Cute, bumpy train ride around Verona

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It had been many years since I last visited Verona so I thought it was time to return when I was in Italy recently.

I had booked a room in a BnB close to the main entrance to the the old wall city. After checking in to the bnb, I grabbed my camera and headed in to the city.  I walked through the main entrance in to the popular Piazza Brà.  Mama mia, I was not prepared for the crowds that were there.  After spending most of my time now days in the regional areas and smaller towns and villages of Italy, Verona was a shock.  But, of course, that is to be expected of Verona.  It is popular, as it is so famous and so very beautiful.

On my previous visit to Verona, I had visited all of the most popular places including the Arena/ Anfiteatro and Casa di Giulietta, so this time I spent time just wandering around the city exploring and visiting whatever was in my path.

After my leisurely lunch in the Piazza della Ragione I walked up to the Ponte Pietra and sat on the wall taking in the loveliest views of the river Adige and the surrounding hills.

 

dscf9007Late in the afternoon I returned to the Piazza Brà where I spotted the cute little tourist train getting ready to go for its next tour of the city. I was tired so this was a perfect opportunity for me to see more of Verona and rest my legs at the same time.

The 25 minute train ride cost 5 euro and I can easily say, it is the best 5 euro I have spent in Italy in a long time. Sure, it was a very bumpy ride on the old cobblestone streets but it was fun.  I took lots of photos and also laughed a lot as we hit many big bumps just as I was clicking the camera. The train does look a little goofy and touristy but I am so pleased that I went on it.

This Tour of Verona by train provides a good orientation of the city to enable you to plan what you want to see. Sit on the left side if you want to take photos as most of the major sites are on this side. However, you don’t get long to see the sites as the train goes past most of them quite quickly. Nevertheless, there are some quite nice views as you cross the river.

It is an interesting journey passing close to all major monuments, the most beautiful squares, and famous places including the Castel Vecchio, Porta Borsari, Duomo, Piazza Erbe, Balcone di Giulietta, Chiesa di San Fermo, and the Arena.

After a very interesting and fun excursion we returned to the Piazza Brà

This ride around the central city is a great way to get a feel for the town and see some major attractions.  

The alternative is the hop on/off bus which does go further afield however most is accessible by foot, so save the cash and have a little fun on this cute little train!

A Fun Day out – Markets in Lucca

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The markets in Lucca are on every Wednesday and Saturday morning, in Via dei Bacchettoni.

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Lucca Markets

I am a big fan of the local markets in Italy and always make a point of visiting them if my visit coincides with the days they are on.  Sometimes, I buy lots of different items, sometimes I buy just some lovely fresh local produce, and sometimes I just go to enjoy the local atmosphere and sit centrally and enjoy a locally made delicacy.

On this last trip to Lucca, we headed out from our apartment early to not only enjoy these rather large markets but also to beat some of the crowds. After wandering and exploring for a while, we took time to sit on some “child-size”chairs to enjoy our first coffee and dolce of the day, and, of course, people watch.

These markets set up in the early morning and start taking down about 1 or 2 pm, so remember to go early.  The area around the markets is total chaos so make sure you walk to them as finding a car park is just about impossible.

The majority of the stall-holders make their living from the markets, so in general, the prices and quality are good, and there are bargains to be had.

Get a real taste of the local culture while watching the bustling shoppers banter with vivacious vendors. But most importantly: Don’t forget the food! Seasonal fruits and veggies, farm-made cheeses, fresh fish and meats, and local wines are to be found in the friendly stalls. Italy can boast some of the best food in the world and that food is at its very best in the local markets.

Lucca markets are really very good with an array of everything from shoes to bedspreads, clothes, fruit and vegetables, household items and hardware and everything in between.

dscf8504dscf8507dscf8510The markets are usually cash-only so you should always carry enough cash to get you through the day, and don’t expect vendors to accept credit cards or any other form of payment.

Although visiting the local markets is a great outing they are specifically for the locals and by no means oriented towards tourists so very little of the “cheap” imported products are to be found. However, you will find some items from China etc.

A visit to these local markets, can be a fun, inexpensive day out.

People Watching – Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro

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It wasn’t till my last visit to Lucca did I discover Piazza dell’Anfiteatro.  I must have walked through this piazza on previous visits to Lucca; however, I did not “see” it.

The Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro is a large circular piazza located in the north central region of Lucca Italy within the walls.  It was once the site of an ancient Roman Amphitheatre where gladiators and beasts engaged in mortal combat.

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Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro

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Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro is now a popular tourist destination featuring an assortment of outdoor restaurants and cafes.

The remains of the Roman amphitheatre are preserved, incorporated in the buildings bordering the present day Piazza dell’Anfiteatro

Art day in the piazza

Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro

We stopped here one morning for our coffee and knew immediately that we would be returning, which we did, again and again.

This is my favourite Piazza in the walled city, to sit and relax with a coffee, cold drink, apertivo or a meal and just watch the world go by. Any time of the day or night there is always entertainment, excitement and enjoyment.

It is rather quaint with a lovely atmosphere. It is easy to walk around and to explore the local shops. There really are some lovely shops. One that we particularly enjoyed and did some serious shopping in is Tre Sorelle.  Also,you can go through the archway, which circles around the piazza, to find many more shops, bars and restaurants.

There are horse and carriage rides available from within the circle of buildings.

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It is definitely a wonderful meeting place for both visitors and locals and their best friends.

This piazza is a must visit. You cannot visit Lucca without checking out this special oval square. There are many restaurants, lively ambiance and a unique setting

Panoramic Views of Lucca

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If you persevere the view is amazing!

Panoramic of Lucca of course, with the mountains all round, and the tiny people wandering about way below.

As I have mentioned in the past, when you have the time to spend more than a few days in an area, a town or a village, we have the opportunity to see, do and experience so much more.  Rather than just seeing the sights on the top of the list of things to do, we can enjoy so many more things down the list and enjoy them leisurely.

While staying in Lucca we had the luxury of time to do exactly that. One of those experiences was climbing the Guinigi Tower.

Be prepared for a hard climb which is not for the faint hearted but the view from the top is worth it. Have a rest at the top and enjoy your achievement.

There are lots of stairs – over 200 –  but they are wide most of the way and easily negotiated. This is a fairly long climb but there are plenty of places to stop and have a breather.

The stairs

It really is remarkable to climb this ancient tower and ponder about all the people who hauled the stone by hand to build it. It is a great way to realize that there is lots of Lucca you haven’t seen yet.

This is a fantastic tower, which you can see from the walls of Lucca.  It is the tower with several oak trees planted on the top. These ancient Holm Oak trees symbolize rebirth and renewal.  It is like a little park up the top where you can see the whole city and mark where all the most famous buildings are.  The Torre Guinigi, which is a typical example of local Romanesque-Gothic architecture, is the most important tower of Lucca.

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The Guinigi Tower is well worth the climb. The views of the city of Lucca and the surrounding areas are marvelous.

As with all Towers in Italy, get here early to avoid the crowds.

Wonderful Piazza with Pizzazz – Cortona

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Several years ago while we were driving from Florence to Le March we stopped in to Cortona, Tuscany for lunch. From that short stay and quick look around  I knew that I would return some day to spend some time there.

The day came and I spent 3 full wonderful days exploring this gorgeous city.

I took the train from Bagni di Lucca to Cortona, which took almost 4 hours with 2 changes, one at Lucca and one at Florence (Firenze). There are actually 2 train stations for Cortona so you must get off at Camucia-Cortona.

Taken from the train

I took a taxi from the train station up to the town. On the way up the views were so magnificent that I couldn’t help myself from taking many photos. The taxi driver stopped and offered for me to get out and take as many photos as I would like. Yes please.

Just when I thought I had seen it all I arrive in this gorgeous city. To say that it took my breath away would be an understatement.

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The hotel I had booked in to was just a couple of metres from Piazza della Repubblica – down a small lane-way. I was greeted by a very friendly and proud local young man who was the receptionist.  He pointed out that some of the door-ways and parts of the building in this hotel were from the Etruscan era. Can you imagine being in something that old.

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Etruscan Door-way

After checking in, I went to explore.  It was quite late afternoon by this time, so too late for restaurants to be serving lunch. So I chose a popular  bar overlooking the Piazza, to have my apertivo and people watch and take in the activities that were happening around me. I could have sat there for hours and I probably did as I enjoyed it so much I was not in any hurry to move on. If you enjoy piazzas, this stunning Medieval Piazza is a must seen with its terrific shops and restaurants.

Cortona is a must stop if you are in Tuscany and the piazza is stunning both from its history as well as current functionality. There is so much history in Cortona and this is a perfect starting point

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Piazza della Repubblica, and its nearly attached twin, Piazza Signorelli, are wonderful settings in which to become engaged with food, history, shops, but most of all people. Sitting up on the steps overlooking Piazza della Repubblica appears to be a very popular past time for tourists and locals. Of course I joined them. I was delighted to visit this very charming piazza which was less busy than many other piazzas that I have visited in Italy.

This is the view from the breakfast room which was on the top floor in my hotel.

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View from breakfast room

Mama Mia, absolutely gorgeous and so ITALIAN

The Day the Giro d’Italia came to town

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Not long after I arrived in Arezzo I could feel that something special was happening.  While wandering around exploring, I saw the barricades being installed and of course all the signs and banners. The Giro d’Italia was coming to town.

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I have never really been a big fan of bike racing, although I do enjoy watching it on tv but mostly for the scenery. But, it did not take me long to be caught up in the excitement of the town.

While enjoying my morning coffee in the Piazza Grande, about 6 middle-aged men in lycra arrived. They were all from Australia and New Zealand. Listening to them, I learned that they were all ex Olympians or Commonwealth games winners.  They were here to watch the race. This just added to the excitement of being in Arezzo on such a special occasion.

Everywhere I went there were flags and banners and barricades for the race and many hours before the cyclists were due, people were already beginning to line the streets. The atmosphere was electric with a party feel.

There was a big van decorated in the official Giro d’Italia colours in the Piazza Monaco Guido which was just near my accommodation.  In fact my window overlooked it all. There was a loud speaker with the constant recording announcing the race and offering Giro packs for sale.

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I bought a pack for 10euro which consisted of a pink cap, a pink t-shirt and  a pink plastic “clapper”.  It was official; I was caught up in the moment.

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There were several marquees and media booths set up, truck after truck of equipment and lots of police around.

The crowds were already jockeying for positions behind the temporary barricades. I managed to find myself a great spot near the beginning of the cyclists entrance in to Arezzo.  I felt as though I was probably the only Aussie, in fact, non speaking Italian standing there, but I was totally caught up in the overwhelming excitement of it all.

Suddenly a motorcade of Italian police cars and bikes appeared around the bend with sirens blaring and blue lights flashing.

Then a flash goes by, then another, then they are gone.  I had my camera poised to take the photos but they went by so quickly I was lucky to get any photos.

Apart from the slower cyclist and support vehicles it was all over.  The biggest surprise for me was the amount of team cars carrying spare bikes and parts.

I wandered off feeling so very fortunate that I experienced such a wonderful event.

 

 

 

 

Vinci – Leonardo !!! Who

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In 1452, in the little hamlet  Anchiano, in the Tuscan hills, on the outskirts of the village of Vinci  a little boy was born. He was named Leonardo.

When Leonardo was baptised in the church of Santa Croce, in the village of Vinci, he became known as Leonardo of Vinci, or in Italian, Leonardo da Vinci. This is a Renaissance Florentine name. The name da Vinci is an indicator of birthplace, not a family name.

Today, Leonardo is widely considered one of the most diversely talented individuals ever to have lived.

Vinci is a small town  located in Tuscany, in the province of Firenze.  Vinci is located more or less mid way between Pisa and Florence and right in the heart of rural wine growing Tuscany and is about 35 kilometres west of Florence.  We travelled there by coach from Lucca which took about 45 minutes

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Vinci View

Vinci is surrounded by the Tuscan hills with vineyards and olive groves and amazing views

I really enjoyed our time in Vinci and wish we had more time there. In a Tuscany that has been taken over by a lot of tourism this little town still has the right mix of “real Italy” and convenience for visitors.

If you have the chance to visit Vinci be sure to take time to walk around Vinci’s small historic centre. It provides plenty of quantities of culture, scenic beauty and a taste of Tuscany.

Vinci is a very small town so moving around is fairly easy. There are only a few places to visit in Vinci which can all be covered on foot. The historic centre of the town is very compact and is not suitable for driving around in a car because of its many winding narrow streets and lanes. Around the centre there are restaurants and bars, shops, tourist information, public restrooms, parking lots, and a park with picnic area. You can also visit the small Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci (open 10:00 to 1:00 and 3:00 to 7:00 in the old castle cellars that has a private collection of documents and reconstructions).

The economy of Vinci is based on agriculture, production of wine and olive oil, pottery and items like paper, clothes and furniture.

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View from Vinci

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View from restaurant in Vinci

Vinci is a great place to browse the shops, stroll the streets, enjoy a gelato or buy some  local hand-made pottery and take in the wonderful experience of being in the Tuscan Hills

Relax at the Park

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While staying in Bagni di Lucca, I took many short trips to several towns and cities in Tuscany.

One of these trips was to Arezzo. I travelled there by train which took about 4 hours, and included 2 train changes. The first change was at Lucca, then another change at Florence before the final destination of Arezzo.  It was a pleasant and easy trip.

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After my arrival in Arezzo it was just a short walk from the train station to the Guido Monaco Piazza where the BnB  was where I stayed for a couple of nights.

After checking in to the BnB,  I headed out on foot to explore this lovely city.  It was not very far to walk up to the “old town”

At the top of the Arezzo hill, between the cathedral and the Medici fortress, is ” Il Prato ” , a beautiful green park.  Il Prato is huge and hard to miss.  Yet, it was remarkably void of tourists and filled with many locals, mostly kids running around and playing games.

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Playing in the park

Il Prato which is near the edge of the walls of the city has lots of beautiful walks under the lovely large trees.  You can walk to the edge of the park and look out over the city walls to the valley below. It is beautiful and very tranquil.

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View from Il Prato

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View from Il Prato

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View from Il Prato

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View from Il Prato

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View from Il Prato

There is a small snack kiosk in the park serving drinks and some of the usual refreshments.

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Kiosk

This park is also home to summer concerts , sporting events and the antiques fair on the first weekend of September.

On this particular day, they were setting up for the Giro d’Italia which was coming through Arezzo while I was staying there. It was so exciting.

Between the cathedral of Arezzo and the Medici Fortress, in the centre of the “Prato”,  is the huge monument dedicated to the great famous poet of the fourteenth century Francesco Petrarca.

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Monument dedicated to Francesco Petrarca

When I first arrrived in Arezzo it was  raining heavily, hailing and thunder storms. Then the day improved and it turned out warm and lovely.

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Rain and Hail in Arezzo

The park is at least a few degrees cooler than being in the centre of Arezzo.  When I felt hot and tired I found a bench overlooking the rest of the town and the hills…it was relaxing and definitely recharged my batteries.

Travelling can be exhausting, so why not take some time to relax in the park?

A little bit of Paradise in Lucca

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There are so many advantages to spending extended time in a town or village when you are travelling. So when we rented the apartment in Lucca for a week we took advantage of that extra time and we visited places that normally one does not have the time to when just passing through or spending a day or 3.

One of those places was in fact the Botanic Gardens of Lucca – the Orto Botanico di Lucca

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Botanical Gardens Lucca

They are small, not far from our apartment and tucked up inside the walls of Lucca.  You can view the gardens from the ancient wall, however we wanted to have a closer inspection and paid the entrance fee to go inside and look around

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The Wall and Gardens

 

Once entering we were given a map of the area and were able to easily stroll through the gardens and enjoy their beauty.

The botanic gardens were quiet, elegant and simply stated. There were indications that they needed some more care but they were still lovely.


There are a variety of trees and plants from all over the world with most of them having signs explaining their origin.

We spent a couple of blissful hours wandering through these pretty gardens and admiring the plant life. We rested on a well placed bench and soaked up the sun for a while.

 

 

There is a lovely pond with a wooden bridge which is a great attraction. Standing on the bridge looking in to the pond was the best part for me. We watched the turtles climbing on to the lily pads and many fish swimming around. It was tranquil.

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Wooden bridge over pond

The pond of water lilies was amazing, as was the story of the ghost who inhabits the area around Halloween/All Saints Day – it might be a bit of historical fiction but very intriguing. The plants and colours were plentiful, as were the seating areas around the gardens – I am so glad we went there!

           Do put the Gardens on your list of places to visit when you are in Lucca.                                                    I’m sure you will enjoy it as I did.

Supermarket in Italy

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One of the many advantages of renting an apartment when in Italy or any where for that matter, is I have the chance to shop in the local supermarket. While in Lucca our local supermarket, Conad, was less than a 5 minute walk from our apartment.

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Supermarket in Lucca

Whenever I have the time when I am travelling, I always enjoy exploring the local supermarkets. It makes me feel more at home and I guess I just enjoying being a part of the local scene. While I was in this Conad supermarket I could not resist taking some photos to share. While many of you have in fact shopped in an Italian supermarket I am sure there are some of you that have not, so I thought you may enjoy some of these photos.

Although, a supermarket is a supermarket,  I always find that they still do have their individuality. For example in Italy, they definitely have an Italian flare.

Here are some photos of the fresh foods sections.

In the fruit and vegetable section there are scales where you must weigh and label your produce that you are purchasing. I remember the first time I bought fruit and did not do this, as I did not know. Mama mia, you would think I had committed a crime. The check-out lady was so angry with me. I never made that mistake again.

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Weighing and labeling machine

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Fresh produce

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Fresh produce

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Fresh produce

The wine and alcohol section always has a great selection even in a small supermarket like this Conad. The prices for alcohol in Italy are usually lower than here in Australia.

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Wines

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Prosecco

The are many similarities to our own supermarkets but there are definitely some unique sections. The fresh meats, pastas and pastry sections in this supermarket were fabulous.

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Fresh pizza and pastries

As the cashier is ringing up your purchases they will usually ask you if you would like Borsa, which is a bag as they do not automatically supply shopping bags. These “Borsa”usually cost a few cents. Occasionally there is no charge for the Borsa

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Check-out register

Here are a few photos of a much larger supermarket I shopped in – Esselunga – which is not far from Lucca.

If you have the time when you are visiting a new town or city, go in to the local supermarket, even if it is just for a look.