Friday, June 26, 2009

Dolce Vita : Pisa, Florence and Cinque Terra

Among the countries in Europe, one of the most traveled and popular is Italy I think. And it has a lot to offer too. From the Alps to the islands to ancient history to fabulous beaches to Venice! It has it all! I myself have visited Italy at least 3-4 times, and still there are so many supposedly fabulous places there to visit.

My first trip to Italy was in Easter 2006, to Tuscany and close by areas (Pisa, Florence and Cinque Terra). We landed in Pisa, and were there for half a day. In Pisa, the only worthwhile place to visit is the Leaning Tower of Pisa, else don't much see the point of going there.

The Leaning Tower is located in an enclosed park-like area with green grass (which is very good for sleeping in the sun, especially if you are from a sun starved place like London!!), where there are three buildings : The Tower, the Duomo and the Baptistery. In fact, all three of them are tilted but possibly because of its height, the lean in the Tower is a lot more visible. The typical photograph taken by anyone who is visiting the Tower is with your hand superimposing the tower, as if its you who are pushing it down! Its a must for anyone visiting this wonder of the world.

There is a ticket to go up the Tower, a bit expensive, but if you are there, you may as well climb it! The climb is not too strenuous, and you will realize while climbing up that you start walking at a tilted angle, same as the angle of the tower! The climb does get a bit scary, specially when you are on the top and you realise that the building you are standing on is actually tilled and someday expected to fall down:)) In fact even when you get down, you will walk tilted for sometime. You get a good view of the Pisa town from the top of the Tower.

You can walk around a bit in the Pisa town, its like any other Italian town, light brown in colour, with old houses, and the mandatory river flowing through. The area around the Tower is also very touristy, lot of shops selling tourist ware. One thing you definitely should do while in Italy is to have the Gelato (ice cream). The flavours are varied, and its available (and needed) everywhere given the heat.

Our second stop was Florence. Inspite of everyone I know who has visited the city loving it, somehow I did not feel the same. The city is like any other Italian city/town. You can choose out of a couple of walking tours in the city. We took one, where they tell you the history of the city, the old families who used to rule Florence and the rest of Italy, where the 'hole in the wall' saying came from, about the Medici family and how they ruled the city etc etc. Florence is a city of Wealth and Art. Apparently it was ruled by a number of strong families, the most famous among them being the Medici family.
They owned the city and would do what they pleased too. You can even see a walkaway from their own house to other parts of the city which was built by them so that the Medici family members could travel around the city without having to walk in the open. This walkaway runs in the middle of houses and other buildings, and this could be done just because they were so powerful!
Florence was also where Michalenaglo worked for a part of his life. There are hazaar churches, piazzas and palazzos (palaces) you can see in the city, and most of them are actually quite impressive (you can see the huge list at the train station!). Someone who loves architecture would definitely fall in love with Florence, there is just so much to see and explore!!

The Duomo is the most impressive and famous building in the city, with its watch tower and the huge dome which was built after many years of trial and errors. Apparently everytime it was built, the dome used to fall down because of its huge size. After years of remaining an open roof church, the dome was finally completed using a new architectural technique devised by Michaelangelo.
Just next to the Duomo is the Florence city square with the townhall etc. Another couple of sculptures there, and a lot of history (most of which I have forgotten!)

Another thing to note in the city was the fresco paintings in churches all over the city, apparently a technique devised in Florence itself.

There are also a couple of museums in the city, with famous sculptures. The line to enter the museums is generally long, so you may want to take the walking tours which include the entry to the museums also. We saw one of the museums, the one with 'David'. Was a decent museum, with lot of sculptures etc.
One thing you can definitely do when in Italy, and that is shop! I walked around a bit in Florence while waiting in the line for the museum, and there was hazaar shops with amazingly designed clothes and sold very very cheap. Some of the most stylish clothes i bought in Europe, were actually from Florence:)
Our last halt on this trip was in Cinque Terra, where we actually got a feel of what the Italian word , 'Dolce Vita' (the good life) actually means! Cinque Terra refers to a national park in the north of Italy,within which were discovered 5 villages. The 5 villages are Montessoro, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. [Links from Wiki photos] All the 5 villages are located on cliffs, in a straight line along the ocean. These villages were discovered quite late, as they are isolated from the rest of the mainland by the mountains which surround them. They are not reachable by road, and are completely isolated from the world. The people in these villages just enjoy a laidback life away from the world, and you would learn that too, within two days of being there! Long lunches, looking at the panoramic view, walking around spending time in the villages, and the forest and the walks and the treks. A relaxing time is what you will get here!

The Cinque Terra villages can be reached only either by train which link the 5 villages or else by trekking. The trains are similar to the mountain trains we have in India, like in Ooty and Darjeeling, and run at their own pace. The tracks are next to the sea, passing through tunnels in the hills giving amazing views of the woods and the sea, a mesmerising journey... The trek between the villages is quite a favorite too among tourists, to walk from one village to the other, eat some tasty food, and enjoy the local wine and then to move on to trek to the next village! The villages are all similar, but still different. You can timepass there too, in the small by-lanes. Shopping there would be expensive though.

The treks between the villages are fun, and not too long or taxing, with picture-perfect views on the way. Frequent stops at the villages and elsewhere gives the much needed break. You can also hire cycles to cycle in the national park (which we were not able to do). Some of the
villages have beaches too, but not too impressive.

Food is one of the easier things to come by in Italy, especially for vegetarians. The pastas and pizzas that you get in Italy, are somehow (and I cant understand why) much much tastier than what you get elsewhere. Not sure what they do to it, but I guess once you have the Italian food in Italy, you never like what you get elsewhere! For vegetarians, there is always the Penne Arrabiata and Penne Pomodoro to take you through the trip. Waiters will take good care of you too, asking frequently, 'tu to ben hai'? 'ma ben hai!' (meaning something like, hope everything is fine, yes everything is fine!) :) Could'nt help laughing everytime they ask!!

Trains in Italy are as they are in India, chaotic, and never on time. Specially in Cinque Terra, the train driver starts the train only once he sees that everyone who got off the train is back on:) Timings dont really matter there, as they say, dont hurry, 'Dolce Vita'!

1 comment:

  1. How about covering a unique heritage hotel from Darjeeling on your blog, voted among top 10 colonial hotels.