Europe, Italy, Travel

Exploring Northern Italy – Tuscany, Assisi and Venice

With our base in Florence for 10 days we took the opportunity to explore other cities in Tuscany as well as Venice and Assisi. This seemed to work well as it allowed us to have a steady base, but also see so much of the nature in lovely Northern Italy as we crossed back and forth by train 🙂

Assisi

It wasn’t our first day trip, but it was certainly the most emotional one so this gets go first. We got there by train and local bus, but while we were there we saw quite a few tour buses so it shouldn’t be difficult to find a company doing trips there. Assisi is a tiny village in the Umbria region in Northern Italy. It is famous for being the birth place of Saint Francis of Assis as well as several other religious figures. For such a tiny village, it sure has a lot of churches (notably Church of San Pietro for examples) , and for this reason as well as visitors being able to visit the tomb of St.Francis it has become a place of pilgrimage.

Must Do: Walk to the very top of the village, next to a fortress of sorts, and take in the view. It is breathtaking.

It is a beautiful little village, quiet and traditional, despite the occasional souvenir shop. Or maybe not souvenir shops, but more like shops for religious mementos and figures. It was very clear that though small, it has been, and still is a religious centre. This said, I have never considered myself particularly religious, always believing in “something” but never God as we know him. A higher power yes, a man who created all of earth, no. I still had one of the most emotional experiences of my life when I entered the Holy site of St. Francis tomb. Laura and I  walked into the round room and sat down, a little way apart from each other. It was quiet and I thought of my late Grandfather and sent some thoughts his way. I sent some thoughts to my friends and family. And then I looked at the tomb and started crying. Not hysterically, and not audibly, but tears were running at a steady pace down my face and I felt so much grief. Overwhelming grief. Like the entire room contained the grief of centuries of people mourning the loss of the patron saint of Italy.  I won’t go into it more than that, but I will say this : I walked out of the room and out of the church and felt lighter than I had in years. That silent church room felt peaceful and safe and the emotional release that happened in it stayed with me for a long time.

Monterosso – Cinque Terre Coast

We were only going to go to the beach one day to relax a little by recommendation of Nadine (our host at the B&B) but once we got there we decided to go back for another day. Who knew that such a tropical looking and feeling beach could be found so far north?  Monterosso al mare is the biggest of the five villages that make up the Cinque Terre coastline. Now, we had spent so much time exploring other cities that when we got to Monterosso we spotted the beach and decided to just stay there. It didn’t help that it was very very warm for the season and lying straight out soaking up some sun seemed like the best plan of action. We enjoyed it immensely, despite me getting a severe sunburn on my legs after going for a dip, and I know I want to go back there and see more.  Only this year the Cinque Terre coast line and the villages along it have become the “it” place to be and now everyone who is anyone have explored the five villages and my Instagram timeline is all Italy. It has become evident that we missed out on some spectacular views, but that just means I have an excuse to go back. As if I need an excuse 😛

Venice

One of the cities we really were looking forward to visit was World Heritage Site Venice. The city that is not a city exactly, but rather hundreds of little islands that all together make up the rocky foundation of a city. Gondolas, the architecture, the picturesque river “streets”, it all came together and offered a wholly romantic experience. I didn’t question the honeymoon destination stamp for a minute, because everything screamed romanticised nostalgia and historical grandeur. It was gorgous, but quiet, if one walked out of the steam of tourist (the Norwegian herring in a bucket metaphor has never been more appropriate).

It also felt like a ghost city. We took a wrong turn on purpose and ended up in no mans land. Only old buildings and quiet waters. No life in the windows and no life in the streets. The historical grandeur was still present, but it became aerie. The emptiness of the vast city compared to what it must have been like was loud and intrusive, but an experience in itself. Venice was an odd mix of bustling tourism and absolute silence, but it was all together beautiful.

Lucca and Bologna

The other two cities we visited were Lucca and Bologna. Lucca is known in particular for the historical Renaissance city walls. We spent hours walking the pedestrian paths on the wall and enjoying the view of the architecture. When lunch time rolled around we had followed the maps to the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, a square that used to be an old amphitheater, but is a shopping and food centre today. We sat down at a café and spent time people watching, soaking up the smells and the sounds and the rapid Italian flying around all around the square.

Must Visit Tip : Piazza dell’Anfiteatro is a wonderful square full of life and colour, cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops if you go looking for postcards.

Bologna is another historical city, but this one is arguably most known for the use of arches in the architecture. Bologna is also the place of origin of Bolognese, but arguably not the Dolmio kind, as when we had some bolognese in Bologna it tasted heavenly. The food we ate in Bologna was as Italian as it gets and there were so so many places to choose from. If you prefer a menu in English some restaurants do offer that, but often restaurants that cater to locals more than tourists are cheaper so take that into consideration!

Our 12 days in Rome, Florence and Tuscany were some of the best days of my life and we couldn’t have asked for better weather or better hosts. Impressions for a lifetime, but just a taster of what Italy has to offer.  I can’t wait to go back one day, hopefully not too far in the future. Xxx

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Europe, norway, Travel

Norway: Midnight Sun Camping

It’s Tuesday night  and I’m back at work after an amazing two weeks With @SwedCar9592. He left at 3.30 am on Sunday night/Monday morning and I can’t describe how sad I am to see him go and how much I miss him already. It’s been truly wonderful and I can’t wait to see him again after he’s moved into his flat in Stockholm and settled into his year abroad.

After our brief visit to the Fisherman’s Village of Nyksund we packed our bags and went camping in a place called Bleik in the municipality of Andøy. To get to Bleik we first had to take the bus from Sortland to Andenes then wait around for a while before jumping on a local bus to Bleik. It says something about how small the place is that only the two of us and a couple from Belgium were on the bus, all four of us going to the same camping site.  Bleik is a village along the National Tourist Route Andøy and is located along one of Norway’s longest white sand beaches (there are currently three beaches all trying to claim that title, but no official measurments have ever been done). By the time we made it to Midnattsol Camping, which was to be our home for the next two days, the sun was already setting and after putting up our tent and eating we caught the cloudy sunset 🙂

After a nice long lie in in a tent we woke up to a beautiful day. I finished reading my book (Jane Eyre = it was brilliant, as one could expect), we played cards, discussed topics of no importance, laughed and lounged in our tents. With no internet to speak of and no laptops we did what campers are supposed to do and enjoyed some offline time. Okay, so he enjoyed some offline time. For me it felt like I was cut off from the world and my inability to check Facebook every 15 minutes slowly drove me mad. We went for a walk along the beach after lunch and stopped several places along the way to enjoy the sun that graced us with her presence occasionally. On one of the stops we ended up building dams in the sand for a good hour, trying to block a little stream of water for no apparent reason other than that playing in the sand is fun 😛 Our day in Bleik was full of moments and views I will never forget. The freedom feeling was overwhelming. It didn’t hurt that we watched the sunset from the beach that night. It was clear and colourful and spectacular, contrasting the stormy feeling of the sunset from the night before, but still taking my breath away.

During the night our tent almost blew away with us in it due to Atlantic wind and we didn’t sleep much, but in the morning we  dragged ourselves down to Bleik harbour to participate in what turned out to be a great experience. A couple of weeks before I had booked us in on a puffin safari with (*cough*) Puffin Safari and they took us out to a bird island (and nature reserve) where we got to see puffin, sea eagle, black cormorants and a host of other sea birds that I don’t remember the name of but do remember were feisty.  My phone camera couldn’t catch the birds properly and after a few failed attempt I gave up watching them through the lens and sat down to take it all in with no screen between me and this untouched piece of nature. The smaller sea birds dove and cawed and fought over fish while the eagles soared high above, watching over their kingdom. The birds were free and fabulous, thriving in their non-human habitat. It was a wonderful, albeit a little short, meeting with mother nature.

I’ll leave you today with this little clip I posted on instagram while in Bleik. There are few things as peaceful and relaxing as the sights and sounds of waves breaking on the shore. Goodnight! Xxx