Florence: The symbol of the Renaissance

Florence: The symbol of the Renaissance

180 miles north of Rome, Florence is one of the great cities of the world. Everywhere you turn in this incomparable town you will see exquisite masterpieces of architecture and art which recall the days when Florence was the undistuped leader of the Renaissance world, under the rule of the powerful Medici family.

Magnificent palaces like the Galleria degli Uffizi, built to house the State Judiciary in 1565 and now one of the largest and most important mseums in the world; Palazzo Pitti, in the Boboli Gardens, which has a modern art gallery and a silver museum as well as Raphael works, Titian and Giorgione. Donatello’s famous statue of St George is in the Bargello Museum (a prison of the 16th century).

The second pair of bronze doors which Ghiberti designed for the Baptistry of the Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiori, were described by Michelangelo as ‘the gates of paradise’ and the cathedral itself, with its celebrated bell tower is a glowing masterpiece of colored marble. Every square and every ancient building is a work of art – the 13th century church of Santa Croce, where Machiavelli and Michelangelo are buried; the Dominican monastery of San Marco, with its beautiful Fra Angelico frescoes; the Accademia di Belle Arti, where you can see Michelangelo’s superb statue, David. A copy is in the Piazza della Signoria, which is a busy square in the city and one of the most beautiful open air galleries in Europe.

Florence is also one of the top gourmet cities in Europe. Try bistecca alla Fiorentina, the Fiorentine way with a big juicy steak, or tortino di carciofi (eggs with artichokes), or triglie o baccala alla Livornesei which is a fish and tomato sauce concontion.

Places to enjoy these masterpieces – the roof gardens of the Baglione Palace hotel, where you can dine and dance in the evenings. The Open Gate (Viale Michelangelo); Ristorante Ponte Vecchio, near the famous 14th century bridge; Sabatani (via Panzani); Villa San Domenico (via della Piazzola); Otello (via Orti Oricellari); and if you want to eat American now and then, Doney’s (via de Tornabuoni) does a good line in snacks as well as specials, like scampi alla Medici. Harry’s Bar is a favorite meeting place and Jolly Club is a lively discotheque.

Portofino: More than a small Italian fishing village

Portofino: More than a small Italian fishing village

Portofino is an Italian fishing village and vacation resort famous for its picturesque harbour and historical association with celebrity and artistic visitors. It is a comune located in the province of Genoa on the Italian Riviera. The town is clustered around its small harbour, and is known for the colourfully painted buildings that line the shore.

According to Pliny the Elder, Portofino was founded by the Romans and named Portus Delphini, or Port of the Dolphin, because of the large number of dolphins that inhabited the Tigullian Gulf.

The village is mentioned in a diploma from 986 by Adelaide of Italy, which assigned it to the nearby Abbey of San Fruttoso di Capodimonte. In 1171, together with the neighbouring Santa Margherita Ligure, it was included in Rapallo’s commune jurisdiction. After 1229 it was part of the Republic of Genoa. The town’s natural harbour supported a fleet of fishing boats, but was somewhat too cramped to provide more than a temporary safe haven for the growing merchant marine of the Republic of Genoa.

In 1409 Portofino was sold to the Republic of Florence by Charles VI of France, but when the latter was ousted from Genoa the Florentine gave it back. In the 15th century it was a fief of families such as the Fieschi, Spinola, Adorno and Doria.

In 1815 it became part of the Kingdom of Sardinia and, from 1861, of the unified Kingdom of Italy. In the late 19th century, first British, then other Northern European aristocratic tourists began to visit Portofino, which they reached by horse and cart from Santa Margherita Ligure. Aubrey Herbert and Elizabeth von Arnim were amongst the more famous English people to make the area fashionable.[5] Eventually more expatriates built expensive vacation houses, and by 1950 tourism had supplanted fishing as the town’s chief industry, and the waterfront was a continuous ring of restaurants and cafés.

Main sights

Statue of Christ of the Abyss, placed underwater on 29 August 1954 in the inlet at a depth of 17 metres (56 ft). This statue was placed to protect fishermen and scuba divers and in memory of Dario Gonzatti. Sculpted by Guido Galletti, it represents Christ in the act of blessing while looking up towards the sky with open arms in sign of peace.

Castello Brown (16th century).

Church of St. Martin (Divo Martino, 12th century).

Church of St. George, housing some saints’ relics.

Oratory of Santa Maria Assunta, in Gothic style.

Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

Venice is built on 118 islands, criss-crossed by 160 canals and linked by 400 foot-bridges. There are no roads, only canals; no traffic, only water buses and water taxis and the gondolas. A labyrinth of alleys and stairs and little bridges link the main waterways. Have coffee at Caffe Quadri, or Caffe Avena, or Caffe Florian (the oldest cafe in Venice) in the grandest square in Europe – Piazza San Marco. And you cannot go to Venice without calling in at Harry’s Bar, on the Grand Canal (entrance on Calle Vallaresso), made famous by Ernest Hemingway.

See the Palazzo Ducale, where the Doges lived in princely style; the Rialto bridge; the great Cathedral of St Mark (with Titian’s masterpiece, Last Judgement, in the Vault of Paradise); the Accademia art gallery; the Ca’ d’Oro the School of San Giorgio degli Schiavoni with famous Carpaccios and the School of San Rocco with magnificent Tintoretto paintings. If you climb the 15th century Clock Tower you have a superb view of the whole of Venice. When shopping in Venice things to look for include fine handmade lace, jewelry, leather goods, and above all, glass.

You could go to the island of Murano and see the glass being made, and Torcello, for its cathedral with beautiful mosaics. Luxury hotels in Venice include the Danieli Royal Excelsior, right next door to the Doge’s Palace, the Cipriani on Giudecca island and the Bauer Grünwald. Even if you do not stay there, it is a delightful place to dine and dance on the roof garden. Ernest Hemingway preferred the smaller, quieter, Gritti Palace. Dine at La Taverna Fenice, La Caravella, Harry’s Bar and Florians. For seafood try Al Graspo de Uva and Peoceto Risorto. Places to visit from Venice include: the Lido, just across the lagoon. It has a marvelous beach, with fine hotels like the Excelsior Palace.

Italians and Wine Culture

Italians and Wine Culture

Italians drink wine as an aperitif, with the meal and after the meal they finish off with a hair-raising distilled wine called grapa. Chianti is probably the best known Italian wine, but the quality varies, so look for the sign of the black cockerel on the label, and settle for reliable makes, like Frescobaldi, Melini and Ricasol. Other good red wines (rossi) are Barolo, Valpolicella, and a full-bodied wine from Scily called Corvo.

Connoisseurs say that Brunello de Montalcino is the best Italian red wine. Some of the best white wines are Orvieto, Frascati, and Soave and, if you like a sweet, light sparkling wine, Asti Spumante is very refreshing. Martini and Cinzano are famous Italian aperitifs, but for a change try Punt e Mes, or Campari. Strega is an interesting liqueur and Sambuca (tastes of licorice). In general, it is safer to order wine by the bottle or half-bottle rather than the carafe. Rome is ful of fascinating drinking places. Perhaps the best known is the Cafe de Paris, of La Doce Vita fame, on the famous via Veneto.

The Cafe Greco (via Condoti 86) was a favorite haunt of Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde and Buffalo Bill. Baretto, on the same street, is one of the places to be seen having your before-dinner drinks – if you can get in. Bar Zodiaco (viale Parco Bellini, 90), the lovely Monte Mario near Observatory, and the Bar Tre Scalini has a lovely terrace in one of Rome’s most beautiful squares, Piazza Navona. This is a great place for ice cream too.

All About Capri in Italy

All About Capri in Italy

The small Italian island of Capri is situated 5 km from the mainland in the Bay of Naples, a celebrated beauty spot and coastal resort since the days of the Roman Republic until now. It is also part of Campania.

Capri, known in Greek mythology as the isle of the sirens, was a favored resort of the Roman emperors. Most notoriously, the emperor Tiberius had his villa on the island, the location (supposedly) of debauched orgies. Those who displeased the emperor were flung to their deaths from the cliffs. The island is world famous and is very touristy, especially when swamped with tourists in July & August, but other times of year it is calmer and more relaxing.

Get in

By boat

Capri is reached in about 40 minutes by hydrofoil from the port of Ischia or Forio, docking at Marina Grande on the north side of the island. There are also daily ferries from Naples (20/day, €16, 40 minutes), Amalfi, Positano and from Sorrento (15/day, €14, 20 minutes). Boats are operated by Caremar and SNAV. [2]. Capri Online offers information on schedule and prices for all ferry / hydrofoil to Capri.

For arriving in style, Capritime Boats specialises in water taxi direct transfers from Naples, Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast and Ischia to Capri. They also provide luxury full-day and half-day boat tours to the Amalfi Coast and Sorrento Coast from Capri, tailor itineraries for cruise ship passengers docked in Sorrento, Capri, Naples and Amalfi and also offer special Capri and Ischia island boat excursions.

From Marina Grande, a funicular goes up to Capri Town, and boats leave for the Blue Grotto. The fourth store to the right of the funicular provides baggage storage for €2.50/day per bag, from 8:30-6:00. Tickets for buses, funicular, and return boats are for sale at kiosks, along with public toilets. The Tourist Information office offers €1 maps, open daily April to October 8:30-8:30PM, November to March Monday to Sunday 9:00-1:00 & 3:30-6:30. The Bar Augusto has internet access from 6:00AM-8:00PM

Get around

By foot: from the main harbour to the town up the hill leads a range of stairs. Stairs and walkways, mostly signposted, crisscross the island.

By funicolare: this mountain tram (same stuff as in Naples, Heidelberg, Barcelona and San Francisco) connects the harbour with the town up the hill. Read also about the unified public transport ticket Campania Unico.

By taxi: The open top taxis are expensive but, if there are a group of you worth considering. Haggle to get a price to ferry you around the island for the day (it won’t be cheap – but very little on Capri is!).

By bus: Island buses are readily available to take you to the various areas of the island. They run on a schedule and cost 1,30 € per ride, €2,80 for 60 minutes unlimited use, or €6,70 plus €1 deposit for unlimited day use (deposit is refunded to you at end of day). Buses run from: Marina Grande to Capri town (4/hour) and then take bus to Anacapri (4/hour) but the Capri to Anacapri bus gets crowded, so you could take a bus direct from Marina to Anacapri (2/hour)

Let’s Go Back to Ancient Rome

Let’s Go Back to Ancient Rome

Rome has so much to offer to the world, not only by the various pieces of art and its massive and intricate architecture. Its history also speaks a lot of how great Rome is even before.

Roman Art

The arts of ancient Rome can be compared to those of the Greek’s. They do have their similarities. This can be attributed to the fact that when the Romans decided to conquer the Greeks, the former noticed how art was infused into the lifestyle of the latter. Out of curiosity and love for Greek art, Roman soldiers decided to bring such culture right at their own land. They also brought artists-slaves with them. Thus, if you will take a good look Ara Pacis, you will notice the fancy swirls, which are so Greek. Romans are also fond of creating portraitures and busts of famous persons. However, unlike the Greeks who love to dwell on the ideals of their artwork, the Romans were more focused on their design and technical aspects.

Roman Religion

Ancient Rome also shares almost the same beliefs and rituals practiced by the Greeks. For one, they both believed in too many gods, who had dominance over different portions of their lives, including marriage, occupation, and nature. Moreover, in Ancient Rome, their gods have their own Greek equivalent. A good example is the Zeus of Greece and Jupiter of Rome. Emperors too were being regarded as gods, especially by those who were living in eastern side of the Roman Empire. Though paganism could be the first religion of Romans, let’s not forget that Roman Catholicism also found its birth in the Eternal City.

Roman Clothing

It could have just been one wool piece they used to wrap around themselves. However, when Ancient Rome saw the more advanced dressing habit of Greece, they opted to adopt linen tunics, and they became even more comfortable. Footwear of both men and women were made of leather. On special occasions, Roman men were required to wear togas; however, they have to take note of the different ways to wear them, depending on their stature. Women, on the other hand, have to wear not jut one tunic, in addition to the veil or wool scarf they have to wrap around their tunics. This gave them warmth whenever the weather gets cold or it’s raining.

Roman People

People in ancient Rome enjoyed more freedom and equality than other countries and empires at that time. Even women were protected by their laws, though people who are located at the west side of the empire became more liberal than those who lived in the east. The Roman Empire was also open even to travelers; thus, there was so much interaction and increase of knowledge in ancient Rome. Nevertheless, the rise of minority groups in the empire also paved the way for cultural wars and tensions.

The disparity of men and women can be felt when it comes to education. Girls were left at home, while boys were sent to school. Those who are living in the villages, meanwhile, were illiterate, simply because they couldn’t afford to get an education. The privileged ones, children who grew up in well-off families, had the opportunity to study in other cities, such as in Athens and Alexandria.

Walking around Rome is more than being inspired by its culture and history. It means reliving it, even if it’s going to be just for a day.

Amalfi: A Popular Italian holiday destination near Naples

A Popular Italian holiday destination near Naples

Amalfi is a town and comune in the province of Salerno, in the region of Campania, Italy, on the Gulf of Salerno, c. 35 km southeast of Naples. It lies at the mouth of a deep ravine, at the foot of Monte Cerreto (1,315 meters, 4,314 feet), surrounded by dramatic cliffs and coastal scenery. The town of Amalfi was the capital of the Maritime Republic of Amalfi, an important trading power in the Mediterranean between 839 and around 1200. In the 1920s and 1930s, Amalfi was a popular holiday destination for the British upper class and aristocracy.

Amalfi is the main town of the coast on which it is located, named Costiera Amalfitana, and is today an important tourist destination together with other towns on the same coast, such as Positano, Ravello and others. Amalfi is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The Amalfi coast is famed for its production of Limoncello liqueur and the area is a known cultivator of lemons. The correct name is “sfusato amalfitano”, and they are typically long and at least double the size of other lemons, with a thick and wrinkled skin and a sweet and juicy flesh without many pips. It is common to see lemons growing in the terraced gardens along the entire Amalfi coast between February and October.

Amalfi is also a known maker of a hand-made thick paper which is called “bambagina”. It is exported to many European countries and to America and has been used throughout Italy for wedding invitations, visiting cards and elegant writing paper. The paper has a high quality and has been used by artists such as Giuseppe Leone, who described it: “There is a whole world that the Amalfi paper evokes and an artist who is sensitive to the suggestion of these places is aware that it is unique and exciting”.

Three traditional events draw numerous visitors to Amalfi. First are the feast days of Saint Andrew (25–27 June, and 30 November), celebrating the city’s patron saint. Then there is “Byzantine New Year’s Eve” (31 August) celebrating the beginning of the New Year according to the old civil calendar of the Byzantine Empire.[9] The third event is the Historical Regata (first Sunday in June), a traditional rowing competition among the four main Italian historical maritime republics: Amalfi, Genoa, Pisa and Venice. This event is hosted by a different city every year, so it comes to Amalfi once every four years.

Venice and Gondolas

Venice and Gondolas

There is fire and fury about Venice dirving but you can retreat underground and travel by metro – buy a tokenat the booth which opens the automatic gate. But it is not yet a very extensive system. There is a good bus service and plenty of taxis. If you order a taxi by phone, you may pay additional fare. Watch out for unofficial taxis with ‘helpful’ drivers. Regular air services link all the main cities with Venice. Italian lon distance buses are first class. Some have bars, hostesses and interpreters.

For information about the routes, prices etc, contact CIAT (Compagnia Italiana Autoservizi Turustici). If you plan travel by rail see your travel agent or the Italian State represntative in the United States before you go, there are many worthwhile reductions and special facilities available to tourists. All you need to eat well in Venice is a good appetite. Most hotels will be able to put you in touch with an English speaing doctor. Venice has ecellent hospitals. Wash all fruit, and be careful with milk – pasteurized and sterilized in sealed bottles are safe.

Signs to look for are ladies, Signore; men, Signori. Major hotels have their own hairdressing salons. Most hotels have their own laundry service which is both quick and reliable. Dry cleaning takes longer. Most hotels will arrange babysitting. Most English language newspapers and magazines available. Stamps available from post offices, hotels and tobacconists.

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Ever Tried a Tuscany Bed and Breakfast?

Ever Tried a Tuscany Bed and Breakfast?

Life is to enjoy and experience new things all the time – right? But then again, how many of us actually try out different things? For instance, whenever we think of taking a vacation, we think of tourist spots, sightseeing tours, shopping malls, and amusement parks for children. Let us put that thought aside and venture into something that is unique, yet exciting and fun.

Yes, I am talking about opting for a Tuscany bed and breakfast. In case you are not aware of the place, Tuscany is a beautiful and picturesque place located in Italy, which is famous for its wine estates and family run wine cellars. If you have not yet visited Tuscany, then sit up and take notice as you are missing out on a once in a lifetime chance.

These tours are usually wine tasting events where the tourists are invited to taste wine and watch the process of wine making. Manufacturing wine has been considered an art and Tuscans are proud to be the part of such a fascinating culture. In fact, it is said that if you want to experience the true essence of the country, then Tuscany is the place where you should be.

A Tuscany bed and breakfast includes a villa style living, where tourists are encouraged to bond like a family. Your hosts will make sure that you don’t feel the least bit of discomfort during your stay. These bed and breakfasts are perfect for honeymooners, which is why many packages are now being designed exclusively for couples. In short, you can expect the luxury of a hotel yet feel like you are in a home away from home.

The entertainment part mostly consists of visits to wine estates and taking part in the process of wine manufacturing. Since Tuscany accounts for some of the choicest wines in the world, this will be a one of a lifetime experience for you. There is a cheese tasting event too depending upon the package that you select. The tour is informative and enjoyable at the same time.

Looking to spend your next vacation at a Tuscany bed and breakfast? Visit www.tuscanway.com to know more about the tour packages offered and their rates. The founders pride themselves on the satisfaction factor and you just need to take one look at the glowing testimonials to know that their claims are not exaggerated. You may come with friends, family or spouse; a smashing time is guaranteed for sure. Get ready for a marvelous adventure!

The Colosseum was a “marvel” of Rome

The Colosseum was a "marvel" of Rome

The Colosseum was a ‘marvel’ of Rome when it was new, almost nineteen hundred years ago, partly because of its size and partly because the circumstances under which it was built made it one of the world’s great ‘gallery plays’. ‘Here, where the far-seen Amphitheatre lifts its mass august,’ wrote Martial, ‘was Nero’s mere.’ Vespasian had drained the artificial lake in the gardens of Nero’s Golden House and begun upon its site this vast theatre for the games and spectacles dear to Roman hearts, which his son Titus was to finish.

Nero, last emperor of the line of Caesar and Augustus, had died by his own hand, hated by the people and the army and declared a public enemy by the Senate. Within a year, the Roman legions nominated three successors, also doomed to quick and violent deaths. Vespasian, the final candidate, was more fortunate. A popular general, who was waging a successful siege against Jerusalem when he was chosen emperor, he returned to Rome and set about the task of blotting out the evil memory of Nero.

A man of humble birth and shrewd common sense, without the legendary glamour of the Julian dynasty, he, together with Titus, succeeded in building up the prestige of the new imperial line, largely through a far-reaching programme of public works by which the people were given back as recreation centres much of the land which Nero had confiscated for his own pleasures. Suetonius echoed the popular response to this policy in a remark concerning Titus, probably written within half a century of that emperor’s death: ‘He took away nothing from any citizen. He respected others’ property, if anyone ever did… And yet he was second to none of his predecessors in munificence.’

The Colosseum was practically ready for use when Vespasian died in A.D. 79. Titus opened it, still unfinished, in A.D. 80, with magnificent gladiatorial games and naval contests for which the arena was flooded. It was completed by Domitian, Titus’ brother and successor, but had to be restored several times because of fires due to lightning.

Standing isolated beyond the Forum, in the low spot between the Palatine, Esquiline, and Caelian hills, this new amphitheatre was easily accessible from the heart of the ancient city, yet isolated enough to permit the easy movement of crowds. It could seat about forty-five thousand, and probably had standing room for about five thousand more in its upper gallery.

Its great oval shell was about one-third of a mile in circumference, its longer axis measuring about 617 feet, its shorter about 512. The long axis, whose entrances were used for processions, runs parallel with the Roman Forum, roughly southeast and northwest. The imperial seats were at the south side, facing along the shorter axis, to give a closer view of the spectacles. Immense awnings, handled by sailors from the imperial fleet, sheltered the spectators.

Though the exterior of the great building is impressive by reason of its severe and solid bulk, its outstanding feature was its perfect adaptation to the handling of large and potentially unruly crowds. Seventy-six of its eighty arcades were numbered; the tickets bore corresponding numbers, so that holders could find their way directly to their seats from the appropriate entrance without crowding the corridors. It was a structure to delight the practical Vespasian and the architectural engineers who had built it.

The Colosseum’s builders followed much the same principle as that employed in steel construction today, except that for the skeleton framework of piers and arches they used hard travertine stone. The outer walls are of the same stone; the inner ones are composed of several kinds of stone and concrete, with or without brick facings. Metal cramps reinforced the joining of the stones; the holes now so noticeable in the walls were made in the centuries following the decline of Rome by those who dug out these cramps for their metal or for the lead which was sometimes used with them.

The tradition that Christians by the thousands were martyred in the arena grew up in comparatively late times. Some may have suffered here during various persecutions, but, needless to say, not in those of Nero’s day, as the site was then the emperor’s lake. The last gladiatorial games were held in the Colosseum in A.D. 404; emperors from the time of Constantine had tried to stop them without success. The last recorded animal sports are mentioned in 523.

The ancient Romans called this building the Flavian Amphitheatre from the family of Flavius to which Vespasian and his sons, Titus and Domitian, belonged. The present name came into use some time during the early Middle Ages. The first-known mention of the amphitheatre as the Colosseum is in an eighth-century Latin work traditionally ascribed to the English monk and historian, Bede. The writer of this work quotes a current Saxon pilgrim’s proverb: Quandiu stabit Coliseus, stabit et Roma; quando cadet Coliseus, cadet et Roma; quando cadet Roma, cadet et mundus, which today is best known through Byron’s translation in Childe Harold:

‘While stands the Coliseum, Rome shall stand;
When falls the Coliseum, Rome shall fall:
And when Rome falls–the world.’

Some have held that this proverb referred not to the amphitheatre but to the colossal bronze statue of Nero which stood nearby, remodelled by later emperors as a sun god. No one knows just when this colossus fell-the last known reference to it in ancient times was in A.D. 354 when it was mentioned as the ‘crowned colossus’ in connection with a spring festival of garland sellers along the Sacred Way.

It had probably disappeared by Bede’s time, for the eighth-century Einsiedeln Itinerary did not mention it, although its fame lingered throughout the Middle Ages. It seems more likely that such a proverb would grow up about an immense and enduring building than about a statue which was only one of several of its kind in Rome, and that the building was first called ‘colossal amphitheatre’ and then ‘colosseum’ because of its great size.