Category Archives: Italy

Puglia (Italy): The hidden gem of a too beautiful country

A narrow silent street in central Bari. A large open terrace on top of an old building. It was midnight already and a huge full moon was lighting the sky of this night in the end of July. At the round glass table with six seats, I was having the purest Italian fest: freshly baked sfogliatelle from the miraculous near pasticceria Fittipaldi, still warm and crunchy, with their tens of layers in cinnamon flavor and full of cream. I was making my eyes busy trying to decide which balcony on the building in front was more beautiful. My God, for moments like this, how I love Italy!

The one hour spent earlier that evening in front of the building, trying to find a way to enter using the smart lock that was apparently stupid that time, assisted on the phone by two Russian girls, didn’t even existed anymore. Nor the pain in my feet, from the so damn silly idea of wearing high platforms on that day back home, at work and after, going straight to the airport and then all the long walk to find my B&B. It didn’t matter.

I was in Italy again, the second time this year, after Venice in February, and that’s more than I could ever thank for.

The long night walk in flip-flops through Bari, on the promenade by the Adriatic Sea, watching the people, the discussion with the Italian guy about how he saw more of my country than I and I saw more of Italy than he so far did, and of course the long walks on all the streets of the old town, again and again. All these were hints of a great trip just happening.

Alberobello

The next day, the moment I opened my eyes I was already excited. Wonderland was my destination. I grabbed some hot pastries with tuna and mozzarella from a random coffee shop in the station. It sent me straight to the heaven of taste, so surprisingly good it was. After 1h40 I put my first step in Alberobello, a place made in fairytales that I so wanted to see since the first photo of it came before my eyes, years ago. And there time has stopped. I have no idea for how many hours I walked the tiny streets among hundreds of trulli, the whitewashed stone huts with conical perfect roofs made of grey, flat slate-like stones matched together, bearing white signs of mystical origin, christian or primitive, dating back to old times and cultures venerating the sun. Today, still believed to protect the house from demons or just for good luck.

Alberobello, Italy. Beautiful places

I entered the small shops with colorful local craft products, pottery, jewelry, embroidery, I stare in front of so many trulli I lost any track of time, I had a huge delicious and creamy italian ice cream, I spent minutes to take each photo to avoid the crowds and I long enjoyed a 360 top view on the roof of a local shop.

A short summer shower made everybody disappear in the tiny restaurants around. All I wanted was a glass of red wine, bread and fresh olive oil.

I left Alberobello only after I was fully convinced that I walked every street at least two times.

Alberobello, Italy, beautiful places

I spent the evening walking the limestone streets of the old town in Bari, just randomly, so I could enjoy every sight found by chance. From the lively Piazza Mercantile to the quiet streets around Basilica Di San Nicola, where old neighbours were having long and loud conversations sitting on wooden chairs in front of their doors, under windows with hang-drying clothes. It smelled like good home cooked food and it felt like a happy life.

I choose my dinner by the number of people in front of La Tana del Polpo and the seafood was great, in a very warm Italian atmosphere and with talkative hosts. Was a perfect day and another one was to start in the morning.

Lecce

I was planning to get to Polignano a Mare, one of the pearls in Puglia. And as pearls are expensive, the accomodation there was too. So for a 2 euro train ticket, it seem a better deal to stay in Bari.  But sometimes the plans in the station don’t match those in the train. Sometimes… As far as I knew, the trip was about 1h. After about 15m,  we stopped in Monopoli. This was the station after Polignano. Ups! The Italian girl next to me who spoke very little English confirmed.

No one asked for tickets, the train was full, there was 1h20min to Lecce. While the girl was making conversation, I decide to continue the trip to Lecce and of course to rick a fine.

I got to Lecce with no budget injuries. After more than 30min waiting in a bus station where no bus to the center stopped and another 60 in a local bus that surrounded the city, stopping for 30min at the last station, I finally arrived in the centre, pissed off, thirsty and with zero interest of seeing the city. It was very hot and dry, very few people around, empty terraces and quiet. I walked a little feeling that I should be some place else than the heel of the boot. I took the next train to Polignano. 

Lecce, Italy, beautiful places

Polignano a Mare

The whitest streets with the most beautiful balconies are in Polignano a Mare. Since it has taken me so long to get here, all I needed was a good swim. The famous Lama Monachile Beach, a small area with white stones, surrounded by cliffs with cubic buildings built on top was more beautiful than any photos I’ve seen of it. But painful. First, was packed with people. I finally found 1m free to lay my towel quickly before it gets occupied too. And took a deep breath to have the courage to start walking bare feet the other 3m distance to the sea. Walking on those round white stones can be classified as torture minding my still injured feet from the high platform sandals, plus the last two days of nonstop walking.  

Polignano a Mare, Italy, beautiful places

But when I finally could swim, I felt a huge relief resting my feet. The view was amazing from this point, inside the cliffs around the beach were deep caves where people entered swimming and where a couple was kissing. I swam further until the noises from the shore got lost and replaced by those of the waves hitting the cliffs. I could see the entire cost of Polignano.

 Getting out from the water was torture ep 2. Plus I was all dirty because of something in the water. Hopefully rotten algae. It didn’t matter.

Polignano a Mare, Italy, beautiful places

I wandered the streets letting myself lost in that place and I got right in time to enjoy the sunset in the best point. The orange in the sky was reflected on the limestone houses, leaving the sea darker now. Close to me was a fisherman. But the sea was at at least 50m down.  

Polignano a Mare, Italy, beautiful places

That evening in Bari I went to try Al Pescatore, the most famous seafood restaurant in town, recommended by everybody. No tables, it was full with people dress nice and looking fresh. I wasn’t going to wear something else but flip-flops no matter what. After all that walking was a matter of survival. I finally got a table and had an amazing dinner while all the other guests were going crazy for some football players arriving there. I’m more into fish and wine than football. I ended a nice day with a huge ice-cream, gazing at the blood moon total eclipse.

Monopoli

I could walk the little streets of Monopoli in a summer day forever. White houses with colorful windows and balconies with flowers, competing one another for the most beautiful balcony title, little shops, churches and olive trees. The Porto Marzano Beach though didn’t convince me to go for a swim. It was a sandy beach but I had more masochistic taste. In Porto Vecchio I couldn’t find a boat to take me to Polignano. Or maybe they didn’t understood me. I left by train, feeling a bit tipsy. My late breakfast just earlier that day was olives and many types of cheese, salami, prosciutto and red wine. On holiday all is permitted.

 

This time Polignano spoiled me with the clearest blue water of the Adriatic Sea, as a farewell to remember. I took a last walk on those nasty stones on the beach, a long swim and a last look at this place that has now become one of my favourite beautiful places. I said my goodbye to that deep blue of the sea from the top of the famous Grotta Palazzese restaurant.

After Taormina in Sicily, with its red oranges scent and salted lemonade, the Ligurian coast with the so chic Portofino, Rapallo and Camogli, Amalfi and Positano with their lemon perfume, the sophisticated Capri where everybody drinks champagne and the restaurants have views to the blue Med and white pianos, the breathtaking views of Cinque Terre with my beloved Manarola and Vernaza, Tuscany with those dreamy landscapes and incredible wines, it is hard to decide what to see in Italy. How about all? In each of these places, when I was there, I thought that was the best in Italy. And this July, for me, Puglia was the best in trully la bella Italia.  

My Top 10 Beautiful Places in Venice

I started writing this list in the first day of spring, in March, at midnight, when outside was snowing with huge fluffy snow flakes. From my window all was white, beautiful and perfectly calm. It was the last and so unwanted winter episode that made (almost) everyone crazy throughout Europe. I thought then it was the perfect moment to mind travel back to Venice, back to the Carnival madness and to my favourite beautiful places there.

I don’t know where time has flown away so fast. Now spring rules the cities and our livers with summer like temperatures, blue sky, blossomed trees and flowers scent in the air. Anytime actually is a perfect moment to remember Venice. Soo…

First, let’s agree something. On blogs, sites, forums are countless tops and lists of do that – and go there – and eat that – and you must’t miss… blablabla. My advice: read and ignore 80%. The rest of 20% that maybe you’ll consider nice to do, you’ll remember for sure. it’s a fact that no one can make a top appealing to everybody. So if you’re not into museums, with long waiting lines, but rather prefer to walk till you drop on the streets, you think shopping while traveling is a waste of time, you chase sunsets and panoramas and are never too tired for a late night walk, you are not afraid of getting lost, you are more likely to choose street food instead of restaurants and you simply can’t say no to ice-cream… than you might find some ideas for Venice:

10. The Carnival. There are two types of Venice: the one during the Carnival and… the other one. Make sure you get to see the first and take part at the feast, because true Venice is during those weeks, when the city goes wild and fancy. You will feel as a time traveler among all those people in costumes of counts and countesses. Buy a mask, wear it and dance in San Marco. I got mine, a beautiful black one, from Zago & Molin, for 15 euro.

Carnevale marks Venice

9. Best panorama in Venice can be seen in Campanile, the tallest building in the city. The entire lagoon, the Lido, the roofs, all under the majestic picks of the Dolomites.

8. A classic one never hurt anyone. So go for a gondola ride! Take it from Rialto Bridge, go behind one of the most famous bridge in the world and head to the narrow canals with small bridges. See Casanova’s house and enjoy the gondolier’s Italian love songs and   stories about the old times. The maximum of people is 5, so if you want to save some bucks, share the ride with other people and you’ll pay 16 euro each.

7. Have some fun getting lost. Venice is a labyrinth. Try finding San Marco without using Google Maps. Start, let’s say, in Piazzale Roma. It’s not so much fun getting lost while searching for a toilet. Been there, done that 🙂

6. Walk. Eat. Enjoy. Repeat. You’re in Italy, it’s pretty hard to have bad food. Well, I did but let’s just call it bad luck. Follow your instinct and maybe check TripAdvisor, if you don’t like taking culinary risks. If you like Neapolitan pizza, try Rossopomodoro, close to San Marco. For ice-cream addicts, Gelato Fantasy is the place.

5. Have a Prosecco at Caffè Florian in San Marco. Established in 1720, it is said to be the oldest café in the world. Imagine all the events that happened in three centuries. The place is not cheap, but it’s worth every penny. During the Carnival, when all the people wearing costumes gather in San Marco, it is an ideal place to admire them.

4. For those who enjoy the vibe, the colours and flavours in the city markets, the best place in Venice is Mercato di Rialto. And I guarantee you won’t leave without buying some fruits or food.

3. Find your quiet place. Escape the noise and find Calle Tranghetto Vecchio, a small dark street. Step into the light, on the wooden bateau bridge built at the end of it, facing a beautiful 180′ view of the Grand Canal. Watch the boats passing and enjoy the view away from the crowds.

The Grand Canal view

2. Midnight walk. Even during the busiest times like the days of the Carnival, you’ll own the city after midnight, when most of the people are already dreaming in their beds. Instead, you’ll live the dream. San Marco is now finally empty, quiet and amazing.

San Marco by night

1. Sunset on Rialto Bridge. This is my favourite view in Venice. The palaces, the Grand Canal, the seagulls and the gondolas, all in the orange sunset light. And if you feel like, take a waterside-bar break and enjoy a glass of Italian wine. Now that’s a moment you’ll always remember.

Now all you have to do is buy the tickets to Venice and have some great time in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

P.S. “Never to go on trips with anyone you do not love.” ― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

The feast in the city that can’t be described: Venice

9AM, a rainy Saturday, the first weekend of February. Where would you want to be? I’m sure there are some great answers out there. But guess where I was: in Venice. I was just back from a trip to Northern Norway and the first thought that crossed my mind at 4AM, when the alarm rang, was: What the hell am I doing again? But wanderlust is a serious disorder so at 7 o’clock in the morning I was already flying to Venice, to live the madness of the Carnival once again. It was the second weekend of the event and 4 of my friends were already there.

It was the rainiest of days! 5 euro spend on a too small and too fragile umbrella, the moment I got off the bus, in the middle of Piazzale Roma and the rain, seemed the best business that could have been made that day, at the corner of the street. Wasn’t so, cause the wind was messing up with my investment and my new and useless umbrella was doing anything but protecting me from any rain drops. Mostly was making me crazy! And so, in the pouring rain, with a closed umbrella newly added to my baggage, I was crossing the large bridge build with ground-glass, leaving behind the ordinary real world  to enter Venice, a place that looks and feels as if a piece of the past have survived the present. And once I got right there, on top of the arch bridge, among the passers by moving on fast forward, the wind and rain teasing my face, I pressed Pause and stopped. It was too beautiful. The city was now revealing itself: so many bridges, paved small streets by the canals, the colourful buildings, the boats and of course the iconic wooden pillars raising up from the water. And I whispered for myself: Hello Venice, told you I’m coming back…

Rain seemed a minor challenge compared to finding the hotel. This was an endurance test since Venice is indeed a labyrinth. And since Google Maps choose the best moment to have errors of locating me, all I could count on was my poor space orientation. After crossing 6 bridges, walking in circle and saying a few curses, I reached the destination.

One hour later I was outside the hotel, on the large street heading to the centre, to San Marco.  I took a deep breath of the cold humid air. The rain had stopped but the streets were still almost empty. How scary rain can be! I was starving so I entered the first bar with the green TripAdvisor sticker on the door, dreaming of a delicious Italian focaccia. Inside, two asian ladies were busy serving at the bar. I thought maybe this was not a good sign but I didn’t want to be rude and leave. And so, politeness served me the worst possible sandwich: fast-food bun, mozzarella, lettuce full of water and tasteless tomatoes. But no way a sandwich could spoil my mood. And all I could wish for was to wander the streets, all of them. Hearing that my friends were busy buying Italian leather bags on sale, I couldn’t be more happy. So I could enjoy the city by myself. A bliss!

With every minute the streets were more and more crowded, people were coming out from everywhere, like mushrooms after the rain. I was walking straight on. The large street with tiny restaurants and stores on each side was now too small as the human wave was heading to Rialto Bridge and San Marco. Among the crowd, I started seeing the first people wearing carnival costumes, either couples or small groups of friends. Each time I couldn’t help myself to stop and admire. The noise was growing, bringing together talks and laughs. And so, without realising, I entered the Carnival’s atmosphere and I indulge myself in its magic.

Tight streets looking like secret corridors were escaping from the large street of which, all of us, strangers, were now part of. I managed to creep suddenly to the right, don’t even know why I did it. After a few meters of walking through the small space left between two buildings, in almost dark, I got to the canal and into day light. A wonderful 180′ view opened in front of me, just for me, as I stood there alone, for minutes, on the wooden bateau bridge. Boats were passing by the colourful buildings with beautiful windows, offering a postcard view of Venice. And there was silence.

I was heading to Rialto Bridge when something amazing just happened: out of the grey cloudy skies, the sun came out suddenly. I quickly went up the stairs of the bridge, among the crowd, running to get to see this view before the sun disappears again. And WOW, was indescribable! The view of the Grand Canal with all those gorgeous colourful venetian palaces, the black elegant gondolas floating slowly back and forth, the small restaurants by the water, the wooden pillars raising out of the water, the seagulls flying high and on top of all, the sun sending rays of light through a small window of clear sky in the clouds. It was sunset, one to admire and to remember.

As I was getting closer to San Marco, the streets were more and more grouped, smaller and smaller. I wandered each one I liked, letting myself guided by wanderlust only. Of course I got lost and of course I loved it. I crossed more than 20 bridges and walked even more paved streets. Getting lost on the small streets of old Venice, stepping from one to another and than another until you start recognising places, is the only way to really feel this unique place. There were people in costumes, wearing masks, everywhere you looked. Counts and countesses, dukes and duchesses, in velvet or silk, with lace and embroidery, with silver white tall wigs or large hats with big feathers, jewels and opulence. Masks were sold everywhere, in traditional ateliers or on market stalls, thousands of models, from 5 euro to hundreds.

This was not 2018 anymore. We were back in time a few hundreds of years before. If there’s a place where you can travel through time, that’s Venice during the carnival. And San Marco was the stage of the event, where all the magic characters of the carnival gathered to be seen, admired, complimented and taken pictures with. There was no other place I wanted to be.

Later, when my feet couldn’t take it anymore, I met my dear noisy friends in a restaurant close to San Marco and presented them with great pride the hand crafted black colombina mask I have bought from a traditional atelier, Zago & Molin. We all left the restaurant wearing our masks, ready for a Saturday night in Venice during the Carnival and many reasons to come back again.