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

Europe, Italy, Travel

Italy: Florence Is My Favourite

After a couple of wonderful days in a sunny Rome we caught a train up north to Florence, the biggest city in the Northern region of Tuscany and the birthplace of the Renaissance. We stayed in a little Bed&Breakfast called “My Friends Guesthouse” run by a lovely young woman called Nadine. She gave us local  tips on all the best places to get food in town, told us about the little hidden treasures we should look for and helped us out with everything from maps, getting our laundry done and booking train tickets when the website was only available in Italian. The guesthouse is close to the train station and had such a lovely atmosphere that I would definitely recommend it to anyone traveling, but maybe especially for women, as it felt very safe.

We stayed for a week and a half in Florence, using it as a base for day trips out to  a number of different cities, but we also spent a significant amount of time exploring the city itself. With under 400 000 inhabitants it’s not a very large city, but it can boast with being one of the fashion capitals of the world, its historic centre (centro storico) is  a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it  is arguably one of the most architecturally beautiful cities in the world (oh how I wish I knew I would eventually start a travel blog and had taken more and better photos).

Must-See Tip: Piazzale de Michelangelo. Catch a bus or walk up to this lovely square that offers a brilliant view of Florence and the surrounding area, but make sure to bring a camera because you will want to capture it!

After being tourists in Rome, we needed a change of pace so the slightly less hectic Florence was just what the doctor ordered. Where we in Rome rushed around to do as much as possible in the few days we had, we took it rather leisurely in Florence and it felt like we were getting even closer to the authentic Italy.

While in Florence we visited the Accademia Galleria, home of the famous Michelangelo statue David. It was a lovely gallery, albeit a little underwhelming, despite David being about three times bigger than expected. We had to queue for a long time to get tickets and the queue stretched on for almost two  blocks so if I were to go again I would probably have gotten the tickets online (see link above). Another famous gallery in Florence is the Uffizi Gallery, but this one we sadly didn’t have time to visit. We did however see two of the main attractions: the medieval Ponte Vecchio (literally, “old bridge) and the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Walking through the streets of the historic centre where both are located is like walking back in time. Gorgeous, breathtaking, awesome, they all apply.

Best Pizza In Town Tip: Gusta Pizza  the best and most authentic italian pizza in Florence. They cook the pizza from scratch with good quality ingredients and despite being very very busy, this little restaurant is well worth a visit! Keep in mind that on especially busy times or days there may not be enough places to sit, but there is a piazza (square) right around the corner next to the  Basilica San Miniato al Monte which makes for a lovely lunch spot!

Though there are many things to see as a tourist in Florence, it’s not a city that screams tourism and it doesn’t take much to get away from the crowd. It doesn’t  take much to find quiet little areas that are imbued with a calm Italian soul and is rather busy just being a city and not a tourist machine. It doesn’t take much to go from city-break to small-town idyll and I loved that about Florence. In our almost two week long trip, there is no doubt in my mind that Florence was my favorite city by far and I can’t wait for a chance to return.

In between touring the ever-charming streets of this quintessential Italian city we spent our days exploring  Venice, Assisi, Lucca, Bologna and Monterosso on the Cinque Terre coast . We took local trains and it was a wonderful way of seeing a lot of Northern Italy, but not having to move around all the time. A post about our time spent exploring Tuscany will be up soon! Xxx

Europe, Italy, Travel

Italy: Sightseeing Rome & The Best Gelato In Town

Oh, Rome, oh Rome, how I love you!  Right after my Epic Ireland Adventure last year I packed my bags again and headed off to Italy for 12 days with my Brazilian friend Laura (the one I will be visiting in Rio de Janeiro next year whiii). Our first stop was Rome and we had three days to explore the city. Neither of us had ever been to Italy or to Rome before so we came open to any and all impressions and was delighted by everything we saw.

Our first day was spent doing general sightseeing and getting a feel of the city and the public transport. We quickly checked off the Spanish steps, the Trevi fountain with its surrounding cobblestone streets, the Pantheon and a couple of famous Piazzas (squares) from our “to see” list and of course we ended the day with a pasta dinner.

Rome is romantic from top to bottom and was made for wandering. We walked from place to place between the little signs around the city, reading maps and often just following the stream of people. We visited the city outside of the high season, but as it happens it was Easter so the streets were packed with religious pilgrims and excited tourists wanting to catch a glimpse of the Pope anyway, and the Metro was busy.

We quickly discovered that Rome is a tourist city. Everywhere there are streams of tourists visiting the top attractions and it takes a little walking to get places if you want to avoid the Metro. Walking the streets of Rome turned out to be one of the best decisions we made however, because exploring outside of the touristic paths meant we got to see a calmer Rome. A Rome slow in tempo and an everyday life kind of Rome, like the Trastevere district. I preferred the outskirts of the city to the endless queuing of the main attractions, for example seeing the Trevi fountain in real life and tossing a coin into it was a bucket list moment, but it was slightly dampened by feeling slightly claustrophobic among hundreds of other people doing the same thing.

Gelato Tip: The best gelato in town according to pretty much every local we met was the Gelateria La Romana. Mindblowingly tasty natural flavours and a really lovely warm atmosphere that doesn’t cater to tourists (with english translations and such) but instead comes across as authentically Italian – we ended up going back every single day we were in Rome for a tasty treat!

On our second day we headed off to the the Roman Forum, the historic city centre,  to soak up some history. As part of the Roman Forum round trip you can head up on Palatine Hill, the location of the ancient settlement that eventually become Rome and gaze upon ruins that looks straight out of Hercules. It was beautiful. It really hit home the magnitude of what used to be the Roman empire as well as the sheer “oldness” of it all. I touched a stone wall that was thousands of years old and it took my breath away.

Our last day in Rome was spent exploring the Colosseum and seeing the Vatican city as well as walking through the city for our last round of Gelato at La Romana.  We also wandered into Orange Park, a green area located on quite a steep hill that gives you an excellent view of the St.Peter’s Basilica. When we visited the Vatican, we ended up not going into the basilica due to the queue being several hours long, but we enjoyed exploring the grounds around it and the striking image it made against the city backdrop.

Colosseum Ticket Tip: Get your tickets to both the Colosseum and the Roman Forum at the Roman Forum entrance. The queue is about 3 times as long to get tickets at the Colosseum so we saved a lot of time! Another option is getting them online, just make sure to avoid the queue to get your tickets as the queue to get in also takes time!

3 days of exploring this historic city was not nearly enough time to get to know it properly, but we thoroughly enjoyed it and covered most of the major tourist attractions in only a few days. It’s odd how a large capital city can feel entirely quaint and not really large at all, but Rome did it.  I absolutely can’t wait to go back and sorely wish we had had more time there, but after Rome we headed straight up north to Tuscany and explored the region for a week and a half  – so we had no time to lose! A  post about that will be up next week. Hello, Florence,  you beauty! Xxx

Books & Films, Travel

10 Films That Inspire Travel

It’s no secret that I’m big on films and watch more than the average number. As I grew up, so did my enthusiasm for travel grow and these films were part of what inspired me to want to visit new places and explore new cultures. You’ll notice that all of these flicks are from 2000 and onwards and that’s simply because, although I have watched quite a few older films in later years, these are the ones I fell in love with as a tween and teen. Here in no specific order are 10 films that inspire travel:

Ratatouille (2007, Walt Disney Pictures)
With gorgeous animation and French music all throughout this cute film about a rat who wants to be a chef is great fun for kids and parents alike. I put it on this list because 1,  Oh, J’taime Paris! And 2, I love it when children get play and learn to be adventurers through fiction, whether that be films or books or graphic novels.

Eat, Pray, Love (2010, Sony Pictures)
Set in Italy, India and Bali this journey explore all aspects of life. It’s spicy and a brilliant film for foodies looking for inspiration, while simultaneously showcasing some beautiful location and cultures. Admittedly a bit of a chick flick, but still inspirational!

Mamma Mia (2008, Universal Pictures)
Catchy ABBA music and a romantic Greek island –  what´s not to like? As a scandinavian I’m contractually obligated to love and know every ABBA song by heart, but this is just one of the many reasons I love Mamma Mia. I haven’t been to Greece yet, but the blue ocean, white and blue buildings and lovely cliffs would tempt anyone to go island jumping in the Greek isles!

Lord of The Rings Trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003, New Line Cinema)
Peter Jackson discovered and developed his love for long landscape shots and epic establishing shots in the LOTR trilogy. The three films were shot in New Zealand and as most of you know the local tourist economy is now thriving because of it. Previously undiscovered but these films made us want to see the breathtaking nature and magical sets for ourselves. The films are also about taking an epic journey and has a real traveller spirit feeling to them.

Blended (2014, Warner Bros. Pictures)
However unrealistic it may be that you get to go on a luxury holiday to Africa, and however (slightly) racist some of the stereotypes in this film are, it does have some lovely heartwarming moments and shows off some wonderful African nature and wildlife. Especially the scene where Drew Barrymores character hang glides behind a truck lets the audience see some amazing clips of the different, but stunning nature. It helps that this film is also genuinely funny!

Amélie (2001, UCG Fox)
This quirky French film is worth a watch if you don´t mind the subtitles. Set in Paris Amélie (played by Adrey Tautou) finds love by smiling to the world and wandering around this colorful city (it really is colourful – stunning visuals!) . The music is a little bit more like folk-music than in Ratatouille, but still the epitome of French.

Ps: I Love You (2007, Warner Bros. Pictures/Momentum Pictures)
The romantic film that makes every woman cry and every man roll his eyes. And also the film that showcases some beautiful  Irish music, nature and pub culture. I’ve visited Ireland before and though the film showcases a slightly understated version of Irish nature because of it’s everyday life focus, it is still impossibly green.

Up (2009, Walt Disney Pictures)
Ellie is a dreamer who wants to travel the world and her husband Carl flies away in a house strapped to balloons. Do I need to say more? Another film that makes kids want to travel, to go beyond their own comfort zones and encourages them to not stop dreaming even if their dreams seem far away. Heart warming ❤

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012, Fox Searchlight Pictures)
If you love the great classical actors who always represent the epitome of British culture, fun Bollywood music and sometimes awkward dramady jokes then this cute film is worth a watch! A group of British retirees head to India for their retirements, only to discover that they didn’t know everything about life and love after all. Lovely mix-mash of Indian culture and British humour.

Up in the Air (2009, Paramount Pictures)
This film is probably the one I´ve watched most recently, found on Netflix one lazy Sunday morning. It takes a while to get into it and sometimes it is downright odd, but there are humorous parts that makes up for the slow start. This film is on the list because I adore flying and like Clooney’s character I have a thing for collection frequent flyer miles just to collect them, though I mostly collect SAS points (Northern Norway hometown perks). Let yourself be inspired by the jet setter life 🙂

Let me know if you have any films that have inspired you to travel in the comments below! Xxx