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A very picturesque Bassano del Grappa

Tucked away at the foot of Monte Grappa, Bassano del Grappa was the final destination of our Italian Escapade 2014. This was also where we celebrated L&P’s wedding – truly, no better place could have been chosen. We got in a couple of days ahead of the wedding so we could chill out and rest our weary feet – we’ve been walking a lot in 10 days! Good thing this is a small town, easily explored in a few hours.

Bassano del Grappa

Bassano del Grappa

The most iconic feature of the town is the Ponte degli Alpini, formerly Ponte Vecchio (“old bridge”), a 16th century timber bridge designed by Andrea Palladio. What stands today in River Brenta is a reconstructed bridge, having been destroyed many times, most recently during the World War II. It was the Alpine soldiers who raised the fund to finance the rebuilding of this bridge, and thus they were honoured, with the bridge renamed after them.

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Postcards: In search of Padua (IT)

I imagine this could qualify as what the French would say, “jamais deux sans trois“? We spent a couple of hours in Florence in transit, then a couple of hours in Parma also in transit, so why not spare two hours in Padua in transit too? We managed to locate a left luggage at the train station, so we could pretty much move freely in that time.

Padova

Padova

The only time I was in Padua previously, I was hosted by a friend and was driven and guided everywhere. We got around easily and I didn’t need to figure out where I was or the distance between places. Everything seemed so doable. I was optimistic that F and I could see a good bit of the city, like we did when we were in Florence, before hopping on the train to Bassano del Grappa.

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Verona: a lot more than a Shakespearean drama

I have always adored Verona. Memories of summer vacations in the city, leisurely strolling the small streets (and occasionally offered free city tour by Italian boys), staying at a hostel managed by religious order (no mixed dorm and strict curfew), stocking up Fiorucci goodies (back when it was enjoying a brand revival), and importantly, being mesmerised by the opera at the Arena, of candles lit up at the first strike of the orchestra, just as the sun was setting.

Verona

Verona

How would the memory from my youth hold up to today’s reality? It has been years since I last visited Verona – during the early noughties, I travelled regularly in France and in Italy – as other travel opportunities took me elsewhere, to new countries and other continents. I was secretly afraid that I could not recapture the magic that I’ve built up in my mind. And, what if F doesn’t like Verona, after all the glowing praises I’ve bestowed?

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The Sanctuary of Madonna di San Luca

After our climb up to the top of Asinelli Tower, we enquired at the tourist office the mysterious lone building on a hill top just outside of the city. We were told that it is the Sanctuary of Madonna di San Luca, located approximately 5km to the south-west of the city and easy to get to. There are ways to help cut the journey shorter but we opted to walk the route in entirety.

Madonna di San Luca

Madonna di San Luca

We started the walk up from at Porta Saragozza, conveniently located about 10 minutes walk away from our B&B. This is one of the several original remaining city gates from the 13th century, largely ignored until the Portico di San Luca was built in the 17th century. It lends itself to be the connecting gate from the city to San Luca and used in annual procession of a Byzantine icon of the Virgin and Child.

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Bologna: the city of a gazillion porticoes

The very first things F and I noticed, as our taxi took on the streets of Bologna, are the warm colours of the buildings which help the city earns its nickname of Bologna la Rossa – Bologna the Red, and the astounding number of porticoes. Strangely enough, there isn’t a particular nickname linked to the latter, supposedly a famous feature of Bologna.

(Bologna has two other nicknames: the Learned/Educated – la Dotta – a reference to the oldest university in the world, University of Bologna, founded in 1088; and the Fat – la Grassa – celebrating the culinary legacy of the capital of Emilia-Romagna, which gives you the familiar ragù alla Bolognese!)

Bologna

Bologna

I’d like to declare Bologna the “City of a Gazillion Porticoes”, because it really felt like it. (I subsequently learned that there are nearly 40km of porticoes within the historic centre itself!) Inevitably, some are more elegant than others, some are more lavishly decorated, some rely on floor tile motives to stand out, some stay hidden unless you peek into unexpected courtyards and doors, and some could do with serious restorations. Regardless, they all make great shelters from the elements.

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Postcards: Lost in Parma (IT)

After a few days in Cinque Terre we were packing again, this time to go to Bologna. It was a multiple-trains journey. While I had not bothered buying Regionale tickets ahead of time, I did have tickets for Parma-Bologna on which I scored a good online price on. The small problem? Trains serving Cinque Terre always ran late – at least that was the case when we were there, even for those at 7.30am! – and we did not want to risk missing our connection.

Parma

Parma

We therefore found ourselves leaving Vernazza/La Spezia on earlier local trains and had a couple of hours to kill in Parma. Thinking we could pull something similar while visiting Florence, we were excited to see the town that lends its name to the famous Italian prosciutto. One strategical error: it was a Sunday when just about everything was closed, bar a few restaurants/cafes; one unexpected hurdle: the train station was under works and so no left luggage service could be found.

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The villages of Cinque Terre

This is one place, or more accurately, national park which needs very little introduction. The famous five Ligurian villages – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore (from north to south) – interspersed along the rocky coastline of the Riviera di Levante have been written up and photographed by many, and here I am, with my meager personal contribution about these overly-revered villages.

Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre

F and I had rented quite possibly the smallest AirBnB room in Vernazza (cosier than Parisian budget hotel rooms, if it is at all possible), at the street level, so we could not open the wooden shutter without everyone looking in while we enjoyed the privilege of hearing every conversation in passing. It was conveniently located for us to explore the area but you can also see why it was tough for us to air the enchanting “eau de pied” when our hiking boots were off!

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Sunsets of Cinque Terre

The perk of spending a couple of nights in Cinque Terre: F and I caught beautiful sunsets on both balmy Italian evenings in quaint villages, feeling lighter and happier than usual. I’m not sure if it’s possible to get more idyllic than this.

At Vernazza, we combined sunset watching with cocktail and dinner high above the village, at a terraced restaurant. The experience was mostly undocumented as my camera battery died and I’ve left the spare in our room. The next evening in Riomaggiore, we went back to basic and bought fresh pasta-to-go and sat by the port to eat. We also added a cone of gelati as dessert, all the while observing people came and went in their (row) boats.

Sunset in Cinque Terre

Sunset in Cinque Terre

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Dining in Lu.C.C.A. – L’Imbuto

It is no secret that F and I like eating in single menu – or no menu, depending how you see it – restaurants. We like to be surprised with something different, something that pushes our (usual) palate boundary, and more importantly, something that the chef creates based on what’s fresh and in season from the market. Even better combination, for us, would be a meal that’s creative yet home-y at the same time.

You may have noticed the lack of planning to our Italian trip thus far, relying mainly on serendipitous wandering around town for sightseeing, food, and gelati. Apart from knowing where we would be sleeping on any particular night, everything could happen. L’Imbuto (i.e. The Funnel) was the sole restaurant that I’d pencilled onto our itinerary, having seen it mentioned in an article about Lucca and got me all curious.

L'Imbuto

L'Imbuto

It was a tough self-debate if we should seek out Cristiano Tomei’s contemporary restaurant, or head to one of the local favourites which serves more traditional fares. We eventually decided an evening of out-of-the-ordinary meal over two weeks of traditional Italian could be a good culinary break. Our B&B host did make us doubt our decision for a moment, with his constant mention of how “special” this restaurant is, according to his friends.

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The walled-city of Lucca

Lucca is a splendid walled-city, lies just to the north east of Pisa. I am not sure why there aren’t more people visiting this small city, but I am certainly grateful that we got to enjoy it without being jostled about. Founded over two millennia ago (even Julius Caesar had been here, and Puccini called it his hometown), it had seen days of glory (it was an independent city state, like Venice, until Napoleon came along) as well as certain decline (the fall into the Tuscan’s hand). Luckily, it had also retain plenty of charm to make this a worthy detour when travelling in the region. Hands down, better than Pisa!

Lucca

Lucca

The very first thing any visitor should do is to rent a bike. While Lucca is the kind of place one could happily saunter from one end to another, there is much more fun to be had on two wheels, especially when you could start touring the city by way of its intact Renaissance-era city walls and tree-lined ramparts. Very leisurely, a full turn takes about 20-25 minutes to complete. And you’d want to do it more than once, or maybe even in the other direction.

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Postcards: 2-hours in Florence (IT)

A second day of whirlwind Italian sightseeing continued, this time to the heart of Tuscany. F and I were en route to Lucca, which requires at least a train change in Florence, and since we would be at the train station already anyway, why not take advantage of the time gap between trains to take a quick glimpse of the birthplace of Renaissance?

Florence

Florence

We were there sufficiently early in the morning that we could enjoy an external admiration of the prominent Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore among relatively thin crowd. Its green, pink, and white marble façade was breathtakingly elegant, and we also marvelled over the large brick dome – quite a feat of engineering when you consider the timeline of its construction. One of these days, I’ve got to visit it properly. This was my third trip to Florence and I’ve yet to step foot into the cathedral!

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Postcards: Centro storico di Roma (IT)

It has been a good decade since I last visited Rome. I have forgotten just how enormous the buildings are, how many churches and cathedrals you can find within a stone’s throw, how chaotic everything could and would be, and how much I enjoyed hearing melodic Italian around me. However, I recall vividly the sheer number of people who flock to the main sights (even during the “shoulder” season)…

Rome

Rome

F and I started our two weeks trip to Italy with a quick stopover in Rome. How quickly? Just a little over a day. Frankly, I did not have the courage to brave the August crowd in the August heat, but when our schedule necessitated flying into Rome (but also out of Rome), it also seemed silly not to give F his first quick tour of the Eternal City.

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