friends, but with someone special 🙂 .
When planning a visit, there are two major features to consider: the trip there and a place to stay at. After those are handled, the rest is just details. The trip there was made via WizzAir, the local low-cost travel company. The round-trip ticket for two was quite cheap (~€125), considering that the ride takes only around one and a half hours from Cluj. The plane lands in Treviso airport, which is a 1.5 hour bus ride away from the actual island of Venezia and costs €13 (round-trip ticket via ATVO). By buying the bus-ticket we received also a small map of the city of Venezia and the timetable for the bus which is synchronized with all flights leaving from Treviso Airport.

Hotel Locanda CanalThe other important factor to deal with was the hotel. I have found a great one via Hotel Locanda Canal. A double room for 3 nights (breakfast and WiFi included) was €225 plus €9 city tax. I must say I was a bit skeptic about this, because the hotel is located too close to Piazza San Marco and the price seemed just incredibly low. I was, however, “happily disappointed”, because the hotel was excellent. The room we stayed in was nicely furnished with a view to a nearby small canal and the staff was very friendly.

One important tip about Venezia: if you are at most 29 years old, you are eligible for the Rolling Venice Card which costs €4 (per person) and gives you a number of reductions for local transportation and museums. We have purchased this ticket on Piazzale Roma at a marked HelloVenezia office (you can’t miss it). If you are not accustomed to Italian way of handling problems, this may be your first chance, by waiting in line until the nice Italian lady in front of you puts up 100 questions and the ticket salesman answers all of them and they together work out a strategy to… well I have no idea what, but it took about half an hour… (frustration resolved 😀 ).

Venezia vaporettoGetting around in Venezia is doable on foot, but I would recommend using the vaporetto instead. We have purchased a 72h ticket usable on any ACTV vaporetto (which has routes to the local islands also). We payed for the ticket €18 (using the Rolling Venice card). We have used mostly route no. 1 (which travels quite frequently on Canal Grande). The vaporetto itself is funny, for people used to traveling on dry land: it is the actual equivalent of a normal bus stopping at designated stations. The first trip (from the bus-station on Piazzale Roma to Piazza San Marco) was quite the event for us giving the first glimpse of Canal Grande stuffed with historic buildings, restaurants and of course gondolas.

Given the fact that there is a number of museums in Venezia, it can cost quite some money to visit all, so, again, using the good old Rolling Venice Card, we have purchased a Museum Pass for €14. This can be bought on site for example in the Correr Museum (on Piazza San Marco) or at any museum which is part of Musei Civici Venezia group. The Correr Museum is actually the entrance to 2 more attractions (included in the price): the Museo Arheologico and the Sale Monumentali Biblioteca Marciana.

A real attraction on Piazza San Marco, however, is the Palazzo Ducale which with its great interior court and grandiose halls is not only an eye-candy but an important historical site. Visiting Palazzo Ducale also includes the visit into the Prisons which is connected to the palace via Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) and is the place where Casanova was imprisoned. This too was included in the Museum Pass.

Also on Piazza San Marco is the Basilica of San Marco, which with colorful and very decorated style is a must see attraction in Venezia. As in all churches in Italy, make sure you are properly dressed (no shorts or visible shoulders) in order to enter. Personally I was not too impressed with it (I think it is nowhere near il Duomo in Milano and even much further from the St. Peter Basilica in Rome). Despite that, entry into the basilica is highly secured: one must not enter having backpacks (there is a special place to leave it not far from the basilica) and photographing is prohibited (as in all museums). There is no entry fee, so we had a look, but there is not much to see, if you do not pay the extra charges to have a glimpse at special places (which we considered not worth it). You can pay €5 to be allowed up the terraces to have a view of the square from above, but this again seemed useless, because by paying €8 (€3 more), you can go up the bell-tower, il Campanille, from where you can see not only the square but the entire main island and also the neighboring islands. We considered that much better and decided to go up. The view indeed is marvelous, although it can be quite windy and chilly on top.

Because our brief visit was very eventful, I have decided to split the stories into more parts (possibly 3), so I will end here the first part, so nobody gets too bored or tired while reading it :).


Rome, the ruins

Monday, September 7th, 2009

On the southern part of the central area of Rome lie the ruins of a great civilization. The legacy of a once powerful nation is a major attraction for many tourists from all over the world. For our last day in Rome, we decided to pay a visit to this magnificent site.

Our first target for the day was the center-piece of the Roman ruins, the biggest amphitheater of the entire Roman empire: The Colosseum. We tried to leave as early as possible in the morning, but after having breakfast and arriving down (after changing a bus once) we barely made it at around 10:00AM… the line in front of the Colosseum entrance was already quite long…
There were selling “skip-the-line” tickets at the Colosseum also, for all those who did not want to wait in the long line, and since I did not book ahead for this one, I started thinking maybe it is better to buy the tickets for us there. Luckily I did not decide right on (the price was almost double compared to the normal entry price) and after a few minutes we noticed, that the line is shrinking rapidly. One major advantage of standing in line at the Colosseum was the fact, that the line is formed under the shady pillars of the building, so there is no need to stand in the burning sun of summer. We started off from just outside the pillars actually, but even so, we got to the ticket office after a 20 minutes waiting in line (pretty good for Italian organization 🙂 )…

The entry ticket into the Colosseum (if I remember correctly) was €12.00 plus I have lent an audio-guide (which was quite useful) for €4.00. The tickets contained a short visiting route in the Colosseum, so we followed that after entering. The route started with a magnificent upper view of the building (quite impressive), after which it took us down to the lower levels and presented some of the details of the building. I think we have spent about one hour inside, so it was not too long, not too short: it was quite right 🙂 .

Right next to the Colosseum lies Constantine’s Arch (Arco di Constantino), a triumphal arch, which was preserved very well considering its age (~150A.D.). I am not sure if there has ever been some reconstruction done to it, but still it offers quite an amazing sight.

Because of the hot sunny day (it was around noon already), we decided to skip the Roman Forums(Fori Romani) and just wander around a bit in the area. It turned out that lots of the imperial forums are actually outside the so called “Roman Forums”: Traianus’s Forum for example is completely outside the area and can be viewed freely by the people passing by.
For a good overview on the imperial forums, there is a “cheat code”: the huge Monumento Vittorio Emanuele II is right next to the forums… climbing up just on the stairs is already high enough to see inside the forums… 🙂 of course it is not a detailed visit, but pretty much everything is visible 🙂 . For €7.00 however, it is also possible to go up with the elevator onto the very top of the monument.. now from there, the forums are really visible, and the view, well that is simply breathtaking 🙂 …

Of course there is a lot more to cover of ancient Rome in the city, but being our last day, we tried to concentrate on the more interesting parts, so we could not visit anything else… Anyway I think it gave a quite good taste of ancient Rome (Pompeii, however seemed much more interesting and adventurous…).

The Vatican

Friday, September 4th, 2009

In the second post about our trip to Rome I would like to present our visit to the smallest country in the world, the papal state: The Vatican. This little country on the eastern part of Rome, is probably the most visited attraction of the city all year-round, thousands of tourists and pilgrims come to see this little piece of land.
Saint Peters Square
A few things to know about entering the Vatican:

  • Wear proper dressing: you are not allowed inside with shirts/t-shirts leaving your shoulder uncovered and/or shorts leaving your knees uncovered. Anyone who does not meet this dress code, will be kindly refused to enter. (There are stands where for example women can buy scarfs to cover their shoulder).
  • The queue at any entrance of the Vatican is LONG try to book a guided trip or at least a skip-the line pass. (Sometimes there are people selling these options right at the entrance also, so it is not always necessary to book ahead).

Our visit to the Vatican actually started by entering the city on the northern entrance: the entrance to The Vatican Museums (Musei Vaticani). I have booked ahead a skip-the-line-pass for three persons for €30.00/person on this website. We had to meet at a precise time on one of the streets just across the street from the entrance to the museums and were guided inside by one of the guides. These guides actually lead all other people who booked the complete guided tour of the Vatican Museums. Once inside, they bought our ticket at the ticket offices (inside the Vatican already), and after giving us the tickets, we were left alone to explore the museums.

We started off: our first sight Cortile de la Pigna (a large inside yard) with the quite curious work of Arnaldo Pomodor: Sfera con sfera. From the yard one can easily get into the first museum: Museo Egizio (Egyptian Museum) which holds a large collection of Egyptian artifacts. Quite nice… well not as big as the one in Torino, but nice 🙂 . After this a series of museums follow containing a quite impressive number of sculptures from Roman and Greek times:Museo Chiaramonti, Braccio Nuovo, Museo Pio-Clementino with the Cortile Ottagono(Octogonal court). Sadly the Museo Etrusco(Etruscan Museum) was closed when we were there, so we continued the tour by visiting the Galleria della Candelabri(scupltures/statues), the Galleria Delle Carte Geografiche with a series of wall-paintings of geographical maps of regions in Europe and Italy. The next nice thing were the Rooms of Raphael (Stanze di Raffaello) with magnificent wall-paintings like the School of Athens.

After a series of other rooms exhibitions we finally arrived to The Sixtine Chapel. This is one of the most famous parts of the whole tour (the direction is marked all over the museum and one can actually skip some museums and get to the chapel quicker). It was magnificent: to see the works of Michelangelo so close and in real-life was quite an experience: all the famous images that I have seen on TV or in books were now all there to admire up close. An important thing about the chapel: One is not allowed to take photos and it is also forbidden to talk loudly. There are actually guards taking care that everybody behaves as they should be.

After the Sixtine Chapel there are two options: continue the tour of the museums all the way to the exit (visiting the Vatican Library also) or to go visit the cathedral. The tricky thing is, if one takes the first exit on the left, then the rest of the museums can be visited, but then, at the exit (which is actually the entrance to the museum: a whole circle is made), one would have to make the whole tour again (as we did), just to get back to the chapel and then on the second exit to the right get out at the Saint Peter Cathedral.

Saint Peters Square

At the exit there are a few stairs leading out to a small courtyard which usually has quite a long and wide queue full with people waiting to go up into the Cathedral Dome (the ticket is around €7.00 but I am not sure about this). The view, as they say, is very nice from there, but after the quite long visit to the museum, we thought we would skip this “great” opportunity. Instead, we just went out on the right exit from the courtyard, and we got exactly to the entrance to the cathedral and we could just walk in (not having to wait in line again on the Saint Peter Square).

The Cathedral itself is HUGE. Because it does not have too many pillars inside (like gothic temples) the size is a bit hard to perceive, but once one starts to get around it is easily observable how tiny we are compared to the four massive center pillars holding the dome of the temple. It is quite an amazing piece of architecture and certainly the biggest church I have been by far. Nothing compares to it due to its sheer size and grandeur… this landmark is a must when visiting Rome, even without visiting the museums.

Next in the series: Rome the ruins 🙂 .

Rome, the city

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

Before moving to Belgium we planned a vacation with my parents in Italy. Because all the moving was so sudden, we did not cancel the plan, I just went back to Genova for a few days and met my parents there. Apart from Genova a main, 3-4 day trip, was planned to to the city I should have visited a long time ago: Rome (“Roma” being the real name).
Because it was quite a long trip, I thought of covering this in three parts presenting the different faces of Rome in different posts. My first post will be about the city itself: places to see and general aspects of it.

One can get to Rome very easily so I am not going to discuss that in detail. What is important, is how to get around once you arrive there.
Taxis: one should take care, there are a lot of “sharks”: drivers who will charge a LOT for their fare. If no other option is available at least agree on the trip price before you get in. Luckily we got away from them, because the first taxi driver we met, was not one of these dangerous “predators”. (There was a minor argue about this among them, when they saw that we would not get into their taxis…).
Buses: I guess there are daily or even weekly tickets, but since we did a lot of walking, we always bought 75 minutes tickets for €1.00 each which are also available for the metro, but only for one ride. There are also automatic ticket-machines in big bus stops. The buses come and go in a quite regular way (very uncommon in Italy 🙂 ), so that is surely a plus.
On foot: get a city map, you’ll need it 🙂 .

One of the most interesting things in Rome is their many fountains. There are a number of big squares, with one or more beautiful fountains in it, which are definitely worth a visit. Some of the major squares/landmarks of Rome are the following:Piazza Navona (The Navona Square), with three very nice fountains (Fountana dei Quattro Fiumi, Fontana di Nettuno and Fontana del Moro). Another nice square, which is actually famous because of its fountain: Fontana di Trevi is the Trevi Square. The square where the Spanish Steps are: Piazza di Spagna is also worth to pay a visit. I think the list can go on and on as there is a huge amount of artistic squares with fountains and monuments stacked in this great city.
It is interesting to note, that among the many fountains, there are also a lot of small fountains/taps with drinking water in it: the water is actually so clean, that tourists and locals drink from it (which is great in the otherwise burning hot days of Rome). Note that most of these places are only present in the newer part of the city. The old part, with the Roman ruins lacks these precious places (so it is stacked instead with small stands selling half a liter of water for €2.00-€3.00 a bottle).

There are also a lot of bridges above Rome’s single river, the Tevere. I would also advise a stroll among the river banks to admire them. The city in general is quite clean. It is by far not as clean and ordered as the northern cities, but since I have also visited Napoli for example, well it is much better than that. What was interesting is that among the large number of restaurants, there was a quite wide range of servicing quality at a quite narrow range of prices… in some places the service was… well I do not want to say disgusting… but very near… Of course there were places which were really professional: a pizzeria called Pizza Re close to the fountain of Trevi, had really good food and the waiters were very friendly and had a professional behavior.

Another important thing to see is one of the biggest parks in Rome: the gardens of Villa Borghese. I would advise not to go there from the Metro station “Spagna”, but rather take a bus which stops exactly at the entrance. This is because the first option would take the kind tourist to the middle of nowhere next to a quite busy road, from where one would have to stroll through a waste-land like place in order to get to the park entrance…
The park itself is great in my opinion. A lot of people rent bikes or ride the park train to get around (it is that big). Of course the main attraction of the park is Galleria Borghese which houses a lot of paintings and sculptures. There is also a zoo, horse-back riding squares and there is a lovely lake also on the western part of the park.

All in all the city has a lot to offer by itself and this without taking into account the Vatican & other temples or the Roman heritage…

6 in 1

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

After long planning and thinking a decision was made by our company to move a part of our team to a little town in Belgium, called Ninove. I do not know if unfortunately or not, but I was in that part of the team also. This means no more Italy for a while (well I will spend my holidays there, so I will be there later for a week or so)…

The change of jobs meant also the necessity to move into Belgium. For this purpose some of us chose to go by car. We rented a quite good car (VW Golf Variant Mk5) to make the trip. Our route meant a single-day drive from Genova to Ninove (about 1100kms).
^ in 1
The major part of our route was on a highway, through Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France, Luxembourg and finally Belgium. It was a long day so we planned to start off at 8:00AM latest… and so we did: at 9:00AM… 😛

The first part of the road was pretty easy: a winding road of highway in the proximity of Genova, a straight one towards Milano and then, on to Switzerland. No big deal, the traffic was ok, the highway was ok, it was an easy ride.

We entered Switzerland on the E35 European road. Basically hitting Switzerland through one of its longest width. To use the highways in Switzerland one must pay the €32.00 yearly tax (even if you use it just for a day). We were kindly asked aside from the traffic (as most cars entering Switzerland without the sticker) to pay and get the sticker. Actually these €32.00 are quite a bargain, if you think that you can use it a whole year… we payed around €17.00 in Italy just for using the highway once, anyway…
The road in Switzerland takes through the tunnel under the St. Gotthard mountain, which should theoretically shorten the trip… theoretically.. practically in the summer, the tunnel is overcrowded and filled with traffic jams, so we took the scenic route over the mountain. What a scene it was… it was absolutely breathtaking… I could only advise anyone who goes over there to take that route instead of the tunnel. It is more windy with curves, but really acceptable.
The rest of Switzerland was done on straight highways, keeping exactly at the legal speed limit, on a completely empty road sometimes: the law in Switzerland is taken very seriously and only very few dare to risk speeding. The fines there can be huge for speeding, so everyone takes it easy…

Next target: Germany. We took this option instead of the French highway from Basel all the way to Strasbourg. One reason: it is NO LIMIT. Or so we thought… actually the road was limited and in some portions under construction… so no fun there. It was shorter though, than the French version…

We entered France near Strasbourg city limits:it was awful. Avoid that if possible. After that: the direction towards Metz and then to Luxembourg. A bit cooler here: the French speed limit is at 130km/h so we were just eating up the road. It was no too crowded, so I quite liked that portion.

Our short road portion in Luxembourg was interesting also: people started driving real crazy now. The speed limit was also 130km/h, but I think for most drivers this was actually the minimum speed. The roads were great, there was no traffic, sooo… why not? 🙂

At last we arrived in Belgium… our GPS was constantly trying to take us through the ring around Bruxelles to get to Ninove, but we wanted to avoid that: the ring around Bruxelles is like hell: overcrowded, slow and maybe dangerous. We took the road towards Halle and approached Ninove from the south. Actually it was quite ok like that. Even so, we had most of the route on a highway, which was sometimes completely empty: three lanes and just one or three cars in the distance: COOL 😀 . At last we arrived to Ninove at 22:30… and went in our pre-booked B&B studio for a sleep.