Italy has always been on my bucket list of countries to visit, and although I have been so fortunate to visit on two separate occasions with a very dear friend of mine in the last 6 months, after two visits I still feel I have unfinished business there. Italy is such a beautiful country: stunning scenery, amazing food and the most wonderful people.
So here is my day-by-day travel blog, like a sort of diary. I have visited some places more than once, but this is Part 1 which covers my very first trip to Italy in November 2016. You might want to put the kettle on for this one!
So I set off from Dublin Airport to Bergamo with my suitcase and my basic level of Italian, and the adventure begins!
It starts in the little Italian town of Chiari. A cute town, full of history and only just under an hour’s drive to Milan. I have to admit I fell in love with the place! This was my base throughout the trip apart from the one night I spent in Milan, and I loved it.
The bell tower in the main piazza chimes every 15 minutes, I was staying only a stone throw away from here and its surprising how you get used to it! These church towers usually contain eight bells, however this church in Chiari is the only one in Italy that uses eleven bells, apart from St Peter’s in Rome.
I arrived late on a Monday evening, so my diary begins on Tuesday 🙂
The first destination was the town of Desenzano, a gorgeous town on the southwestern shore of Lake Garda. Italy’s lakes are honestly breathtaking, so still and vast. Unfortunately the fog was too thick that day to see the usual view of the Alps in the distance from the harbour, but it was still worth it.
It was a beautiful morning walking around Desenzano, exploring the harbour and the adorable little Italian streets. This was such a peaceful and charming town, full of history, cute shops and cafes, stunning views and above all, peace and quiet.
In the afternoon we headed east to the city of Verona, the setting for the most famous love story in history: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (and also The Taming of the Shrew, I believe). I was sad to leave this city after only half a day, there is so much to explore and it is definitely on my list to return to! Arriving into Verona train station, we walked about 10 minutes into the city centre, passing under the old city gates: i Portoni della Brà.
Once on the other side, we arrived in Piazza Bra, the largest piazza in Verona. It was full of restaurants and shops, and also large buildings such as the town hall (Palazzo Barbieri) and Palazzo della Gran Guardia where a huge Mayan exhibition was taking place.
As I walk further into the Piazza, there’s a magnificent sight; the Verona Arena. A stunning piece of architecture, still used for concerts and events today (no longer for gladiators thankfully!) It was built in the first century, and is the third largest Roman amphitheatre in the world.
Lots of people have played here such as Paul McCartney, Adele, Muse, Jamiroquai, Dire Straits, Rod Stewart, Sting, Pink Floyd, Alicia Keys…the list goes on! We spent most of the late afternoon walking around the arena, exploring its backstage tunnels and climbing to the top to catch the view of Verona.
How amazing would it be to play here…venue goals am I right?!
It was amazing to finally see a Colosseum-style piece of Roman architecture in person.
Our next destination was Casa di Giulietta: Juliet’s House. I don’t think that Shakespeare himself ever visited Verona, but this is the house where Juliet Capulet supposedly lived in the play, and it is one of Verona’s main tourist attractions. We left the Arena and walked down the shop street Via Giuseppe Mazzini (I had a quick peek in the Disney store 😉 ).
We soon found the entrance to Juliet’s House. Anyone who has seen the film Letters To Juliet with Amanda Seyfried will know that this place looked stunning in the movie…so beautifully Italian. However the little archway tunnel leading into the courtyard was absolutely filled with couples’ names and the day they visited, not a blank space was left on this wall, it was entirely covered. The whole thing looked very rough to me I have to admit, not quite what I had expected. There was even a couple who had written their names on a bandage and stuck it to the wall…how romantic! The house was very lovely though, with the balcony overlooking the courtyard.
However it was getting dark by now and the amount of people in this little courtyard was too overwhelming so we didn’t linger, there was a crazy queue to touch the statue of Giulietta. I was just happy to have seen it. I wish I got better pictures though!
Verona is such a beautiful city, and half a day is not even near enough! There is so much to do here and I’m definitely going to visit again. Some of my favourite sights were the old city underneath which could still be seen in certain parts, and simply just the busy markets and the pastille coloured houses. It was a joy to be a part of a regular evening in the city of Verona.
If you’re a musician and you ever visit the north of Italy, then the city of Cremona is a MUST! After a little explore of the town, we headed to our main destination for the morning which was the Museo del Violino di Cremona…the Stradivarius Museum! The tour here was more than interesting, I just allowed myself to soak up the music…I’ll admit I shed a little tear and I missed playing music, the downside of traveling!
Cremona born Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) was a master luthier, he is considered the greatest and the most famous in his field. Stradivarius instruments are probably the most famous in the world and are ever-sought after.
The museum was fascinating, long tunnels showing the origin of the violin and its development through the years, and the luthiers that popped up all over the world. There was lots of video and audio stations, including a wooden dome in which you could sit and watch videos of the showcased instruments in action. It was probably the most beautifully designed museum I’ve ever visited.
There were reconstructions of luthier workshops which went through the process of building the instruments , and many halls where you could gaze at the Stradivari collections, I don’t think I’m allowed to publish any pictures of these halls, so I won’t just in case! But go and see for yourself, you won’t be disappointed, it’s called the ‘treasure chest’ for a reason!
‘The Soul of Music’ sculpture which was placed just inside the main entrance.
The afternoon stop was the city of Brescia, just under an hour’s drive north from Cremona. There are many churches to explore in Brescia, the architecture is simply stunning. There is a lot of history to see in this city, and I only scratched the surface. The Duomo Vecchio (below) is an interesting Roman design. This was the old cathedral of the city (hence, vecchio 😉 ), the new one now stands right beside it. It is believed that it was built in the 11th century, some say it is even older, and due to its circular layout it is also called La Rotonda. The crypt underneath was definitely the most interesting and most creepy part of this particular church!
Now for one of the highlights of my travels, the Capitolium and the Roman Forum. I mean LOOK at this!!! This is the Temple of the Capitoline Triad of Brescia, built in 79 AD.
It’s obviously a ruin, but what is there currently is amazing. It was difficult for me to leave it behind, their technology was just other-worldly. The whole place is an archaeological site, traces of houses and burial places can be seen also.
Just next to it, is the remains of the Roman amphitheatre in Brescia. You can still see the tiered seating!
‘The building used for theatrical performances in ancient Brixia was constructed on the slope of Cidneo Hill near the Capitolium and the Forum…The building itself dates from the time of Augustus (late 1st century BC – 1st century AD) and over the years was enlarged and improved, the architectural decoration of the stage building was renovated in the 2nd/3rd century AD…The theatre remained in use until the late Roman period (late 4th-5th century AD), in the 11th/12th century the stage building collapsed, probably because of an earthquake, and the structure was exploited as a source of stone for construction work. Its use is recorded as court for public hearings in the 12th century, but the ruins were soon covered by the earth that slid down from the hillside behind. In the 13th century building was started in the area – then property of the aristocratic Maggi family – on the construction of the mansion that still today stands on some of the ruins of the Roman theatre.’ ~ www.bresciamusei.com.
I love this beautiful evening shot of Brescia City Hall: Palazzo della Loggia.
Also, how adorable is this shop window?!
Thursday is the day we traveled to Milan…exciting! The capital of the Lombardy region and the world’s fashion capital. Arriving into Milano Centrale, our first destination was the Natural History Museum, Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Milano. I’ve always loved these museums and I always try to visit one in every city I go to, I’ve been to the ones in Dublin and London multiple times and each visit is fascinating.
We leave the museum and walk until we reach Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II which will lead us to the Duomo. Here we catch the first glimpse of it!
Of course I made a quick stop here first…;)
And here it is, in all of its magnificence…the Duomo di Milano, or the Milan Cathedral. It took nearly six hundred years to build, and it is the largest cathedral in Italy, the third largest in the world. It is a Gothic style cathedral, and it’s extremely impressive!
The funniest thing I’ve heard about the Duomo is how it was described by Oscar Wilde when he visited Milan in 1875. He called it ‘…an awful failure. Outside the design is monstrous and inartistic. The over-elaborated details stuck up high where no one can see them; everything is vile in it; it is, however, imposing and gigantic as a failure, through its great size and elaborate execution.’
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it doesn’t sound like he was impressed.
I however, disagree with Mr Wilde! I’m no architectural expert, but it’s pretty hard to deny the Duomo’s impressiveness. We took the lift up to explore the roof, and the view is quite breathtaking. 135 spires in total, and each little statue is different, the detail is just indescribable.
From the rooftop, the golden statue of the Madonna can be seen, along with a beautiful view of Milan. Thankfully it was a clear day, although there was some fog in the distance.
The Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II is situated right beside the Duomo. It was built between 1865 and 1877 and is one of the world’s oldest shopping centres.
The interior is so beautiful, even if you’re like me and you’re not really into designer shops, it is well worth walking through just to have a look!
Before leaving the Piazza del Duomo, I have to try a sneaky Aperol Spritz 😉 it’s a traditional aperitif cocktail in Italy, very popular with the young Italians so I’ve heard! A mixture of prosecco, Aperol and soda water served with a slice of orange and ice, and they gave us free homemade crisps! This was definitely a highlight for sure, an Aperol Spritz with a perfect view of the Duomo.
This little church is a total hidden gem, only a short walk from Piazza del Duomo but you’d easily walk right by it.
The Santa Maria presso San Satiro contains a perspective illusion, from the front door you can see what looks like the room continuing behind the altar, it’s only when you walk up to the altar that you can see it’s a flat wall behind!
Sforza Castle (Castello Sforzesco) is quite a popular tourist attraction in Milan, the castle was closed but the courtyards are free to walk around. There’s plenty to see, the courtyard is lovely and you’re surrounded in lots of history. It was a beautiful night time walk.
A night time shot of the Duomo di Milano 🙂
I could not come to Italy and not experience some live music, it’s one of the most important places for classical music! This is the stage at the Milan Auditorium, where we waited for the Milan Symphony Orchestra (Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano) to take to the stage. Their performance of Verdi’s Requiem was simply stunning.
Requiem is scored for four solo singers, double choir and the orchestra. The four singers were Inva Mula (soprano), Stefanie Iranyi (mezzo soprano), Azer Zada (tenor) and Kihwan Sim (baritone). We sat in the front row, right in front of the conductor and the tenor and baritone, which made the whole experience much more…powerful! I realised afterwards that I didn’t take any pictures during the performance…I was completely captivated.
I’m so glad that I got to visit Milan, there’s so much to see here and I will definitely be back!
We’ve come to my final day in Italy…and it begins with a two hour train journey to Venice…yes, VENICE! The most beautiful city in the world. All I can say is, I’m glad I’ve seen this place before it’s underwater because its so wonderful and unique.
The city is built on a number of small islands, around 118 I think. The canals and waterways are Venice’s version of roads, all connected by over 400 bridges. There are no cars in Venice, you can either travel by boat or walk.
I fell asleep on the train, and just as I woke up we were crossing the Ponte della Libertà, the bridge that links Venice to the mainland. The train was surrounded by blue water and it felt very strange. It was extremely hot as we walked out of Santa Lucia train station, and we began exploring.
The best way to see the most of a city in less time is a hop-on hop-off bus tour, or in Venice’s case…a boat tour!
The boat left Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia and went around the city towards Piazza San Marco, Venice’s main square. From there, we explored the centre of the city.
And for anyone wondering…this is how Pokemon Go looks in Venice! 😉
A classic Venetian scene…
And that water…
This picture has to be one of my favourites, how adorable is this street?! Imagine living here!!
There’s no better way to end a trip to Italy than a classic Italian pizza, I’m getting hungry just looking at the picture again!
A tick off the bucket list, my first trip to Italy was even more amazing than I thought it would be. It was impossible to include every detail as I did so much and I feel this post is already long enough! There was so much I could have elaborated on, but honestly there is so much history in Italy that it’s impossible to go into detail on everything. I feel like I’m not doing it justice by leaving so much out, but honestly this was just my experience and hopefully you agree that the pictures explain themselves. If you’ve made it all the way to the end, then thank you so much for reading and I hope you enjoyed it! And also keep an eye out for Part 2 very soon!
Grazie mille ancora, e ci vediamo dopo! 🙂